Erich Fromm On The Central Challenge Of Cultivating Meaningful Relationships With Customers

What Is The Central Challenge Of Building Meaningful & Profitable Relationships With Customers? Is this challenge about opening up 24/7 access to your business through any and all channels?  Is it about coming up with new products and services that attract customers like bright lights attract moths at night-time?  Is it about taking out costly, unpredictable, unreliable human beings and replacing them with technology?  Is it about collecting and mining all the data you can get your hands on to generate insight to customers and entice them with the right offer, at the right time, through the right communication channel?  Is it about redesigning processes and gluing up all the interaction channels so that the customer experience across the customer journey is an effortless one?

Perhaps. Or maybe this is simply thinking inside the existing way of showing up and travelling in the world.  What way am I referring to? The technological way. What kind of way is that?  It is the way that refers to human beings as human resources. It is the way that refers to customers as assets. It is the way that thinks that listening to the voice of the customer is the same as reading statistics and text which summarises and details the survey responses coming in from some customers. It is the way that seeks to replace human beings and human to human conversations with automated interfaces and self-service…..

I invite you to listen to the speaking of Erich Fromm written in the 1940s (bolding mine):

The insignificance of the individual in our era concerns not only his role as a business man, employee, or manual labourer, but also his role as a customer. A drastic change has occurred in the role of the customer in the last decades. The customer who went into a retail store owned by an independent business man was sure to get personal attention: his individual purchase was important to the owner of the store; he was received like somebody who mattered, his wishes were studied; the very act of buying gave him a feeling of importance and dignity.

How different is the relationship of the customer to a department store. He is impressed by the vastness of the building, the number of employees, the profusion of commodities displayed; all that makes him feel small and unimportant by comparison. As an individual he is of no importance to the department store. He is important as “a customer”; the store does not want to lose him, because this would indicate that there is something wrong and it might mean that the store would lose other customers. As an abstract customer he is important; as a concrete customer he is utterly unimportant. There is nobody who is glad about his coming, nobody who is particularly concerned about his wishes. 

– Erich Fromm, The Fear Of Freedom

It occurs to me that many (if not most) organisations struggle to cultivate meaningful-profitable relationships with customers despite spending significant sums on the likes of customer analytics, CRM, marketing automation, and VoC. Why?  My experience of the last 15 years working in the Customer space is that action has been at the abstract level of customer and customers. And almost nobody has paid attention to the experience of the concrete flesh and blood customer as a human being.  As such technology has been used to remove rather than enhance what little was left of the human to human relating.  Technology can do many useful things including increasing access and reducing effort. What it cannot do well is this: create, enliven, enrich human relating.

What Has Motive Got To Do With Customer Loyalty?

More than once and by more than one ‘customer guru’ I have been accused of bringing moral considerations into an arena where moral considerations do not belong. Which arena is that? The business arena. Many folks are convinced that what matters in business is the right strategy (plotting the right course) and effective-efficient execution. According to these folks nothing else matters – except perhaps for good luck.

Are these self proclaimed rational, bottom line, no nonsense folks correct?  Frederick Reichheld published The Loyalty Effect back in 1996. And in so doing he put the matter of customer loyalty on the radar of business.  So folks in business have been working on building customer loyalty for almost 20 years. In the process, customer analytics, CRM systems, customer loyalty programmes, NPS, and voice of the customer feedback have become firmly established in big business.  What is there to show for it?  Which companies have, through these and other ‘vehicles’, cultivating meaningful customer loyalty?  Please name these companies. Now go back and ask yourself if the ‘hard headed’ business folks and the ‘customer gurus’ who pander to them are correct in asserting that moral consideration can be and should be left outside of the business arena.

I say morality matters. I say that the motive that gives rise to your ‘customer-centred’ actions matters: it makes all the difference! Allow me to illustrate the importance of motive through the words of  Edward Slingerland:

“On November 14, 2012, a tourist in Times Square surreptitiously snapped a picture of a police officer kneeling down to help a bare footed homeless man put on a new pair of boots. When posted onto the NYPD’s Facebook page, the photo went completely viral. The officer, named Lawrence DePrimo, had apparently been so moved by the suffering of the barefoot man that he popped into a nearby store to buy him a new pair of boots with his own money. “It was freezing out and you could see the blisters on the man’s feet,” he said when asked about the incident. “I had two pairs of socks and I was still cold”  The story was an enormous publicity coup for the NYPD, but the secret to its appeal was the spontaneity of the officer’s gesture and the happenstance of someone catching it on film.

Imagine if we found out later that DePrimo knew that the photographer was there and had been merely been grandstanding for the camera – his act motivated by the desire for fame rather than spontaneous compassion. This knowledge would instantly transform a heartwarming act of kindness into a horrible travesty. The very act itself would magically change, even though nothing would be materially different: the officer would still be out $75, and the homeless guy would still have a nice pair of boots that he didn’t have before. We have a powerful, ineradicable intuition that a “compassionate” action performed without the right motivation is merely a semblance, a counterfeit of virtue. The flip side is that evidence of sincerity and spontaneity in the moral realm inspires and moves us.

– Edward Slingerland, Trying Not To Try

As I said, morality/ethics/motive matters.  It is the thing that matters the most when it comes to the matter of relating, trust and loyalty. If it did not matter as much as it does matter then many a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ would have made a success of their customer initiatives – cultivated meaningful customer loyalty.

If You Are Struggling In Calculating ROI And Getting Buy-In To Your CX Initiative

I am in the process of reading Edward Slingerland’s book: Trying Not To Try. The following passage got my attention:

Now, imagine a person turning around and, all of a sudden, spotting a small child stumbling toward the opening of a deep well. There is no one who, in such a moment, would not experience a feeling of alarm and empathy. Their response would be motivated by this feeling alone – not because they want to save the child and thereby gain some merit with the parents, not because they want to gain a reputation for goodness among their neighbours and friends, and not because they want to avoid having to hear the child’s anguished cries. From this we can see that someone lacking this feeling of empathy cannot be called a proper human being.

– Mencius

Notice, really notice, what it is that Mencius (‘follower’ of Confucius) is getting at here.  Imagine the same scenario and two adults present. One spots the little child, without any calculating, is called into action. The other, spots the child and starts doing a ROI calculation: the cost of taking action v the payoff (return) in terms of what can be gotten from the child’s parents, neighbours, friends, the community at large.  Which of these two adults will spring into action and save the child? Which of these two adults when s/he acts will do so in the appropriate manner – one that leaves the child cared for / grateful?

If you are with me so far then it occurs to me that you have gotten insight into why it is that so few organisations cultivate genuine-meaningful-enduring loyalty between themselves and their customers and vice versa.  Look at it differently, when you are busy calculating ROI of Customer Experience / Customer Engagement / Customer Relationship / Customer Loyalty initiatives so that you can sell the Tops on your Customer initiative what is really going on? And what does this disclose?

To me it discloses that the Tops are either ‘takers’ or ‘matchers’ or a mixture of both.  Just examine that for a moment and ask yourself this, why would any sane human being (customer, employee, supplier, partner) feel any loyalty to a ‘taker’?  Then consider that when you are dealing with a ‘matcher’ then what is occurring is transaction: matching requires a calculating way of being-in-the-world. The same question: why would any sane person feel any loyalty towards a ‘matcher’?

To sum up, it occurs to me that:

  1. Only a handful or companies cultivate meaningful customer loyalty because only a handful of companies have Tops who are ‘proper human beings': have-express the kind of empathy (that Mencius is pointing at) that resonates with the people who work in the organisation (employees) and the people who are served-impacted by these employees (prospects, customers, suppliers, partners).

  2. Any organisation whose Tops are not ‘proper human beings’ will not cultivate meaningful-loyal relationships (with employees, with suppliers/partner, with customers) no matter how much time-money-effort is spent on strategy, on process changes, on people changes, on the latest technology.

  3. If you are lower down the food chain, struggling with calculating the ROI of your customer experience / engagement / loyalty initiative and getting ‘buy-in’ from the Tops/Middles then I advise you to stop wasting your time – go find another line of work, or work for the Tops/Middles who are empathic towards the whole Customer thing.  Why suffer? Why seek to convert those whose very being is not in line with the Customer philosophy?

Is The Way We Are Going About Customer Acquisition and Retention Dead Wrong?

In light of the Comcast call that went viral I invite you to listen to these wise words (bolding is my work).

There is no question that acquiring and retaining customers is vital to every company, but it’s the way companies are going about it that’s dead wrong…..

Charles Green, coauthor of the Trusted Advisor, points out that many companies have the client focus of a vulture – the pay close attention to what clients are up to, but only in order to figure out the right time to pounce and tear at their flesh….

Sales plans, computerised data sharing, and advertising strategies are not relationship-building vehicles. While an automated phone system may improve an organisation’s operational efficiencies, it rarely improves the customer experience. In fact, most have the opposite effect…..

The point is, though we can learn the language of our industry, sit up straight, dress appropriately, and speak knowledgeably about product, when the conversation doesn’t feel natural, doesn’t respond precisely to the customer’s questions, doesn’t engage the customer in an authentic way, there will ultimately be no sale. And no matter how many time we hear the same feedback ……., we struggle to behave differently because we don’t know how to get beyond our customer facing “script”. Besides, we aren’t particularly interested in, much less skilled at “seeing” and responding to, each customer as a one-of-a-kind human being….

Today, more than ever, consumers are seeking to be acknowledged as unique individuals with lives, needs, tastes, and desires that differ widely from those around them….

So, assuming your products or services are of good quality and competitively priced, one of the most powerful differentiators has to do with conversations you have with customers. The conversation is the relationship ….

No matter what your job is …… the key is your context, your beliefs about your responsibility to customers and the relationships you intend to enjoy or endure with them … if I’m in the checkout line at my grocery store (or any checkout counter anywhere in the world) it would be easy for you to think that you are doing your job if you ring up the sale and hand me my purchases, the correct change, and a receipt. That you get points for using my name …. That if you have a customer loyalty program, you get more points for asking me for my membership card so you can check to see if I can get a discount….

But, I’ll tell you what makes the real difference. That you look into my eyes and connect with me, even if only for a seconds. Human to human. A real smile suggests, “I see you”. This seems like such a small thing, perhaps foolish to some, yet it’s what we all want, deep down where it counts. To be seen.

I’m reminded of the African greeting sawu bona, which means “I see you.” The response is sikhona, which means “I am here.” The order is important. It’s as if until you see me, I don’t exist. Raking your eyes quickly over someone’s face is not seeing them. So if you want to see your customers, really look at them. What takes mere seconds can make people return again and again.

– Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership

If insanity is doing the same stuff over and over and expecting a different result then it occurs to me that many of us who are working on the Customer stuff can be labelled insane. Relationship is not merely the sum of a series of interactions. Relationships do not reside in CRM databases.  Communication is more than bombarding customers with sales messages across any number of channels. Personal is more than sending the customer emails and addressing her by using her name. Engagement is more than a customer opening up your email and clicking your offer.  Customer Experience is more than a new name for the Customer Services function.

I dedicate this to conversation to a fellow human being (and friend) who gets and lives that which Susan Scott is communicating:  Lonnie Mayne, President of InMoment.

What Kind Of Communicating Generates An Uplifting Customer Experience?

The Interplay Between Communicating & Relating

The relating that occurs between human beings is a function of the communicating that is occurring between these human beings; the communicating that is occurring between human beings is function of the relating that is occurring.  Which is to say that the communicating and relating are essentially in a dynamic dance with one another.

Which is primary? It occurs to me that communicating is primary: as linguistic beings we cannot help but communicate and this communicating influences/shapes relating. It is through your communicating with me that I get access to your relating to me: how you see me, how you are positioning yourself in relation to me, how you are likely to treat me, whether I can trust you or not, whether you are ‘giver’, a ‘matcher’, or a ‘taker’.

If you get this then you get the critical importance of the communicating that occurs between the people in an organisation and the customers of the organisation. How the people in your organisation communicate with customers will impact the customer experience – sometime dramatically. Let’s take a look at two examples and listen to their impact.

The Marketer’s Way Of Communicating With Customers

Take a look at this email from ILX . Pretty graphics aside, this is what the email says:

Let us pay your exam fee!

WE’VE MISSED YOU

As a previous ILX customer we just wanted to touch base with you and see how your training went and more importantly find out if your career has benefited from gaining new qualifications with us!

We have included a free Best practice map PDF for you which may help you work out what your next step could be. Download PDF >

Is there anything we can help you with in furthering your qualifications? We are here and ready to give you any assistance that you may require.

Maybe you’re considering another course with ILX?

We are constantly developing our e-learning to ensure it’s the best in the industry so you get the highest quality learning that we can provide.

We hope to hear from you soon!
Quote MISSYOUEMAIL when contacting us

If you have more than five people who wants to take part in our e-learning please contact one of our dedicated team for the best offers at sales@ilxgroup.com or call us on +44 (0)1270 611 600
http://www.ilxgroup.com

What was my experience on opening-reading this email communication? This communication showed for me as inauthentic: false.  How can ILX miss me? The people in this organisation do not know me!  And if they genuinely wanted to touch base with me and find out how my training went then why did they not call me a year ago when I actually took the training? And what do they mean by “Is there anything we can help you with in furthering your qualifications?”  They certainly don’t mean help as in help of the everyday human kind. What they mean is, what can we persuade you to buy from us in the guise of helping you.

So how am I left feeling about ILX? I am left feeling that ILX is just another ‘taker’ organisation looking to extract as much money as they can from me. Especially now that summer is here and people will be taking holidays rather than taking courses.  So their offer to pay my exam fee is no act of generosity.

The Human Way To Communicate With Your Customers

Take a look at the following email and ask yourselves how you would be left feeling on opening-receiving this email:

maz,

Thank you!

We just received your order and will process it within 48 hours.

Your order # 204-0742925-4073103 shows the following items:

Love and Profit: The Art of Caring Leadership

If you have any questions or issues with this order please email us by replying to this message or email us at [email removed].

If you have any concerns at any time about this order, please email us right away with your Order ID#.

Thank you!

 

Sincerely,

Melissa

Supervisor

Customer Service

I found myself surprised and delighted. Why? Because this email speaks to me as I wish to be spoken with: it is everyday communication between two human beings.  It oozes the kind of humanity that speaks to me: friendliness, warmth, caring. I find myself wanting to know more about this organisation (Slategrey Books UK) and about Melissa.

Why Have I Shared This With You?

If you are serious about showing up and competing on the basis of the Customer Experience then you need to pay attention to the quality of your communicating with your customers.  Take a good look at your communications across the customer journey ask yourself if your communications are generating the kind of customer experience that builds connection. If they are not then you are likely to be better off using the services of good copywriters than spending a fortune on marketing automation systems that ultimately will enable you to deliver ‘junk’ to your customers at scale.  And in the process annoy customers like me who then end up sharing their experience on social media – just like I am doing now.

What Is The Access To Calling Forth The Best From Your People and Cultivating Authentic Customer Loyalty?

In the realm of business, first and foremost, I show up (for myself) and travel as a philosopher-strategist. One of the central concerns in philosophy used to be ethics: how to live well in this world with others. This has not been the case for quite some time and may account, to a large degree, to the way the world is and is not. One of the central pillars of strategy is focus: bringing to bear all your resources to the key leverage points at the right time/s.

Looking through the ethical and strategic lenses, I have been grappling with the question of performance and loyalty: what calls forth the best from the people who work in your business and what is he access to authentic customer loyalty? The kind without bribery, without the gimmicks. In my search I came across a wonderful book. Today, I wish to share with you certain passages that speak to me and may provide an answer to the question that I have posed here (bolding is my work):

Liberation Ethics

When people work in conditions of perceived unfairness and unkindness, they fall into a self protective mode. Like turtles, they crawl into their shells and hide. They’re not motivated to take positive risks, to dig deep inside to discover all their talents and bring those talents to bear in creative ways on the challenges of the corporate business. Their emotions are tinged by fear and resentment, and these negative feelings block the flow of positive emotional energy the could be putting to work in their daily activities…..

employees who feel honourably treated are most likely to pass on that honour and respect in their dealings with customers, potential customers, and vendors. Those who feel badly treated will quite often pass on some of that treatment as well to those outside the company with whom they have contact. And this can become a flash point for whether business is gained or retained. Most people find it difficult over the long run to buy even good products from bad or discourteous people. 

Relationships Rule The World

In the course of my life so far, I have become totally loyal to any number of businesses ….. because I felt well treated in each of these places, welcomed, honoured, and respected. Friendliness, kindness, genuine concern, that little extra touch, going beyond the call of duty – these are all exemplifications of basic goodness, applications of the moral dimension that often bring with them the result of loyal relationships and greater business success…

Tom Morris, If Aristotle Ran General Motors

Go ahead and develop a strategy, change the organisation structure, redesign processes, and implement the latest Customer Experience technologies.  And it occurs to me that if you don’t talk about, grapple with, and address the questions of liberation and basic goodness as exemplified by friendliness, kindness, fairness and genuine concern for the people in your business (those who work ‘within’ it), the people served by your organisation (customers), and the people impacted by your organisation (community, vendors, partners..) then you are unlikely to ever build a solid foundation that allows you to call forth the greatness of your people and cultivate enduring authentic relationships with your customers.

I know that this is a BIG ask. Sit in on counselling sessions and you will learn that almost every single one of us resists acknowledging, understanding, and dealing with that which really matters. We will do just about anything and everything except that which really matters: how we show up and travel in the world and in particular who we relate to and treat our fellow human beings including those closest to us.  And some folks do the difficult work and by so doing the live lives and make an impact in the lives of others that is uncommon.

I wish you a great day, thanks for listening. I welcome your thoughts, your experience on that which I have shared here today.

 

What Is The Access To Cultivating Customer Engagement and Customer Relationships?

My eldest son is in the process of buying a car, his first car.  He knows his budget (£6,0000. He knows the make and model of the car (Ford Fiesta).  Given this he knows that he will buy a used car – couple of years old.  His goal is to have this car in place by the end of this month.  His challenge is that he has never bought a car before.

What comes with this goal and challenge?  Concern. What is he concerned about?  He is concerned that he will get it wrong: that he will buy the wrong car – it is not sound; and or that he will pay too much for the car.  What does he want?  He wants help: he wants someone he can count on, who has his best interests at heart, to take the problem off his hands.  So he turned to me.

I have no experience in buying cars. My youngest brother is into cars, has bought-sold many cars, and so I have used his services.  So when my son asked me for help, I found myself telling him that I was not in a position to help him.  This was his reply:

“You’re not any help, are you!” 

It is the way that he said this that got my attention.  It was a voice of mild anger and strong disappointment.  Why?  Is relationship missing?  No, we have a strong relationship and this has been the case since his birth. Is engagement missing? No, we are engaged in each others lives – sometimes more than I’d like it to be and other times less than I’d like it to be.

Reflecting on that which occurred it hit me that we value those who show up as useful to us given our circumstances and the ‘projects’ we are grappling with.  Put differently, if you show up as useful to me then I am open to entering into a conversation with you. And through a series of conversations-interactions a relationship emerges.

Looked at this way, it hits me that all the talk of, and focus, on generating customer engagement and building customer relationships through a variety of tips, tricks and technology is misplaced.  It is misplaced. It is foolish. It is a red herring – distracting from that which matters.

So where should our focus be? On usefulness! It is when we show up as useful that the gate towards conversation and thus engagement opens.  It is only when mutual usefulness is present, does trading occur.  And it is on the basis of the repeated conversations-interactions-trading that a relationship emerges. Consider that when someone no longer ‘shows up as useful’ and they want to engage with you, have a relationship with you, they show up as clingy-needy. What is it that almost all of us do when this occurs?  We distance ourselves from these people. Why?  The simply do not show up as useful to us given our circumstances and our ‘projects’.

Please note that it is not enough to be useful as in have a useful product, service or solution.  It is necessary that one ‘shows up as useful’ to those whom we wish to trade with.  That means that an essential task is to cultivate awareness of our usefulness – to all who matter.  This was brought home to me in a recent conversation when the lady at the table said something to the effect “Where were you three months ago?  Why haven’t I heard of you? You should make sure you are on the Gartner report.”

In 25+ years of business life, I can only remember a handful of conversations where the people who matter in organisational life (Tops, Middles) grappled seriously with the question of usefulness: how can we be useful and show up as useful in the lives of our customers?