One might think by now that we would have figured out what makes for great customer relationships & experiences. Ask yourself have we figured this out? Really, lets stop and really sit with this question. What comes up for you? Here’s what comes up for me:
One does not create/build, nor manage customer relationships
That’s right, one does not create/build nor manage customer relationships! News to you? That just how many folks think about it and thus go about it because they have brought into the sloppy thinking / language which is ubiquitous in business. It is also deliberate play by those who started the CRM bandwagon – language chosen to appeal to managers who buy CRM. This may explain how it is that the CRM industry flourishes whilst customer loyalty languishes; only a handful of companies, the same companies, are renowned for customer loyalty – I get that you know who they are.
Customer relationships grow over time and this growth is messy
A relationship is formed when two or more human beings interact-communicate-relate over the course of time. Relationships grow (rather like a plant grows from a seed) and this growth is not linear. The growth is messy – rather like that which occurs in a game of Snakes & Ladders. One can no more manage the customer relationship than one can manage one’s way through the game of Snakes & Ladder. Only BS artists and idiots can truly believe that one can build/create relationships like one builds/creates a car/house or manage relationships say like I manage my library of books.
A customer can be said to have a customer relationship with a person working in an organisation, or the organisation itself
As a starting point we can segment/categorise customer relationships into two: the relationship between a customer and a person employed by an organisation; and the relationship between a customer and the organisation itself.
There is certain quality in the relating that occurs between one human being and another – sharing of personal information, sadness/sorrow, laughter/joy. It is like the relationship one has with friends and the relationship I had with my neighbours (Chris, Christine) whilst I was growing up in Lancashire. Tops, in commercial organisations, do everything in their power to diminish or extinguish these kinds of relationships. Why? Because the bond is between the employee and the customer. And the employee can walk out of the door as easily as s/he walks into it. Tops want the organisation to own the relationship with the customer. Hence, the rise and continued rise of CRM software.
The relationship between a customer and companies is different. What is a customer relating to when he relates to / has affinity for a company/organisation? See the absurdity/trap in that question? No, ask yourself which customer is he talking about? So take me as the customer. My relationship with Amazon is based on pure self-interest: it is convenient & cheap for me to buy from Amazon than other retailers. My relationship with the Guardian newspaper (where I choose to be a member and pay as oppose to read the content for free online) is based on an affinity with what this newspaper stands for: we share common values and objectives. My relationship with the National Trust is based around my love of natural landscapes & beautiful old mansions. As well as my affinity for that which the National Trust stands for.
There is never a Customer Experience!
If you have been paying attention then you will get that there is never a Customer Experience! To talk about Customer Experience is to talk about the singular. A singular entity that does not exist. Think! What is so in the world that you & I share?
Always there are customers – plural. Therefore, and necessarily, there are a multitude of customer experiences. Each customer experiences – and if you have 1 million customers there is going to be significant variations in the experiences of these customers for the same interaction/touchpoint. I say it is simple minded at best, mostly idiotic, to think in terms of Customer Experience as opposed to customer experiences. Why am I being so assertive/forceful? Because my experience is that sloppy thinking (including use of language which often drives our thinking without our realising it) leads to idiotic actions disguised as visionary genius.
Let me say this one more time: think/speak customer experiences! Which comes back to one of the most useful things I learned at my time with The Peppers & Rogers Group. At the heart of PRG’s strategy work lay this primary (foundational) principle: treat different customers differently.
I have grown plenty since my time at PRG. Today, I say it necessary to go further: treat the same customer differently at different times. Why so? Allow Heraclitus to speak on my behalf: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
One cannot create nor deliver a Customer Experience!
There is so much talk about creating the Customer Experience or delivering the Customer Experience. Stop, stop, stop! Think! What the fork are you saying? How is it that you and I can be relatively intelligent when outside of the work environment and idiots within?
What the fork is a Customer Experience? Well its not a thing is it? Look, I will pay you £1 million if you go and get me a Customer Experience. Will you ever collect this £1 million. Fork no! Get it? Let me spell it out because it is possibly that you have been so brainwashed by business bullshit that your capacity for thinking/reflecting/questioning has became so dormant as to be non-existent – almost.
A customer experiences – always there is experiencing going on. Experiencing is a kind of relating/communicating that is going on.
The question is, always, what does this concrete customer experience? This customer experiences a certain kind of relating occurring between herself (importantly her mood which is usually in the background often hidden from the customers consciousness) and the context s/he finds herself . By context I mean environment, situation, actors, interactions, communications..
Can you/i create (as in specify) and/or deliver this relating – as in a specific experience? Fork no! Its a dance – always a dance between the mood of the customer and the context that the customer finds herself in.
At best you can set-up the context in a way that you think will speak to our customers: pick the right venue, staff it with the right people, pick the right music, and invite our customers to dance with us. Some customers will be thankful (to you) for their experience – of you caring for them and going to all this trouble to create a great spectacle/experience. Other customers will experience you as being pushy, of going beyond acceptable boundaries. Lets make it even simpler: some will love the music you have chosen, others dislike it, and many will be indifferent. You get that which I am getting at, right?
Enough for today. I thank you for your listening which creates the context for my speaking. Until the next time…