“Customers are assets.” Have You Totally Lost Sight of Your Humanity?

It occurs to me that whilst the words have changed the speakers who speak “Customers are assets.” continue to be gripped by the same old paradigm, the same old way of being-in-the-world.  And it occurs to me that one makes little headway in cultivating genuine customer loyalty if one continues to be gripped by this outdated paradigm and the associated way of being-in-the-world.  Let’s explore.

What kind of frame of reference would give rise to the statement “Customers are assets”?  Think about it, engage with it, and it comes clear that the frame of economics, of trade, is what gives rise to this way of thinking, speaking, and being-in-the-world.  It is in the world of the economist and accountant that one speaks of and deals in assets and liabilities.  There are fixed assets and current assets.  What does one do with assets?  Well if you are an economist or accountant you leverage assets, you make assets sweat, you strive to generate a ROI from your assets…

Now please take a moment and think of your life, your personal life, your social life.  How often do you talk of your partner as an asset?  What about your father or mother?  Do you refer to your children as assets?  What about your friends do you speak of them as assets?  How often do you hear other people, in social situation, speaking of the people in their lives as assets?

Now please tell me why you speak of your customers as assets.

I say that customers are not assets.  I say that customers are people.  I say that customers are fellow human beings.  I say that customers have hopes and dreams. I say that customers have worries and concerns.  And I say that it is the emotional bonds that we cultivate between our customers and ourselves that are assets. Why? The principle of reciprocity.  Most of us are brought up to live the principle of reciprocity – to return good for good, and bad for bad.  Most of us literally have no say in the matter. When people are good to us we feel compelled to be good to them. And if we do not return good for good our self-esteem takes a big hit.

Why is the distinction between “Customers are assets” and “It is the emotional bonds that we cultivate between our customers and ourselves that are assets” matter?  Because, it is the very kind of being and showing up in the world that gives rise to the statement “Customers are assets” that gets in the way of cultivating emotional bonds with our customers.  

Let me put it bluntly, the relationships that arise out of a context of love/service are vastly different to the relationships that arise out of a context of greed/selfishness/fear.   Customers are not assets. Customers are people.  And people do not like to be thought of or spoken of  as “assets”. No, they crave to be appreciated, validated, trusted, supported, encouraged, helped, included,  listened to, treated fairly …. Please notice these words – appreciation, validation, trust, support, encouragement, help, inclusion, listening – do not arise in the language/world of economists and accountants.

If there are any doubts then let me put them to rest.  Customers are loyal to you, your business, when you honour/validate that which matters most to them.  What is that?  Their human dignity. And their need to feel that you genuinely care for them and have their best interests at heart.  If this shows up as being unrealistic then I say this to you: I was with friends who have built up a successful business, against the odds, through this very orientation: genuine caring for customers as fellow human beings.

Sonia at Linkedin: how to deliver a great customer experience

Customer experience is fundamentally about the human.  And when it comes to the human we are exquisitely sensitive to the tone of the conversation. Get the tone right and you leave your customer feeling absolutely delighted with you.  Why?  Because the right tone validates the customers.  Get it wrong and the same customer will feel invalidated and resent you for it even if she does not ditch you there and then.

My Linkedin Experience

So what do I mean exactly when I speak of the tone of the conversation.  Allow me to share my Linkedin experience with you.

Yesterday I decided to take the premium membership from Linkedin.  So I clicked on the box, entered my credit card details and was then none too pleased to find out that I had been charged for a full twelve months.  Why?  Because I thought I was signing up for monthly membership: with a monthly membership you get billed month by month and can cancel anytime.

So I reached out to Linkedin customer support through the FAQ section and sent an email to the effect that I had unintentionally subscribed to a year membership. And asked Linkedin to cancel that membership so that I could sign-up for the monthly membership.  That was on Tuesday morning.  This morning ( less than a day later) I received the following delightful email from Sonia:

“Hi Maz,

I want to apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you.

Your premium subscription has been cancelled and a refund of $ 479.40 has been issued to your credit card. Please note that refunds take up to five business days to post to the credit card. To see a record of this refund:

1. Hover your cursor over your name in the upper right area of your home page and click on “Settings”.
2. Click on the “View purchase history” link.

You can also view your purchase history from the link below:
https://www.linkedin.com/secure/purchase?displayPurchaseHistory

Your Basic free account will still allow you to:

1. Build and maintain contact with your trusted professional network.
2. Find and reconnect with colleagues and classmates.
3. Request and provide recommendations.
4. Create and maintain your professional presence on the web.
5. Request up to five Introductions at a time.
6. Search for and view profiles of other LinkedIn users.
7. View Company Pages and follow Companies of interest.
8. Join and participate in sharing in Professional Groups.

Please know that you are more than welcome to renew your premium subscription at any time by clicking on “Upgrade My Account” at the bottom of your LinkedIn home page choosing monthly instead of annual subscription.

Thank you for using LinkedIn, Maz!

Regards,

Sonia
LinkedIn Customer Service”

Why am I Delighted?

I am not delighted that I got what I wanted – a refund of my subscription.  Why?  Because I assumed that as a professional organisation Linkedin would act professionally.

I am delighted because of the tone of the email.  Specifically, Sonia makes me feel that I am talking with a caring human being.  One that I can count on. How does she do that exactly:

  • Sonia addresses me by name and informally the way that a friend might address me if we were meeting up at a cafe.
  • Sonia absolutes floors me with her opening line “I want to apologise for the inconvenience this has caused you.”  In that one sentence, at an emotional level, I totally felt a bond.   Wow, I am speaking with a real human being – one that is speaking to me in normal human language and gets my experience.
  • Sonia tells me that she has sorted out my problem and she shows me how I can check for myself that she has fixed it.  Not that I have bothered to check I trust her.
  • Sonia shows me how I can go about subscribing to the monthly membership but does not pressure me to do it.   That leaves me feeling trusted.
  • Sonia ends the email as beautifully as she started it: ” Thank you for using LinkedIn, Maz!” I feel appreciated and validated.

The Lesson

Nothing, absolutely nothing beats a human being who gets the fact that customers are first and foremost human beings with deep emotional needs: acknowledgement, respect, validation, trust, caring ……The role of technology is to support these human beings in being great.  And to make life easier where the ease is wanted.  Technology should never be used to replace the human encounter – the personal touch.

PS. As a result of this encounter, I have decided to make a list of companies that I find to be customer friendly, even customer centred.  And Linkedin is on that tab along with other favourites such as TeamSnap and Amazon.