Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Curating Healthy Relationships With Your Consumers and Avoiding Unhealthy Ones

Everyone says that Social Media is all about "building relationships" with your consumers. The problem is that everyone says that like it's a really easy thing to do - something that should somehow be obvious and intuitive.

Unfortunately, people are rarely simple, obvious or intuitive. Our graphical user interfaces are pretty communicative - smiles and frowns go a long way to communicating our feelings - but when we move to text, we're back in the old DOS days of human-to-human interaction. In other words, you can't really hear tone of voice or see a smile in text.

Here's a few thoughts on building, curating and managing healthy relationships with your customers:

A discount is not a relationship

Because humans are complex, building a relationship is rarely as simple as giving a discount. A discount might bring someone through the door, but only good service, high quality and/or perceived value will keep that person coming back. Of those, "perceived value" is the only one that will get someone to spread the word for you.

A new friend is not the same as an old friend

Old friends have stuck with you through thick and thin. They support you in times of need. Well-established customer relationships are like old friends. You can skip the introductions, the polite banter and go right to the meat of a message. New friends, however, don't really know you, your business or what their place in your network is. Take a little more time to listen, to respond, be a little extra patient, go out of your way just one more time for them. And avoid the pernicious habit of assuming that every inquiry is a sales lead. Not every comment, like or share is the same a request for more information.

The larger your business, the creepier and less sincere personalization is

If I stop drinking a particular major brand of cola, it would be beyond creepy and disturbing for me to receive a communication from them asking what had happened. On the other hand, if the local coffee place noticed I stop drinking regular coffee and had switched to decaf, it would be pretty normal for them to ask what was up.

Know what reasonable limits you can have on personalization. Keep to them. The bigger your business is, the less like a healthy relationship it will seem to your consumer if you know everything about them.

Pay attention to verbal cues

Once you have a relationship established with a consumer, it's critical to pay attention to their verbal cues. Signs of personal pride associated with your business is good. Signs of brand loyalty is good. When your consumer becomes your advocate, you'll see them talk about you without prompting. Respond anyway, so they know you're paying attention...and so that you can manage the message. No matter how enthusiastic your customer is - often because s/he is enthusiastic - your message will get garbled. "Telephone" is not just a silly kid's game. It's typical of the way humans communicate.

Watch for Red Sirens and Blinking Lights

In a personal relationship, it's easy to see that your friend is becoming needy or detached. In business-consumer relationships, it's not quite as easy. One of the simplest cues to the fact that your customer and you do not have a healthy relationship is when they respond to your general communicatios as if you are talking personally to *them.* Avoid responding to this, unless you need to manage perceptions. General comments should remain general, personal conversations personal. Don't mix and match and don't allow the customer to mix and match for you. Boundaries are critical between you and your business relationships, just as they are in personal relationships.

Take time to address your relationships individually and you'll build healthy relationships with your consumers.
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