Exactly why is it that building long-term customer relationships still is apparently the ULTIMATE GOAL, desired by many and attained by few?
About 25 years back, a straightforward yet compelling proposition was introduced in to the world of branding by several academics, with Susan Fournier at the forefront: People form relationships with brands like they form relationships with humans. The theory took both academic and corporate worlds by storm, with a huge selection of articles and books published, and brands everywhere needs to think and talk differently about customer relationships.
Because marketers want to believe their brand is often as important as a human in somebody’s life, and since it follows from the idea that the more human your brand, the much more likely people would want to form relationships with it, seemingly every brand has gotten the memo to “become more human.” In the end, the data seems clear: Whether it’s Amazon’s Alexa understanding how to whisper, Warby Parker’s upbeat conversational tone at every touch point from the web site to the box their glasses get to, or Google’s April Fools’ Day pranks, the cool kids’ success appears to prove that the more human your brand, the more customers will flock to it.
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And clearly, there is something to the — not merely do original academic studies about them show this, but each year the increasing role of authenticity and recognizing and rewarding loyalty to customers is shown. As may be the need for speaking in a human way and taking them seriously in your communications. Actually, just in 2016, 86 percent of consumers said their brand loyalty is primarily driven by likeability, with 83 percent stating trust.
Exactly why is it, then, that building long-term customer relationships — especially with that ever-elusive creature, the millennial — still is apparently the ULTIMATE GOAL, desired by many and attained by few? Why have customers been recently heard urging brands to “quit trying to be my best friend?” Could it be due to that much-bemoaned millennial fickleness and inability to commit? Or will there be another thing at play?
I’ll wager to state that most brands are simply bad partners. From bad apologies (VW, I’m looking at you) to surprise price hikes masquerading as the customer’s best interest (Spectrum — or must i say Time Warner Cable? — you understand that is you), to outright abuse if they think no one’s watching (think United), there’s no shortage of brands lacking key characteristics that could distinguish worthwhile human relationship from a doomed one — honesty, vulnerability, fessing up to your mistakes, listening regardless of what.
And exactly like with regards to the actual humans within their lives, millennials are (thankfully) empowered enough today and also have sufficient options out there, many thanks quite definitely, that they just haven’t any reason anymore in which to stay a dysfunctional relationship. With 40 percent of millennials not feeling taken seriously by brands, you may just want to start out going for a good, honest look at how your brand is stacking up as somebody — or risk being ghosted.
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Don’t misunderstand me, I strongly have confidence in brand relationship theory. It’s that like so many great academic concepts, it has fallen prey compared to that time-honed but ill-advised practice of companies taking the parts that suit them, while disregarding the others. Rather than creating meaningful relationships and adding value to people’s lives, they are making customers feel just like the only woman in a crowded bar. It’s not only about acting just like a human: it’s about determining how to be considered a good partner to them – "in sickness and in health" (notice how sickness comes first?).
So, what is it possible to do to create your brand an improved partner?
According to analyze by IBM, only 22 percent of customers think brands understand them (even for his or her favorite retailers, it’s only 37 percent). Yet there’s no way for this: Exactly like in a human relationship, being unsure of who they are (and by this After all knowing what they truly value, not just how old they are and how big is their wallet) doesn’t bode well for a long-term commitment.
Take time to get to know your visitors — but don’t just stalk them (just a little is ok, an excessive amount of is creepy). Once you can, give every single one of them grounds to want to activate with you and inform you of themselves — on social media and in true to life. It’s what Burberry did back 2009 when it introduced Art of the Trench (before there even was Instagram). Or Dove, using its “#mybeautymysay” campaign. Different approaches are right for different brands, however the first step is usually to clearly understand your customer to know what relationships they are missing.
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Exactly like with human relationships, and as every academic article on relationship theory will explain, there are multiple types of valid brand-customer relationships. And that’s a very important thing — don’t assume all brand can, or should, be the “fun-loving best friend”; when you have ten of these, it actually gets a bit exhausting (see that Racked article). Instead, reach into your brand DNA to comprehend where your personalities complement one another, and what role your brand can, authentically (buzzword alert!), play within their lives. So for instance, Mint isn’t a great best friend — it’s a motivating financial coach to a busy life navigator. Patagonia can be an inspiring activist role model for ambitious impact-seekers — you get the picture. In the event that you get this right, they could even want to introduce you with their family and friends.
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Out of most customers who had a bad experience with a reliable brand in 2015, only 28 percent said that the conflict was resolved very effectively. Ouch. And exactly like you’re more likely to distance yourself from a pal who weirds you out by acting just like a totally different person once in awhile, 73 percent of individuals are more likely to switch brands if a brand provides inconsistent degrees of service across departments.
But, there’s a lot more to the: Whenever I ask clients in a workshop to talk about their most customer-centric experiences with a brand, inevitably, 90 percent of their email address details are about brands handling a bad situation well. The real customer champions have understood this: That as being a human, it’s when the honeymoon phase has ended and the going gets tough that the real nature of a relationship reveals itself. That’s when the strongest bonds are formed. And just why Zappos and Amazon focus the majority of their customer support efforts following the sale has been made. It’s also why their service reps don’t read from scripts.
It’s in these a down economy that most brands flunk. Many seem to sign up to a distorted version of the mantra “there are no problems, only challenges,” failing woefully to acknowledge a problem they’ve caused, and alienating customers by not owning up compared to that failure (think former Lululemon CEO Chip Wilson’s body-shaming debacle and subsequent inadequate apology). Or, maybe worse, they pretend their failure was actually a decision consciously manufactured in the customer’s best interest.
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Publicly admitting and coping with failure in the humble and honest way we’d expect from an excellent partner appears to still go counter to many corporate instincts. In the worst of such instances, you can almost see managers congratulating themselves on “turning the problem around” in a gathering room somewhere, when really all they’ve done is left customers feeling tricked and unheard. (Incidentally, that danger can be why making a brand “human” requires empowering visitors to problem-solve at every degree of your company).
It’s well documented that failures certainly are a key chance of brands to build loyalty (think Domino’s pizza turnaround), and that customers will tell others in regards to a positive turnaround experience — and they will waste virtually no time dishing with their friends in regards to a bad one. Yet, still so many brands neglect the reality, while continuing to wonder why customers don’t want to commit.
Don’t make the same mistake. Or in case you have, start owning up to it now. Next time you give your visitors grounds to be unhappy, don’t wait to listen to from their website or pretend it had been all within their own best interest. Don’t react only once they’ve embarrassed you by airing the dirty laundry on social media. Instead, know very well what matters to them. Set your company up to have the ability to listen to what they need to say. Keep your promises. Respect their boundaries. Admit your mistakes. Once in a while, surprise them with a present-day — because. Celebrate successes with them. Make memories together. Comfort them when they’re down. And please, don’t creepily stalk them if indeed they leave. Just be somebody they want to stick with to begin with.
If you need committed customers, begin tak