With Great Customer Relationships Comes Great Responsibility

Thirty-seven years ago, my mother started teaching cooking classes in our kitchen. Thirty-five years ago, she formed what has become the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts; I sit on its advisory board. Several years ago, they began blogging, Facebooking, and tweeting. Last month, one of the graduates started a Facebook group for alumni. Within a week, more than 1,000 people had joined.

This, of course, is a dream scenario, notwithstanding the fact that it took 37 years to create the overnight success. It is the best possible intersection of brand and social media: where people engage with you not because you are offering a special deal, nor because you paid for a Like, nor because you’ve run a gimmicky promotion. They are engaging with you because their relationship with you is part of their self-identity, because they are proud of the connection and of what it says about them. For a company, this is an honor and a privilege -- and an obligation.

When people publicly commit to your brand in this way, you have to live up to your end of the bargain. You have to continue to deliver. You want them to feel they did the right thing with their public proclamations of support, and that they chose wisely; you can’t embarrass them.

The poster children for brand self-identification, of course, are Apple fans. Apple customers don’t just use their products, they display them, wear them, parade them. Part of the reason Apple has been so successful in mobile is the eagerness of the clientele to show as many people as possible that they are the kind of savvy shopper who owns an iDevice.

Which is why Samsung’s “Next Big Thing” ads are so successful. When you are putting yourself out there as a devout follower, you don’t want those you are following to look like idiots. If you’re spending hours, days, weeks in pursuit of rarity and leadership, you don’t want to arrive at your destination to find out that it is neither rare nor in the lead.

The fact that people identify with your company doesn’t necessarily mean you have to continually release new features; it means you have to consistently sustain your side of the brand bargain. Being first technologically just happens to be the nature of the brand relationship Apple has with its customers.

And although by definition every relationship involves two or more parties, it’s essential to understand the way your customers perceive the brand relationship, to know what is wanted and expected of you -- and what will never be accepted from you. For all the self-proclaimed success of G+, for example, Google’s customers still don’t seem to want social media from their search provider.

It requires an exceptional level of self-awareness to create this kind of deep customer connection and maintain it in the face of dynamic market environments. It may seem easier to just pay for clicks. But my mother’s vision for the school she started was that it should last 100 years -- and if you’re looking for that kind of legacy, your KPIs are going to have to be a bit more profound.

What do you do to maintain your customer relationships?

Recommend (8) Print RSS
3 comments about "With Great Customer Relationships Comes Great Responsibility".
  1. karen lippman from howard sloan koller group , October 19, 2012 at 10:40 a.m.
    So if Apple is "first technologically" and that "just happens to be the nature of the brand relationship Apple has with its customers" - how does it sustain the brand and continue its popularity 37 - let alone 100 years from now? First has a short lifespan.
  2. Ted Rubin from The Rubin Organization / Return on Relationship , October 20, 2012 at 11:01 p.m.
    Love this Kaila. RIght on the money! Relationship are not simply a click of a button, throw out some posts, and move on. And the value is in creating real relationships... not pretending to do so.
  3. Kaila Colbin from Missing Link , October 20, 2012 at 11:50 p.m.
    Thanks, guys. Karen, great question -- the 100-Year Question! Built To Last and Good To Great explore some great principles of longevity -- preserve the core/stimulate progress, cultivate a cult-like culture, etc. -- and Innovator's Dilemma is also essential reading for anyone looking to span generations (bearing in mind that a generation in Internet terms can be only a few years...).