Personal stuff matters in business.
Ever had a customer you love. They 'get' your business. They value you, respect you. They think of you first when something comes up you could help with. I'd wager you return that treatment with things like: respect, empathy to their position and needs, sincerity and honesty. The same things that are important in a friendship. The point is, both sides see value not only in the service, but they respect and value the people. It also impacts your bottom line.
Working extra hard for a client because you value the relationship takes an investment into the people-- this adds value to the ongoing relationship and builds trust. Everything we do is ultimately to benefit people, and in business we have to remember that people make decisions logically and emotionally.
Building relationships in business is a great thing-- we all get that. We already put so much value on our networks. Depth in networks are built on servanthood. If you serve your network, then it will serve you. You get out what you put in. In terms of a vendor/client relationship, if you serve your client well the relationship will last for a long time. This actually leads to increased profit due to lower business development costs— depending on what article you cite (here’s a nice rundown from Harvard Business Review), it costs 5-25 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain one!
”...if you serve your client well the relationship will last for a long time. This actually leads to increased profit due to lower business development costs…"
Valuing your clients like your friends leads to increased lifetime customer value, higher margins, and happier team members on both sides of the equation.
Personality, emotion, and value
Ever had a tough customer? You know the one I’m talking about… after a while you didn’t trust each other and every conversation about the deal led to an agonizing litany of ‘what ifs’ and interpolation of ‘strategy' to stay one step ahead of the game. This kind of relationship causes emotional fatigue on both sides of the deal, it adds complexity to the process, and often leads to over documentation for CMA purposes…
I overheard someone on a flight say "I'd love my job if I didn't have employees and customers..." The person they were speaking to chuckled. I get why that's funny, but if that's a serious sentiment, then it's really sad! If your employees and customers are that much of an emotional drag on you, then maybe they aren't a good fit for your business (or maybe its you). Perhaps you treated them like a client, just part of your revenue. It’s worth periodically reflecting on how you view/treat your clients. There is always more you can do. The other side holds true too; if they didn't value your company then they wont treat you well either.
I've watched the stress level of our colleagues at Anthroware increase steadily when we've had a mismatch of this human relationship dynamic. Business isn’t just business, it’s full of emotion, personal attachment, and personal relationships.
There are a miriad of examples about how relationships effect workplace dynamics-- the products and services businesses sell are to extend and enhance their customers effectiveness, the vendor and consumer on the same team in a way. Shouldn't that mean we should at least share some common core values with our clients-- the same as we would expect from a new team member?
A tangible example of when a friendship-quality working relationship is important with a customer or client is when you screw something up. Maybe other agencies out there are perfect, but Anthroware isn't. We've missed a detail before that's affected a deliberable or timeline, we're humans. Mistakes cost everyone something, even if we remedy the issue without charging. When there is depth and trust mistakes can be viewed as a problem that needs to be overcome. With no relational depth, it devolves into finger pointing and blame shifting… unproductive, stressful, and hard to recover from.
How do I get it?
Does your company value picking great clients and customers and treating them like friends instead of business transactions? If so, then that behavior is likely modeled from the top leaders of the organization. Treating everyone like they matter and they are worth investing time and engery into is a foundational cultural pillar. One of my mentors told me a story about another CEO that stuttered through a product offering when asked "what do you sell?" He got all the products right, but it wasn't exciting or engaging. His top lieutenant spoke up and said "we sell trust." Really? "Our customers buy from us because they trust the products, and because we have relationships with them-- they know we'll stand by them, and our products no matter what." Realizing that you sell trust is huge. Realizing you only want to work with clients you trust in return is a game changer. These clients will have a longer lifetime value, lower churn rate, and a much lower emotional toll on your team.
Lastly, take a serious look at what you're doing to invest in customer retention. According to Invesp (a top shelf consulting firm focused on client conversion with clients like eBay and 3M) many companies spend a lot less on retention vs. acquisition (check out this infografic). You can read a lot about tracking churn rate or retention rate (same numbers), but understand that those metrics are reactive. The event of a customer leaving you is already in the past. Their leaving is likely due to something that happened sometime before they left (perhaps months before) that they never recovered from. You lost their trust and didn't get it back.
What could you do in your business to track customer happiness now? At Anthroware, we have a scorecard for each project that we evaluate at the end of every 2 week sprint. It looks at things like how well we're communicating, if we're delivering on-time/on-budget, trust level, etc.. We try to be as objective as possible, create an environment where we can be honest about what we're doing well, and where we need to improve. We are transparent with our clients about successes and failures. This ongoing score of 'project health' is one tool to help us stay on top of our relationships with our precious clients.
Business isn't 'just business'… it inevitably includes emotion, personal bias, and isn't always as rational and reasonable as we’d like— that's because at the end of the day we're dealing with real people that don't always make decisions the way we'd expect. All decisions are made with logical inputs and emotional inputs. Investing in the relationships sways personal bias and emotional outlook towards trust. How much are you investing in your business relationships? How much is your company modeling and investing in client retention? A lot of the time, doing little stuff to personalize these relationships and show the people you work with that you care about them is easy and inexpensive.
It also makes bottom line sense. Navigating business relationships and decisions with human nuance leads to higher retention and a healthier workplace. Higher retention means greater lifetime value on both sides of the deal.
We build real relationships with our clients because we believe its the best way to do business, it's not a scheme. It takes effort above and beyond building great products for them. But it's so worth it, and when you put your heart into your business relationships, the result is that the products and services you build/provide also have heart in them. We're people, we like things with heart.