Customers can do a lot more than spend money. For example, Cisco saves $200 million annually by means of customer-driven support communities (1). When companies use customers as a resource rather than a sales opportunity both parties benefit. The logic behind this is simple: People enjoy, are more loyal to and do more for people, brands and services they feel connected with.
Unlock your customers’ potential to improve your business
Amongst your customers, there could be some of the best marketing, salespeople and service employees for your company. However, leveraging this untapped potential hasn’t been mastered by many organisations. For it to work, the right relationship experience needs to be designed. One which encourages customers to engage and contribute in previously unprecedented ways. This article outlines the value customers can generate for organisations, what roles they can play and how these win-win situations can be created. Welcome to the relationship experience.
Customers are a lot more than a cost item. When the right relationship experience is designed, they will play roles ranging from driving sales to helping out other customers. As such, the ask could be as simple as setting their own table in a restaurant all the way up to designing future interactions with autonomous vehicles.
CX for loyalty has passed its use by date
Great customer experience alone doesn’t necessarily create sustainable brand loyalty. It does improve NPS scores, but if another organisation does roughly the same, these scores mean little in terms of retention. True loyalty – either repurchasing behaviour or customer contributions in other ways – is elicited through two-sided relationships rather than one-sided experiences.
Organisations should start creating relationship experiences in which the customer contributes, rather than delivering passive experiences the customer merely undergoes. Organisations need to move from customer experience to relationship experience. From interactions to encounters.
The benefits of CX decline over time
Repetition without alteration has the power to erode any great experience. A receptionist’s friendly greeting will quickly be dismissed as fake or even irritating if it doesn’t change when a customer returns multiple times. When experiences are orchestrated to develop with the customers’ experience however, a sense of progression is established. This will make the customer feel like a human being rather than just another number, eliciting higher goodwill and likelihood to engage with the organisation.
Relationships generate the bankable results CX promised
Relationships are a much better envoy for business outcomes than CX. 62% of organisations expect to spend more on CX in 2018 than in 2017 (3), but so far the business outcomes of these programmes have remained relatively disappointing (4). Relationships, on the other hand, directly drive increased operational efficiency, customer satisfaction and even long-term goals such as innovation and differentiation.
Customers can contribute both strategically and operationally. This means organisations can benefit from relationships immediately, but also use them as a means to differentiate their business in the long run.
Organisations aren’t set up for relationships
Relationships require reciprocity, trust, and truly caring. 81% of US consumers feel loyal to brands that are there when they need them, but otherwise, respect their time and leave them alone (5). For a lot of organisations that’s not their strong suit. Customers can easily feel whether organisations’ intentions to act ‘relationally’ are authentic or merely attempts to gain more business from them. That’s why most attempts at gaining loyalty, such as airlines’ frequent flyer programs, retail stores’ loyalty cards and e-commerce reward programmes are rarely able to develop true relationships with customers.
Keep doing what you’re doing, but integrate relationships into it
Luckily, organisations that want to establish relationships are not required to completely overhaul their products, services or experiences. Also, not all interactions in customers’ experiences have to become relational. Rather, developing a relationship experience requires identifying and designing encounters within current offerings. Both for customers and organisations, the untapped value of relationships can be capitalised on immediately, as soon as relational elements are added to current value propositions.
Do right by your customers and yourself, starting now
Whether it’s in regard to business, government or NGOs, people’s trust has declined in 2017 (6). Players in these fields should act now if they want to regain their customers’ confidence and loyalty. Otherwise, competitors will take away the relationships their organisations depend on. Luckily, no one so far has been able to successfully and sustainably manage customer relationships to reap the strategic and organisational benefits of high performing customers. For all organisations, a first mover advantage is up for the taking.
I am a founding partner of Livework having set-up the company in 2001. My focus on keeping Livework at the forefront of service design practice and ensuring we continue to create value for our clients.