The Complexity of Customer Relationships

“You can acquire some measure of knowledge from various research techniques, but nothing beats living, breathing, and feeling the same things your prospect (customers) do.” – John Jantsch

Every business must cultivate meaningful, personal, and engaging connections with their customers. The closer a company can get to its customers, the better kind of experiences it would be able to provide them, ensuring that customers become loyal and stay profitable. Research shows that companies able to create these connections consistently see a lot more success through at least 3 times more referrals and increased spending from their existing loyal customers. However, the challenge lies in creating, sustaining, and understanding the complexity of customer relationships. While all customers expect to be treated well and made to feel important, how they expect this to happen would differ. In addition, building customer relationships that will last, takes time, a deep understanding, and a consistent investment of resources from a company and quite often many professionals ‘drop the ball’ on this crucial aspect, preventing the relationship from becoming optimally beneficial to both sides.

The manner in which customers interact with a company has changed now – the balance of power has shifted to customers. There are no guarantees that a customer would continue the association, and loyalty has become a rare quality. This does not bode well for companies and it has become imperative for them to respond in a ‘jiffy’ to every need and want of their customers or risk losing them to competition – and the time-frame of customer tolerance and patience is reducing dramatically and consistently. This effectively means that companies must stay proactive and ‘predict’ customer needs and wants, rather than waiting to respond when customers become frustrated and irate. Traditionally, when the neighbourhood stores thrived, shop owners knew their customers by name and shared a deep personal rapport with each one, which made it easier to understand and respond to customer needs instantly.

However, now this personal attention has been replaced by the deep complexity of customer relationships – with large customer bases, companies are unable to create and sustain those one-on-one and highly personalized relationships. Not just a large customer base, but also a larger number of products, global markets, an increasing number of competitors, and several other factors have added to the complexity of customer relationships. This complexity does affect the relationship companies share with their customers, and only those companies that create and develop myriad marketing and relationship strategies for each segment of their customer base, would find success through managing every customer relationship with reduced difficulty. There is no room for applying uniform strategies or managing every customer segment in the same way – this would be a recipe for disaster.

The good news for companies is there are several tools that can help them in reducing the complexity of customer relationships and automated processes tops the list. Automation enables centralized databases, tools to simplify workflows, prepare more robust customer service and marketing strategies, and other online processes. However, ‘connecting’ through automation is not a substitute for forging direct and personal relationships with customers – there is no care and the human touch is missing. Companies that use automation as a substitute would only be adding to the complexity of customer relationships, and would soon have a set of highly frustrated and annoyed customers. Given that everyone is so busy, harried, and trying to ‘beat the clock’ at all times, companies sometimes give in to the temptation of using automated tools to ‘reach out’ to their customers, and if it works on some occasions, it becomes the ‘standard’ process to stay in touch with their customers. However, research has revealed that among the top expectations and priorities of customers, the human touch and personalized relationships are perhaps topmost. Human connections instil trust and there is a sense of sincerity, which makes customers feel good about sustaining their relationship with a company.

We are not saying that automated tools do not help to reduce the complexity of customer relationships, but it lacks scalability and cannot be an alternative to personalization. While CRM systems do a great job of tracking and keeping the important and confidential customer data in a centralized location, they cannot recommend what a customer could need or what the best solution to their problem would be. It is only people and a robust company culture that can understand and work around the complexity of customer relationships, using the data and information maintained in the CRM systems. Another thing that adds to the complexity of customer relationships is that companies tend to rely on the ‘personal’ information given by people on their social media pages. However, simply using postings of what a person did, ate, or places they visited, even where they work, or even things they share, cannot provide a complete and holistic ‘picture’ of a person. These are only a couple of examples of why automation, though important, cannot replace human interactions, nor can they serve to understand and do away with the complexity of customer relationships.

To manage the complexity of customer relationships, a company must remain proactive – that is be able to use the information they have about a customer, to put together effective actions, which would benefit the customer in a number of ways. Putting together solutions specifically for a customer / customer segment makes them personal and unique, thereby making customers feel important and valued. Companies that can make their customers feel special all the time, are more likely to gain their trust, and sustained business. As companies begin to understand their customers better, the solutions and products they put together would be instantly useful and beneficial to customers. This not only saves effort, time, and money for the company, it also draws customers closer and increases their levels of engagement towards the company. By using the automated tools and information effectively, a company can help itself by adding meaningful personal touches to everything it does for customers, which in turn would build likeability and trust in the minds of their customers. Such positive feelings on a sustained basis result in the reduction of the complexity of customer relationships, while increasing the chances of customer loyalty and brand advocacy.

The most effective way to manage the complexity of customer relationships is to stop treating customers as transactions, but taking a genuine interest in what makes them tick and keeps them happy, what their pain areas are, and how best the company and its products can benefit them. Each person in the organization must be trained and have the responsibility to identify what would work best for customers, such that irrespective of the touch-point, customers always receive top class service and memorable experiences.

There will always be the issue of complexity of customer relationships – no two customers are alike and neither are their needs. Their emotions, level of trust, characteristics, budgets, and other such aspects will always be unique and different from the next customer – this is what adds to the complexity. However, a company that makes a sustained and genuine effort to recognize these different aspects would be able to reduce the complexity of customer relationships, thereby enhancing the level of happiness and satisfaction customers experience when interacting with the company. The benefits of doing so are sustainable and manifold.

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