If I say the word ‘Business’ to you, what exactly do you think of?
What do you see? What do you feel?
If you’re anything like me, it’s a building, or a product or an office that you think of and see...and you don’t ‘feel’ much at all.
If I change my language and say, ‘I want to do business with you’...What do you think now? What are the emotions and the images that spring to mind? Even though we’ve never met, you’ve an impression of me that you’ve picked up from previous blogs, or the bright website maybe, or FB posts... and you will be thinking and feeling something about me...hopefully some of it positive!
A business is a thing. It’s something we do. It can’t ‘do’ anything...least of all work with another business, or a customer. It is us that do the doing, and what we do is all about people and relationships. That’s what our customer experience is really made up of...a series of relationships.
An old boss of mine once famously said to me, ‘It’s not about relationships Marianne, it’s about results’, and I have spent the intervening years happily proving her wrong. Business is ALL about relationships...whether you are a business owner, an employee, a customer, a supplier, or someone who has yet to become any one of those things.
The business jargon that talks about B2B (Business to Business) and B2C (Business to Consumer) removes people from the equation, and allows those in the business to think, feel and act very differently. They become more detached, more objective, more results and profit-focused...and yes, occasionally that detachment might serve them when they need to step back and look at their business with a cold objective eye...but it should only be occasionally and for very brief periods, because that removal of warmth could kill their business.
We all work People to People (or P2P if you need to shorten it) ...and we all want to deal with people we like.
First we get to know them - through their marketing, through referrals, through their employees, or through face to face interactions. We get to know what they do, the quality of their products and services, the sort of people they employ, the values they have. And we start to build a picture of them based on that very first impression from that very first encounter.
Then we decide whether we like them or not. Maybe we share their values, we like how they build relationships, their products and services meet our needs really well...or perhaps we just connected really well with one of their employees.
Based on the simple fact that we like them, we will then do business with them. I'm sure you all have examples of where this was the case.
At this point they haven’t quite gained our trust. We don’t know them well enough yet, have not had enough experience with them to make that move from liking to trusting...but they can build that trust over time by consistently getting things right for us. I don’t know if you have come across the idea of a Trustbank before, but it’s a metaphor that works well for me. The idea is that the customer has a Trustbank, and every time a business performs well, and lives up to their brand promise, a deposit is placed in the Trustbank, and their account grows and grows over time.
If they make a mistake or perform badly, you make a withdrawal from their account...but if the account is healthy, the relationship will survive. If however they make mistakes early on in the relationship, or a major error at any point, the goodwill in their Trustbank account will become overdrawn and the relationship will be in serious danger of total collapse.
There are classic examples of trust being destroyed completely through one ‘act’ or one major problem from which there was no coming back. Two from relatively recent history are Gerald Ratner’s pronouncement that the jewellery he sold in his shops was ‘Crap’, and the other, was in 1982 when Pan Am Flight 759 crashed, killing over 150 people. Both Ratner's and Pan Am were very successful companies at the time, but neither were able to recover the trust of their customers, and both failed soon after these incidents.
Trust is huge in any relationship, and the benefits of being trusted can also make the difference between getting by as a business and really being successful. One of the most powerful benefits is being referred by customers who know your work, like you and trust you enough to recommend you to their friends and colleagues. It’s one of the best ways of building business and can save a a small fortune in marketing costs.
The other way, which is also word of mouth, is by creating Customer Advocates...you know...the people who sing the praises of a business and tell others about them...who love the brand and the way they do business, and want the world and his wife to know how good they are. Netflix was one example that was advocated in this blog and I’m pretty sure you all have businesses that you are a huge fan of...I think everybody does.
Whichever way you look at it, and whatever terms you use to describe it...a customer’s relationship with a business, and the sum of all of their experiences with the people who work in that business...will determine how successful that business will be.
It really is all about People.
Marianne is the author of three books, and is currently working on her fourth, whilst regularly writing her blog, we hope you enjoy it :-)