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What Do Customer Relationships Look Like in Today’s World?

October 17, 2019


A strong customer relationship is critical for any company that wants to have customers.

Just ask John R. Di Julius, author of The Relationship Economy, Building Stronger Customer Connections in the Digital Age. He believes we long for a sense of community, belonging, and purpose. We want people to know our name. We want them to know what's important to us. And we want to be able to trust others.

"Those who understand that human touch is the most important part of any experience will flourish," Julius writes.

What do customer relationships look like today in the real world? How can companies create relationships that "flourish?"

Eliminate Pain Points

Juli Lassow spent 17 years working for Target—finishing as director of sourcing operations. She says, “It is useless to innovate using the latest and greatest technology and data tools if that innovation is not in service to elevating a consumer experience or alleviating a pain point."

Lassow opened a Minneapolis-based consultancy two years ago. She believes deep and enduring customer relationships are essential for growth. “There is a vast assortment of brands and retailers that consumers can choose from," she says. “Consumers can always find another place to buy what they want. The key to having them buy from you is brand loyalty."

She continues, "The most successful retail suppliers have a working knowledge of their retailers' target customers. These suppliers understand what is most important to the end customers. They think creatively about how they can support their retail clients in making connections with consumers."

Lassow points to Target's current focus on Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store (BOPIS). Target has eliminated the pain of going to the store and finding the item out of stock. Customers no longer need wait in a long line to purchase the item. “Guests love this feature," she says.

This also deepens brand loyalty. More than 80% buy more stuff when they claim an item they purchased online.

Get Your Hands Dirty

Not many people know more about supply chains than Bob Dixon. He's held executive posts with billion-dollar companies like Teradyne. He says in the past, suppliers and customers did not engage in a proactive way. “Customers complained and suppliers were expected to fix it," he says. “They did not mutually support each party."

Today, inter-company teams work together. They handle process improvements and develop new products. Suppliers and customers may even embed people at the customer or supplier facilities.

“Both parties want the other party to be successful," he says. “Trust, respect, and honesty across all engaged areas of each company are an absolute foundation."

He says suppliers and customers aren't afraid to get their hands dirty—literally. He recalls one Teradyne project dealing with challenging and difficult paint requirements. The product was not coming off the paint line as expected from a new supplier.

Dixon sensed the painter just needed a little bit of coaching. Even though he was wearing a blue dress suit, he gestured for the painter to give him his paint gun. Dixon showed the painter the proper technique—even though his own suit got covered with paint mist.

“I handed the gun back to the painter—watched him paint with the new technique," he says. “It was clear his technique improved. I then took off my ruined jacket and presented it to him as a reminder of our encounter."

Enjoy Wide-Ranging Benefits

Being personal goes beyond suggesting products to customers based on past purchases.

Most people realize personalization is key to customer relationships. A Forrester study found that 77% of consumers have chosen, recommended, or paid more for a brand that provides a personalized service or experience.

Being personal goes beyond suggesting products to customers based on past purchases. It's about becoming deeply invested in the customer's needs.

Putting effort into cultivating customer relationships builds trust. It also fosters bottom-line benefits. This can mean repeat sales and referrals. “Clients are more likely to accept your ideas and proposals when they feel good about the relationship," says Chuck Brown, CEO of Infinity—a firm that provides strategic consulting and IT services.

Strong customer relationships should radiate throughout the organizations. They should bring benefits to the customer, to everyone in the supply chain, and to everyone within the company. “One of the undervalued benefits is that everyone simply feels better," Brown says. “Nothing makes our team happier than when someone gives a review about a great experience. And it makes everyone's day better when you hang up the phone with support and they not only took care of your issue, but made you feel good about the encounter."

That's how you know if you have strong customer relationships. Simply put, everyone feels better. And the balance sheet will look better too.