Over at the Tom Peters blog, Steve Yastrow asks:
"What is a customer relationship?"
The definition that Yastrow finally offers is a good start. Yastrow offers:
"A relationship is an ongoing conversation with a customer…"
(He later offers a longer version which reads "A relationship is an ongoing conversation with a customer…in which the
customer never thinks of you without thinking of the two of you." I think the longer version muddles the point a bit. I also think the longer version is a little creepy, in a Sting/Police, "Every Breath You Take" stalker-y kind of way. But I digress.)
Yastrow’s definition is almost precisely aligned with a post that I made here in 2005 (paraphrased: "A customer relationship is a set of linked conversations over time"), which itself harkened back to a conversation with Doc Searls back in 2004.
This is really important, critical stuff.
Creation of this type of customer relationship has a number of prerequisites.
- Actively listening to the customer - A conversation requires multiple parties be present and interacting. If you’re the only one speaking, it’s not a conversation. It’s a monologue.
- Memory – Relationships are long-running. They are not atomic points in time, like transactions. As such, both customer and vendor need to be able to remember what’s been said and exchanged in the past.
- A long-term view – Relationships (typically) don’t have clearly defined end points. A relationship is, in most cases, intended to be an ongoing concern.
This puts a responsibility on the vendor to track conversations over time. But let me pose a question. For you, as a customer…if you want a relationship with a vendor, how do you track your interactions with that vendor over time? For example, how do you track things when you’re searching for a solution, or when you’ve bought something, or when you have a question or support issue? Note cards? Post-its? Excel? Simply "remembering?"
This issue becomes extremely relevant as we move into a VRM-enabled (VRM=Vendor Relationship Management) world. Because if we want buyers and sellers to build mutually beneficial relationships, both need to be involved, and both need to be able to contribute their portions of the conversation history to the dialog.
photo credit: AyG