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Keeping the spark in long term Customer Relationships

This past Sunday’s New York Times had an interesting article on how passion fades in romance, why it happens and what can be done.  It struck me that there are many parallels between the evolution of personal romantic relationships and in the Customer relationships we seek to foster.

The article describes how we can experience great happiness in a relationship for a while (they claim 2 years), but this new love eventually segues into ‘companionate love, a less impassioned blend of deep affection and connection’.  As humans, we adapt to our circumstances, which helps explain some of this change.

GfK has long recognized this phenomenon and we believe it applies to customer relationships as well.  This is the driving force behind our application of Noriaki Kano’s thinking to our Customer Loyalty model.  One of Kano’s key tenets is that there are Delighters in a customer experience, but that which delights today will become a minimum expectation in the near future.  This has a few implications worth noting:

–  Identifying the key Delighters and delivering on a ‘Wow’ factor are critical to establishing the ‘new love’ in a relationship.

–  Equally important is understanding that the impact of these key Delighters will fade over time, so we must always challenge ourselves to identify the next source of delight, to continually innovate in our customer relationships, and to do so before the competition does.  When the initial relationship ‘love’ begins to fades, competitive threats are at their greatest… this is the time when the eye wanders and our customers begin to wonder if there is something better out there.

So how do we keep the spark alive?  First, be sure to be aware of the potential new Delighters first; and when you ‘own’ them, be sure to leverage and promote them.  This requires constant insight into your customers and your competitors’ customers as well.  The article states that “surprise is a potent force. When something novel occurs, we tend to pay attention, to appreciate the experience or circumstance, and to remember it.”  Introducing new approaches or features that we expect to delight our customer base can be done with consideration to variety, providing a departure from an expected experience or interaction.  In our Customer Experience work, we have also observed that customers who remember an experience positively have significantly higher loyalty levels, and are almost certain to recommend the company.

When my colleagues’ salon called to offer the use of their showers in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, they were following the key tenets of their customer service approach, but applied them is a surprising and delightful way.  Surprise and delight can be injected in subtle ways throughout a relationship and companies will do well to make this an intentional part of their customer management strategy.  Whether its initiatives like Zappo’s sending flowers, innovations like Starwood’s SPG program allowing you to choose unique experiences to use Loyalty points on, or my local restaurant sending additional new food to try to make up for a delivery delay, the new twist in the relationship can be just enough to renew a spark.

An emerging key Delighter we are seeing in many industries is customers wanting to be made to ‘feel special’, to feel like a company ‘notices them’ and is willing to make a personal connection with them.  This desire suggests that an effort to keep the spark alive will become ever more critical to retaining customers and growing long term relationships.

The challenge now is to find the equivalent of rose petals and candlelight greeting your customer at the doorway.  As the article reminds us, Woody Allen proclaimed in his film “Annie Hall” that “a relationship is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies.”  This stands as true in Customer Relationships as it does for romance.

 Don Simons manages the Customer Loyalty and Mystery Shopping teams in North America. He can be reached at Don.Simons@GfK.com

 

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