The best way your company can build customer relationships is by encouraging customers to have shared experiences with employees in your company. It’s how you build strong friendships and other interpersonal connections. Research has shown us that not only can personal connection and interpersonal experiences increase loyalty, but the more emotionally intense an experience is, the stronger the relationship will be. It’s one reason why people will take their dates to horror movies. Now, I’m not saying you should terrify your customers, but it does explain why customers develop extreme loyalty to companies after they work through a challenging product or service problem—even though such a situation should logically break any type of business relationship. We can thank peak-end rule for that.
The peak-end rule claims people remember the most extreme and the ending of an experience. Most aspects of an experience aren't particularly memorable; it's rare to experience something extreme. Typically, extreme experiences center around problems and challenges; we often don't associate extreme experiences around something positive, unless it is extreme winnings or a prize of some sort. In the case of a customer support call, there is a problem, or we could say, an extreme negative experience. But if by the end of the call there is a resolution, that’s a very positive experience. What the person remembers is the turnaround—and that’s what keeps a customer relationship going.
Now if you are working with someone on a shared goal, you will also develop a closer relationship with him or her. This works differently than peak-end rule. To see this in action, let’s consider what happens when you make a friend.
So, let’s say you discover a friend—either through a group, other friends, whatever. You learn information about that person and share information with him or her about yourself. You then experience this person through activities and conversations—like having dinner or coffee together, going to movies, taking trips—all the things that friends do. You solve problems together—your friend may have a challenge and you help him or her work through it mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically. After some time of things going well, something may happen where you need this friend to emotionally support you through a life changing or traumatic event, like a parent being in the hospital, a pet dying, or some other trying experience. And you ask your friend to help. You friend may or may not step up to the task. If your friend steps up, your relationship deepens not only because you build trust, but you share more connected, emotional experiences. Your friend demonstrated to you that you can rely on him or her in times like this. If your friend does not step up, you either stay in that same friendship zone, or, because expectations weren’t met, the relationship dissolves and it devolves to a breakup.
A customer’s relationship with a company works in the same way. Banter between an employee and customer regarding the discovery of a problem or issue creates an experience. Through conversations, both share good times and bad, suggest trying something new, and compare notes. While customers and employees share experiences and solve problems together, the customer is seeing first-hand how the product works and experiences the solution.
Experiences and conversations come together in this in-person experience method through store experiences, showroom experiences, the demo, the test drive—it’s a space where a customer can experience the solution, a product or service, with other customers and employees. It’s through both interactions and conversations that customers can get a vision of how a solution will improve his or her life and have an opportunity to collaborate with employees to resolve an issue.
It’s in these in-person experiences where customers can envision themselves using the product, fully understand what it can do for them, and how they can benefit from it. Such experiences inspire customers and motivate them to change. It’s easier to change when you fully realize how such a change will improve your life. You can more easily see what’s painful in your life today and acknowledge that the pain really is that bad; making a change worth it. That’s why these experiences are so powerful, so necessary, and often not used much. Although they can be costly, the return on the investment in live experiences is overwhelming. It engages all senses, all emotions, our imaginations. This is usually what engages people the most and gets them to make a decision. It communicates the brand best.
It’s also why companies like Apple, Microsoft, Warbly Parker, Amazon and other companies have adopted a storefront model. Why do car companies invest in showrooms and lots? For this reason, too. Experiencing a product and having conversations about it can help customers more easily compare “what-is” to “what-if” And envision what their future could be.
This video includes information found in the book, Revenue or Relationships: Win Both, to guide you in using different communication methods to achieve specific goals as defined in your customer relationship lifecycle strategy to build better customer relationships.
The idea of in-person conversations represents one of four quadrants I outline. The quadrant chart presents how you can look at communication approaches as types of conversation methods to engage customers and build customer relationships in business. You could say that this quadrant helps you develop a content or customer communication strategy because what is content but a way to have a virtual conversation with a customer?
The quadrant defines these conversation methods using two axes.
On one axis, we map the delivery method of a communication, which could be anything between an in-person interaction or automated or digital experience. On the other axis, we map if an experience more closely resembles an interactive experience that requires actions with a person, system, product or service or an interaction only between two people or a person and system, which allows for a more personalized experience.
These experiences allow a customer to understand what the company does by providing the ability to ask direct questions and experience the product first-hand, all with the hope that the customer will understand how it could help him or others. The customer and the company co-create an experience together, although the company may initiate it. This approach encourages problem-solving and is the most collaborative and creative of all approaches. Relationships are built from collaboration around education and problem-solving, and this approach includes both. Spontaneous expressions of empathy and compassion are also the cornerstone of this step. When employees and customers directly engage with each other they can build a relationship. Additionally, customers can more easily experience how the product or service can help them best. In many ways, this reflects why businesses are successful—human contact encourages employees and customers to develop solutions together and express themselves honestly and spontaneously, building foundations for solid relationships.
It's in this communication method that customers can be most open to discuss their needs and the employees can easily share how the company can best address them. This doesn’t happen with other methods. As stated earlier, by allowing a customer to experience a product and encouraging in-person conversations about it, customers and employees can quickly determine the customer’s specific problem and identify the best solution and how the product or service could address it. In that conversation, they can discuss that customer’s priorities and values and see how it meshes with the company’s values. It’s a way to accelerate a sale and deepen a customer relationship.
What’s challenging with this approach is that the experience is less spontaneous as the crowd size increases. As more people attend an event or experience, the experience then shifts to be largely pre-planned, although there are opportunities for deeper individual engagement between employees and customers. Side-bar conversations at events increase and improve connection because they are opportunities to get insight into how a solution will help a customer specifically. One benefit in a larger setting is having less reliance on getting the customer to imagine or visualize how this solution can help him; he can see it live and up close and understand directly.
Examples of activities for both company and customer generated in-person experiences include events and tradeshows, including meetups, in-person store experiences, demos, and similar live interactions.
You can measure the success of your in-person experience by using success metrics similar to what you used for in-person conversations like customer satisfaction scoring or net promoter score, improved issue resolution time, and time to sale.
However, it can be challenging to measure factors in this environment unless you track and record people, which isn’t just less than optimal—it may literally not be possible. Ideal metrics that would be great to have available are time to purchase or resolve an issue from store entry, number of visitors per day, or number and types of interactions. For experiences in a tradeshow booth or conference it would be great to track the number of visitors, number and types of interactions, resolution time, number of items given away, purchases made on the floor. Note that this is only a sample list of quantitative measurements. There are countless more that you can use.
Some ways to measure emotional engagement could include tracking activity on social media after a store visit, determining stronger loyalty to a brand (and to me loyalty is less about repeat purchases and more about wanting to see that company succeed). I’d also suggest that a company could measure brand perception, brand consistency across this and other experiences, brand communication, and if the customer has a stronger belief that the company could help him or her after the store experience. And of course, you could always go back to measuring if someone would recommend would he recommend it (back to NPs).
Regarding measurements related to content analysis, one could record and transcribe sales or support conversations to gain insights about key topics that matter to customers. But this is also difficult to do unless you can record these conversations, which may not be possible or realistic except in the case of a call center. Alternatively, discussion topics could be tracked real-time, but if there are many people and many conversations in a live setting and it is busy, that may not be realistic either. I believe retail has addressed many of these issues and it may be worth leveraging such measurements from that world. Otherwise, I’d recommend that you audit the content that is in the store or tradeshow or whatnot. That could provide great insights to determine if brand values are being communicated appropriately.
It may be easier to get insights into qualitative measurements from employees. You can discover insights into customer motivations, feedback about the product and company, and observations about where people congregate in a store or tradeshow (it may be related to a topic or interest).
When creating your plans and journeys, it’s worth considering building relationships that may not result in a sale. Consider other roles for this supporting stakeholder like influencer, employee, or partner. As the experience is more customized for someone’s needs, the stronger the connection that is built, while at the same time, it may result in a different customer role.
To sum it up…what can you learn from the measurements of in-person experiences? You can discover topics that could be automated by creating a web page, some type of blog post or content, or a conversation flow in a chatbot. You could get product feedback that requires improvements or enhancements. You could also get customer input for prioritizing product features and requiring further customer research because you would discover new customer problems and through the conversations, possibly discover innovations to resolve them.
What’s great about in-person experiences is that they allow your company and employees to discover what customers clearly want because you can develop compassion for them. You can talk directly to them, understand their emotions, and feel and see their frustrations. It’s a method that makes it easier for employees to help customer envision what this solution could be for them. A product or service is available to be demoed or test-driven or somehow experienced first-hand. Further, this experience that can be used to develop relationships that may not result in sales but could get you an influencer who helps sales in the future.
This is the most robust type of communication tool available because it combines conversations with experiences and product experiences. It is truly the best of all worlds.
Hope this was helpful. Thanks so much and have a great day!
At-a-Glance Summary of the Four Quadrants
Automated, Digital Individualized Experiences
Potential Content Creators
Company (employees), influencers, third-parties (analyst firms, review and content creation companies), press, potentially customers
Company (employees), influencers, third-parties (search engines, social media, chatbot companies)
Customers and influencers unlikely
Company (employees), influencers, third-parties (call centers), customers
Mainly companies and third-parties (event hosting companies, analyst firms, store fronts)
Less likely: customers, influencers (e.g. Meetups)
Customer discovers general information
Customer finds information that solves their problem
Customer gets referred to a person or resource
Customer discovers specific information that solves their problem
Employee can connect emotionally with the customer
Customer discovers how a product or service could help him or her
Employee can connect emotionally with the customer