How to Create Passionate, Long Lasting Relationships – With your Customers!

There is so much literature on customer relationship management that it is sometimes stifling to go through all the theory. What should be such a simple concept is often so over-analysed that many marketers grow a fear of it. This chapter will take the key ideas of CRM to simplify what is most important when dealing with customers. If I could choose another name for the chapter, I would name it “choose your customers.”

In life, we choose our relationships. While there are some relationships which are harder to get out of than others, for the most part we have a choice in which relationships we want to contribute to and build. The bottom line is that as much as we want to, we cannot be friends with everyone. It could be a problem with resources, or a clash of personalities, but for one reason or another we will always have to choose.

Doug, the abusive stalker ex-boyfriend whom comments on every single one of your posts? Un-friend him. Sher, the moody gossip who complains about every one of her friends? She’s probably complaining about you too. Definitely keep her away. Jack, the hard working and happy-go-lucky friend? He seems like a genuine guy. Keep him around more often.

Just like maintaining your list of friends, a company has to maintain their relationships with customers. The trick is to gain customers which resonate with what the brand stands for, and gently let those who are not useful go. In this, it is important to realise that money should not be all that is used to judge your customers.

For example, let’s assume one of your customers, Gaddafi, is a frequent customer at your shop. You sell all-natural orange juice, and your branding is highly aligned with promoting peace and love. While Gaddafi loves your orange juice, he is also the extremist dictator of Libya responsible for a large number of massacres and human rights violations. Gaddafi would be one of those customers whom you would not want to be associated with, unless you re-brand the company as “Death to the Oranges Juice Shop.”

Stu is a college student who buys your orange juice occasionally, but you identify that he always goes for the cheapest line, and only when they are on sale. Not only that, but Stu likes holding extended conversations with your staff regarding a variety of topics, such sugar levels, calorie and pulp count, and how much better the juice would taste if it was organic. Here, while Stu seems not to be a major profit increasing customer, he is still important. While he is using much of you resources, he is genuinely interested in your products and may be an incredibly influential or valuable customer in the near future.

Conducting customer relationship management is just figuring who you want to pay most attention to, and who you would like to keep at a distance. Like your list of friends, you would want to keep those whom you can benefit the most from closest. Of course, to do this, you must ensure that they also benefit immensely from the relationship as well. For those which are not as crucial, keep them as acquaintances. Send them offers now and then and engage them in friendly conversation, but there is no need to call them up personally every time they make an order.

For those who are toxic, gently cut them out. Decrease the amount of support and resources they can obtain, and keep it strictly transactional. While you should definitely NOT send them an email saying “let’s not be friends anymore,” you should not spend any resources on this customer. It is important to identify toxic customers correctly, and not just group anyone who has ever complained in this category. Toxic customers are those who you have tried to reach out to, but no matter what you do they seem to have a vendetta against you. They are those genuinely nasty people who want to exploit your services and your friendship purely for selfish means.

Sometimes, a particularly angry customer could seem to be toxic- but upon further investigation, they may be just frustrated or having a bad day. Don’t weed these out- they could turn out to be powerful brand advocates if turned around. Especially is there are strong emotions against you, there is usually a reason why this person thinks about you so much. Gathering feedback to improve your product may actually be the best thing you can do. It is those friends who do not have a particularly strong impression, and always take more than they give which you should watch out for as a business.

To better sort out the vast variety of customers out there, we can conceptualise them within the loyalty ladder framework. There are seven rungs to this ladder:

Terrorist – Toxic – Prospect – Customer – Client – Supporter – Advocate

Terrorists are customers whom hate your product or want you to fail. If you are unable to find a reason for why they are doing so, minimise their impact and decrease your interactions with them. Sometimes, being strict and unyielding may even be necessary. When a woman claimed to find a finger in a cup of Wendy’s Chilli, their immediate reaction was concern. They promised an investigation- but when they found out with certainty that the lady was lying, Wendy’s sued her big time for defamation and took a firm stance to ensure that this never happened again. While they would not have made so much fuss if the lady did not spark a viral outrage, because the damage was done, Wendy’s could only retaliate to ensure all their customers know that the allegations were untrue.

Toxic customers, as mentioned are those whom take more they give. A homeless man who begs for food is not necessarily a toxic customer. He could be an incredible opportunity for you to show your generosity and kindness, or a potential hardworking employee. If he was incredibly rude, and threw a fit around your store to obtain food, however, you would definitely want to keep him away.

A prospect is someone in the market looking for a product you offer, but is not your customer yet. Most businesses spend the most amount of money here, because the largest amount of revenue increase occurs with the prospect- but if you do, make sure you are not neglecting your customers. While they are your customers now, you can bet that other companies are spending just as much money if not more than you are to get them to switch. They are, after all, the competitor’s prospect.

A customer is someone who buys your products infrequently. You need to convince them to stay with you or purchase more regularly.

A client is someone who buys regularly. Definitely do whatever you can to keep these people happy.

Finally, an advocate loves you. They are previous customers you have delighted or surprised and are happy to recommend you to friends. They usually do not expect much from you, are super-low maintenance, and are more than happy to give you publicity. Make it your mission in CRM to find these people, bring them to your side, and keep them. The advocate is your strongest weapon against not only turning the tide against terrorists and toxic customers, but also to soften them and turn them around too.

From properly grouping and maintaining relationships with key customers, businesses can better work towards their goals and develop their brands. The key is to figure out which customers are most beneficial to your company, and which are most harmful.

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