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LOVE IS A VERB: CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE & RELATIONSHIP – PART II

Welcome back. If you somehow have arrived here having skipped over reading Part One of this series, you can revisit and catch up (or just watch the You Tube video if reading one article is enough for today).

This ‘Love is a Verb’ series continues to look at the nature of relationship, regardless of whether that is our Customer Experience relationship, Employee Experience or even our own personal relationships. Emerging from the pandemic, we all crave re-connection and more authentic relationships, with self, family, friends, colleagues, and for brands and businesses, with customers and employees.  Longevity of relationship takes work, investment and with the societal reset we have all just been through, a significant opportunity now presents itself for better connections.

Customer Lifetime Value and Brand Loyalty are only achieved by doing something about it. Measuring satisfaction, NPS scores and hoping customers will remain loyal is the same as no longer working at your personal relationship and assuming your partner or friends will always be there for you regardless of your efforts, a rather short-sighted view.

Part One covered the first five attributes of what makes a healthy relationship and how we can best leverage this in CX with our customers. This article covers the second five. As you read, reflect not only on how you can apply this to your brand but also to your own personal relationships. Remember, Love is a Verb.

Keynote speaker Ken Hughes shouting to himself speaking about his new customer experience keynote love is a verb

6.Fair Fighting & Conflict Resolution

How we deal with conflict in a relationship is one of the key markers for the future success of that relationship. Dr. John Goffman. an American psychologist, is most famous for his work around marital stability and divorce prediction. He famously predicts the likelihood of couples ‘making it’ often based on just one session, with 94% accuracy (which seems a very exact figure). Particularly, he looks at how they handle conflict and inter-discussion. The couples that approach conflict resolution as a team make it, those that don’t, won’t. How we handle moments of conflict define a relationship.

Imagine you are having an argument with your partner. Most people just want to win, they want to be right, to feel justified. However, a far healthier way to approach any conflict is to think about what is best for the relationship, not for you as an individual.  It should not be about who is right/wrong or who wins but how the conflict and discussion strengthens the relationship, how afterward it is somehow deeper, more authentic, for both parties.

In Customer or Employee Experience, any moment of conflict is a golden opportunity to deepen the relationship and invest in Customer Lifetime Value. This isn’t just ‘the customer is always right’ brought to life, but a genuine fair, empathetic and compassionate approach to conflict. If a customer feels let down by our brand, feels dissatisfied, or feels that our processes aren’t easy or fair, that is conflict. The last thing they want to hear is that their feelings are wrong. When a brand answers a customer with ‘sorry, those are the terms and conditions’ we invalidate their feelings and instantly move back several squares on the Customer Lifetime Value board.

Conflict as Process

Conflict also does not have to be a moment of failure on our part in product or service delivery. It can also be where we stick to the process regardless of the customers needs. Ensuring your employees have the autonomy to act empathetically is so important. Watch this one-minute clip from Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents to understand the pointlessness of corporate process conflict. It’s funny because it’s true.

So, treat conflict as an opportunity to deepen and grow your relationship.  Don’t just try and win. If after a moment of conflict your partner loves you even more, you know you are doing it right. Let’s treat our customers the same way.

7.Acts of Service & Gift Giving

In Part Three of this series, we will spend significant time on Love Languages, but Acts of Service and Gift Giving are key to showing those we love that we do care.

In our personal relationships, an Act of Service can be anything. Perhaps you do the laundry or washing up, even though it’s your partners turn, because they’ve had a hard day. That coffee or breakfast in bed on a Saturday, even helping a colleague in the office with the paper jam in the printer. We show people we care by helping them, by surprising them, by little acts of service to show we care. A favourite sandwich made and packed, a hot bath ready for when they’re home, a hot chocolate for your kids ready for when they come in from soccer training in the rain.

Most of us are good at this in the beginning of a relationship. We show our appreciation for the other through gift giving and acts of- service. But as a relationship goes on, this often fades. Worse still, one person does more than the other, love languages are taken for granted and resentment sets in, the beginning of the end.

From a customer experience perspective, we often miss opportunities to build deeper more meaningful relationships by waiting until obvious moments in the customer journey to make contact with a customer. Your insurance company might only make contact at annual renewal, when they want something from you. This is the equivalent of only getting your partner a gift on their birthday and never doing anything else for them all year.

When brands go beyond and deliver little acts of service they form emotional bonds that last. When Chris Hurn’s family went on vacation with his young son to a Ritz Carlton hotel, disaster struck on their return home, as his son had left his favourite giraffe teddy behind. The hotel reassured the dad they had found the teddy in the laundry and were mailing it back to him immediately. When they received it, it was accompanied by a folder showing the adventures Joshie had during his extended stay at the hotel. Joshie went to the pool, the spa, and even got a job in security.

Little acts of service by a brand form relationships beyond the transaction. Just as in your personal relationships, fail to give small gifts and acts of service and the relationship moves into a ‘taken for granted’ space, which is never a good place to be.

8.Sense of Personal Responsibility

You complete me. I would be nothing without you. It is a lovely sentiment but also one that is highly co-dependent. Healthy relationships should be inter-dependent (two individuals supporting one another) as opposed to co-dependent (relying on each other for their core happiness and purpose). A relationship should not be a straight-jacket to your happiness.

The same is true in our customer relationships. Firstly, we need to realise that we need them (our customers) more than they need us (unless you are in a monopoly position, and I don’t mean collect €200 when you pass GO). Relationships that have a power imbalance are not overly healthy, and in fact, we need to learn to GIVE more than we GET in our customer relationships. We have more to lose if all our customers walk away tomorrow.

In terms of sense of personal responsibility, we need to be clear who we are as a brand, even without any customers, What is our ‘why’?  Why do we exist, beyond profit? American outdoor clothing brand Patagonia’s tagline is “In business to save our home planet”. Their why is clear and today’s consumer wants to have ‘relationships with purpose’

Build a strong sense of purpose, learn to lean-in to the relationship more than you think necessary and give as much as you want to get. If you want Customer Lifetime Value, then show those customers you mean it too. Be inter-depenent.

9.Personal Space

No one wants a clingy partner, someone who invades your personal space, tags along every time you want to just go out with your friends, checks your phone messages when you leave the table. Healthy relationships require healthy boundaries.

As brands we also need to respect a customer’s personal space. Every time you send them an unsolicited marketing email, a sponsored placement in their social media feed, you are invading their personal space. Think of how you feel when you open your Linked In messages and see a sponsored message there, masquerading as a personal message, trying to sell you something. How do you feel? This is your personal in-box. You don’t like the invasion.

As more brands design conversational economy strategies (using WhatsApp or We Chat as brands to communicate with customers), please remember that you are stepping into platforms that are highly personal in nature, where I chat to friends and family. Ensure that anything you say is personal, has direct high-value benefit to your customer, and is not just you trying to ‘sell more’. Don’t be that creep invading your partner’s personal space. It is never attractive.

10.Humour

Every dating profile in the world probably says the same thing. Must have a good sense of humour. Relationships are built on emotional reaction and laughter is one of the easy ones. Someone who makes us smile, giggle or laugh is someone worth having around.

Brands need to engage their customers (and employees) and humour is an effective way of building instant connection. Even when your product is serious (as in the funeral product below), you can still have fun.

Brands need to realise that they can have fun with their customers and with each other. I love these burns from Royal Mail and Tesco Mobile in response to consumer tweets. Not all communications need to be corporate and PC.

Learn to have some fun with your customers, make them smile. This becomes even more important as digital interactions become our norm. We need the chatbots and digital interfaces to make people smile too, to engage, to be a bit quirky. Lose your sense of humour and you are a transaction. Make customers smile and laugh and you have a relationship. Also, remember to make your loved ones smile too. They can be laughing with you or even at you, it doesn’t matter … as long as they’re laughing!

So those are the 10 attributes that form healthy long-lasting relationships (remember to go back and read Part One for more detail on those first five). If we take the time to identify which ones we can activate at what parts of the customer or employee experience, we can begin our journey toward Customer Lifetime Value. This is particularly true for digital interactions. If we are to move away from digital convenience and transactional interaction toward some sense of collaboration and consumer connection, we have to build in human empathy, human emotion and human relationship theory to how we interact.

Also, do yourself a favour and scan those 10 above again and see which one you are going to bring to life today with those you love. Remember, Love is a Verb. If you stop showing someone you love them, they may very well forget. This weekend, plan a date-night, go all out and show them you care. Just don’t send me the bill.


This blog is an extract from Ken Hughes’ brand new ‘LOVE IS A VERB’ keynote speech.

Ken Hughes is now considered one of the World’s leading speakers on the subject of customer experience, consumer values, organizational change, leadership and agility. His virtual and live in-person keynotes are famous for their high-energy, thought-provoking content as well as their impactful and inspiring delivery.

Book this inspiring keynote for your next physical, virtual or hybrid event.

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