Why Developing Customer Relationships Is So Hard

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The Harvard Business Review recently interviewed psychologist John Gottman, the executive director of the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle. Although Gottman’s work focuses mostly on interpersonal relationship (in contrast to business-customer relationships), many of his comments are pertinent to marketers. According to Gottman:

“Good relationships aren’t about clear communication — they’re about small moments of attachment and intimacy.”

My take: I’ve tried to convey the same sentiment when writing about the stories loyal customers tell. The stories loyal customers tell come from experience — and those experiences are often not planned and/or orchestrated. This has huge implications for marketers striving to build strong customer relationships. It implies that the best you can do is establish an environment that enables these “small moments of attachment” to happen, but that consciously trying to create them may seem forced or unauthentic.

Gottman also says that:

“Successful couples look for ways to accentuate the positive. They try to say ‘yes’ as often as possible.”

My take: I wrote a while back, in a post titled Trust Is A Two-Way Street, about the experience a fellow blogger had with her bank, in which her bank didn’t believe her when she said she had called to file a claim. Gottman’s comment echoes my sentiment that building a relationship isn’t simply about saying “trust us” but saying (and demonstrating) “we trust you.”

For many marketers, the notions of “small moments of intimacy” and “mutual trust” are foreign concepts. The result: While marketers talk about customer relationships, few (if any) really have an underlying sense and understanding for what that really means. And few have developed effective metrics to capture the strength of their customer relationships.

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