Your customer relationships are your most important assets. As such, they must be nurtured, tended and protected if your business is going to be successful.
Chapter 3 in my book We: The Ideal Customer Relationship focuses on customer relationships as ongoing conversations. The concept of an ongoing conversation is easy for all of us to understand: Imagine reconnecting with a good friend after not being in touch for a few months. Do you need to reintroduce yourselves and start the relationship from scratch? Not typically! Normally, you pick up the flow of conversation pretty quickly, continuing with topics you’ve discussed in the past, as if your previous conversations had never ended.
As facile as we all are with ongoing conversations in our friendships, we tend to have a tougher time with ongoing conversations in our business relationships. There are many reasons ongoing conversations are more difficult in business. The other person may not be as interested in you as in one of their friends. You may not be as interested in them. The relationship may be (unfortunately) one-sided, where your customer sees you as simply a vendor. Your conversations with a customer may focus heavily on relatively boring transactional issues, and not on things that are interesting to both of you.
Here are four features of an ongoing conversation that you can focus on as you build your customer relationships:
1. It picks up where it left off
This is the most important element of creating an ongoing conversation with a customer. Remember where you last left things with this customer, and be sure to stitch together your last encounter with this one.
One of the best tools for doing this is to ensure that you leave a customer conversation with open issues and follow-up steps. As I wrote in this article, Don’t Finish Anything, it is much easier to maintain a conversation than to start a conversation. Leave each conversation thinking about how to link it to the next conversation.
2. It is a shared story
As I have written many times, the sad truth is that your customer isn’t all that interested in your story. To keep a customer engaged, and to stitch sequential conversations together, it is important that your conversation not be like a game of ping-pong, where you talk about the customer, then about you, then about the customer, then about you, and so forth. It is much easier to create an ongoing conversation if the focus of that conversation is a shared story, about how you and your customer work together.
3. It rings true for the participants
Ongoing conversations require you and your customer both to remember things from one encounter to the next. This is much more likely to happen if the content of your conversation is highly relevant to both of you. Don’t clutter your customer conversations with issues of low relevance, just because you want your customer to know everything about you. Every unimportant thing you bring into a conversation has the power to crowd out an important issue, making it more likely that your customer won’t create strong memories about your conversation.
4. It gets more interesting over time
Have you ever noticed how much faster you read the second half of a good novel? Great stories become more compelling as they develop. Likewise, an ongoing conversation gets more interesting over time. Look for ways to elevate the interest of your ongoing conversation with a customer as time goes on. Don’t let it get stale!
Here’s a final tip: Create a personal mindset of ongoing conversation. When thinking about the topics you discuss with a customer don’t think “we talked about this last week” and “we’re going to talk about that in our conversation.” Think, “we aretalking about this,” even when you are not physically in a conversation with your customer at that moment. For a conversation to be ongoing, you have to believe that it has never really stopped.