I recently met Paul Herr, author of the upcoming book Primal Management. Paul’s been studying the science behind what motivates people for 30 years, and is convinced that an understanding of our “social appetites” is necessary to understand why we do things.
I asked Paul if his work could support my beliefs about the value of “We” relationships, and that relationships can have a very high economic “utility” value for customers, counterbalancing issues like price, competitive offerings, product imperfections, etc. Paul said he can definitely support these ideas, and a response to me on his blog contains this passage:
“The emotional calculus of relationships, I believe, is quite simple: if we value something, and then willingly invest effort into that something, it becomes incorporated into our sense-of-self, our identity. This identity-merging process is stealthy and subconscious. Psychiatrists call it cathexis.”
Cathexis. How cool. When you move beyond doing things for customers, and instead do things with customers, engaging your customers and investing them in the relationship, they will feel a sense of ownership in the relationship, and it will be an ownership they share with you. It will not be You and Me, but will be We.
My definition of a customer relationship is “an ongoing conversation in which your customer never thinks of you without thinking of both of you.” If you nurture this identity-merging cathexis through relationship-building encounters with your customers, your customers will value you in way that transcends the basic value of your products and services. They will get so much (utility) out of the relationship that your competitors will have a hard time stealing them.