A good friend of mine once explained why our friendship was so strong.

“Relationships are like banks. It works best when you both make deposits. That way, there’s always something in the bank for a withdrawal.”

While it’s wonderful to hear that someone you admire feels the same way you do, his observation was truthful for lots of reasons. Apply this idea to relationships with customers, and you’ll see everyone, whether customer or company, needs to make a withdrawal from the relationship bank at times.

Relationships with Customers

If your customers feel nurtured, cared for, appreciated during the good times, they will be more forgiving, understanding and compassionate when there’s a problem. If your customers mistreated, ignored, unappreciated or neglected when everything is going as expected, how will they feel when you need to make a withdrawal from the relationship bank?

It’s well documented that a little mixup can actually increase loyalty when the recovery is handled well. However, there are conditions. It only works when your customer believes it was beyond your control, not foreseeable, or the like. If there are several bad experiences in a row, the customer is going to lose faith. They have been asked to make deposits into the relationship bank (through trust, loyalty, etc.) but you and your organization have clearly been withdrawing more than you’ve been investing.

How can you invest in advance? Here are some ideas:

1. Proactively, personally, and unconditionally THANK your customers.

Here’s a great example from Thomas Pink:
Relationships with CustomersSimple, yet personal and thoughtful. No sales pitch, no begging, just a nice, thoughtful way to say thank you. Cha-ching. It’s in the bank!

2. Understand your customers are not obsessing over your brand.

Think about how you can make their lives easier by making it easier to navigate your store, your web site, your IVR system or mobile app. How can you make these experiences faster, easier, and happier? While Amazon is not always a top contender for customer experience, they have certainly established themselves as a place for people to get their shopping done quickly and easily. How many times have you, as a customer, decided to shop there only because it’s so easy? The site remembers your preferences, offers relevant suggestions, and gets you from A to B in record time. That’s a lot more appealing than filling in the same order form over and over and having to hunt for the items you need.

3. Care about your people before they become customers.

Ever wander into a small business and feel like you’ve interrupted the sales team? How about when you’re browsing and they glare at you like you’re wasting their time if you’re not going to make a purchase?

Here’s a test: Casually browse through any Trader Joe’s market some time. They smile, greet, and are basically always happy to see people. It’s ingrained in their culture. Everyday, millions of people on Twitter push and push and push content, products or ego to their followers. It’s become a big part of what Twitter is today, but hardly a way to show customers you care. Sharing useful content, supporting others, and generally connecting with people will proactively build relationships and make them want to become customers.

When things go wrong (and nobody’s perfect), wouldn’t you rather have something in the bank?

Image Credit: 401(K) 2012 via Creative Commons license