If you’re like most customers, sick and tired of waiting on hold (“thank you for holding… we’re sorry for the inconvenience…  we exist to serve you…”) and repeating the most basic information (your name, account numbers, passwords, and more, every time you transact on the web, over the phone, and in-person)–you are desperate for basic intelligence if not a little human attention. Some respect would be nice too. And yes, maybe, just a little love.

Frankly, customers just don’t get enough love from most of the companies that wish to serve them.  It’s kind of funny.  Or would be if it wasn’t so counterintuitive. Let’s consider the customer relationship lifecycle in the context of an interpersonal relationship. (Hint: that’s what it is, so pay attention.)  At first, the relationship is rosy.  Big promises, great packaging, nice salespeople, and “service guarantees.” On the road to selection and purchase, every company trots out its best marketing tools and sales expertise in an effort to get the customer.

The irony is that in many cases, all this great stuff gets tossed once the relationship has been consummated; most companies focus more on acquisition than retention. Compare the rise of marketing budgets (acquisition) with the allocation of comparatively small budgets for improving customer experience (retention), in spite of the recognized connection between better customer experiences and higher revenues.

So, how do customers feel?

The thing is, once a customer has experienced a certain level of service–and made a purchase decision based on this experience–their natural expectation is that that level of service will continue to be met.

In our personal lives, we understand we cannot realistically expect close friendships, family relationships, or a marriage to survive and thrive if we do not continue to put effort into maintaining them. Why should a company’s relationships with its customers be any different?  Unsurprisingly, any company that doesn’t pay at least as much attention to keeping their customers as getting them is vulnerable to those customers walking away.

Certainly many companies already realize this. When it comes to delivering an exceptional customer experience, retailers such as Marshall’s, Target, and Amazon are among the Top 5 on Forrester’s 2013 Customer Experience Index Rankings.

But thousands of other companies are vulnerable because the state of their relationships with their customers is so poor. For many of these companies, their products and services tend to be impersonal. Responsiveness is uneven at best, miserable at worst. The experience across departments or channels can be so different from one to the other that the relationship with the company feels broken, if not downright schizophrenic.

In the era of the smart customer, it takes less time than ever for frustration, annoyance, and anger to build.  Across the board, customers are tired of being misled, or even lied to, and being treated as numbers rather than living, breathing human beings.

They’re not going to take it anymore. And guess what? They don’t have to. Your competitors are a click or a call away, and no matter what industry you’re in, it’s easier than ever for your customers to switch.

So how do you identify–and fix –any customer relationship issues? It’s simple. Just remember, it’s not about you. It’s about how your customers believe you treat them.

Want show your customers some love? Look in the mirror…

As with any relationship you wish to improve, the place to start is by looking at yourself. I suggest that you hold up an unrelenting mirror to the way your firm touches individual customers.  Put yourself in their shoes.  Are you fulfilling your promises to them? Does the experience of interacting with your company make their lives easier and more enjoyable? Or is it difficult and no fun at all for them to get to the information they need?

If you’re honest with yourself about what you see, this mirror has the ability to force process, organizational, and cultural changes within your company.  In the age of smart, digitally empowered customers, fixing customer experience also falls into the realm of “enlightened self-interest.”

And you should improve it now, before that same lens through which your customers see you reveals your flaws to the rest of the world.

Because once the force of social influence helps everyone hear how you’ve scorned your current customers, you’ll have a much harder time getting new ones–regardless of how many marketing dollars you throw at creating new relationships.  After all, it’s much more profitable (and way easier) to drive loyalty among the customers you have, than scrambling to replace those you’ve lost.

As they say – now painfully immortalized in the words of 80’s glam-rock bank Cinderella – You Don’t Know What You Got (Till Its Gone).