Larry Kent (left) and June Collyer (right) as ...

In social media and marketing we talk a lot about relationships. We talk about how business is often much more than just a transaction; how we need to humanize our business in such a way that we can truly build relationships that go beyond that of buyer and seller.

In the brick and mortal world, this usually comes natural for small businesses. As customers come through the door on a regular basis, we get to know them and value them.

Online, this becomes a bit more difficult, and our overuse of the word “relationship” has turned relationship building into something we analyze, overanalyze, and try to cram into some type of formula. I’ve read all sorts of posts on how to build relationships with your customers, with lists of things you should do. But I thought it might be more instructive to come at it from the other side.

What are the things that kill a relationship?

If we take a look at any sort of relationship, whether it’s a business relationship, friendship, or even romantic relationship, we know that they often fail. Sometimes, because of the actions or inactions of one or both parties, a relationship falls apart. It’s rarely pleasant, but it happens.

Relationships fail.

But why?

What causes friends to part ways? What causes two people to call it quits? And from a business perspective, what turns our customers against us so that they walk away?

If you look at friendships or even romantic relationships, there are a few factors that are usually present:

Lack of trust. Dishonesty. Inattentiveness.

But when you boil all of those down to their root cause, they all arise from the same thing:


When one person in a relationship puts their own interests ahead of those of the other person, things start to go wrong. Too often we treat our personal relationships as if they were business transactions:

What have you done for me lately?

We should never treat our personal relationships like business relationships: temporary, mercenary, and disposable. On the other hand, maybe we need to treat our business relationships like personal relationships.

As we deal with our customers, we need to avoid the thing that drives them away: selfishness.

Now of course this is a bit harder when we’re clearly in business to make money and earn a living. And of course the greater profit we make, the better. But we should try to be more focused on them than on ourselves. If our customers perceive us as selfish, they’ll be more willing to walk away. This is at the root of much of the general feelings many have about major corporations, banks, and big box stores; that they are only out for themselves. But even small businesses can fall prey to worrying more about themselves than the customer.

But just like in a personal relationship, the dividends of being selfless are great. When both parties in a personal relationship are focused more on each other than themselves, they both reap the benefits. The same can be true of a business relationship. Now we can’t expect our customers to be focused on us, but we can certainly focus on them; giving them attention and showing them that you value them.

Being selfless includes all areas of our business from products and services to customer service.

It’s not easy, especially when bills need to be paid, and we get caught up in the daily business of business, but it’s certainly worth it.

How are you trying to woo your customers by being selfless? Do you have examples of businesses that seem to put their customers ahead of their own interests?