While delivering my washing to our local dry cleaner this morning, I realised the reason why I always go back to that specific dry cleaner: it is a result of an intimate relationship that has developed between me and the owners over a period of time. The owners know me by name and the name of my wife. They know that I am happy to collect my washing the following day. They know how I like my shirts ironed and the list goes on. In turn, I know that opening the dry cleaning business was something they planned to do when they retired and that they moved from Durban to Johannesburg to be close to their family. The relationship we have formed has reached a point that I feel guilty if I do not take our dry cleaning to them.
The Wikipedia definition of intimacy starts as follows: “Intimacy generally refers to the feeling of being in a close personal association and belonging together. It is a familiar and very close affective connection with another as a result of a bond that is formed through knowledge and experience of the other. Genuine intimacy in human relationships requires dialogue, transparency, vulnerability and reciprocity.”
Let’s unpack the definition and equate it with the relationship companies hope to achieve with their customers or clients. I have picked a number of key words from the definition and will discuss each in turn.
With any relationship, you have to expend the time and effort to know everything you can about the person with whom you intend to form a relationship. The more you know about your prospective and existing clients and your target industry, the better informed you will be when you interact with them. Isn’t it a great feeling when you walk into your favourite coffee shop and your regular order is brought to you before you even ask for it? The only way you can get to know more about a person is to conduct research, ask questions and run surveys.
Continual dialogue is an absolute must with any decent relationship. The important thing is to ensure that the conversations you are having are relevant and of interest to your client. The other trick is not to overdo it and to use the communication channel of their choice. Make sure there is “dialogue” and not “monologue” so encourage your customer to talk to you. On any social network, there are ways and means to encourage two-way dialogue. Instead of just tweeting, use a @mention for a specific individual, ask a question or for their opinion.
A strong bond is generally formed when the person with whom you are developing a relationship realises that there is no hidden agenda. This does not happen overnight but once it does, a there is an element of trust, your relationship will go from strength to strength. If you initiate the relationship with a specific promise, do not change it.
Any proper relationship is based on “give and take”. If you are giving on a regular basis, there is no harm in asking for something in return, so for example, if you provide value-adding, business-related content in the form of a newsletter on a regular basis, you should be able to ask your client to respond to a survey, introduce you to a prospect or provide a testimonial in return. As the relationship strengthens your intended client may turn to you for advice which may turn into a business opportunity. At this point, the relationship is still reciprocal (ie you are providing a service and being remunerated in return).
This advice sounds pretty obvious but all too often, people get this wrong. No-one is going to “buy” from you until you are viewed as a trusted adviser. Don’t sell, but rather build the relationship to the point where your prospect will make a buying decision.