When I talk to people about my career background, I always mention how lucky I feel to have started my career in the political world.
It’s a great place for anyone wanting to build a career in communications (or really any job where you interact with people) because it’s a great way to develop your “relationship IQ.”
Customers, constituents, colleagues, advocates/ambassadors, influencers, enemies, media….any relationship you can think of, you have to handle.
There really isn’t any type of relationship you don’t get a crash course in when you work in politics. And, in a world where relationships of all types are the foundation of success or failure, you also quickly learn the value and sensitivity of these precious human connections.
Customer Relationships are Non-Selfish
- You learn the value of words—and how the difference of only one or two can mean success or failure.
- You learn what negotiation really means and how to lead people where they need to be vs. push them to see things your way.
- And you learn to read people and REALLY listen. Then adjust your communication based on the feedback they provide.
Unfortunately, many of these important relationship “rules” are forgotten or become rusty in our digital communication.
Online communication is implicitly selfish because you are in your own fishbowl.
And that is the antithesis of what’s needed to build great customer relationships.
It’s very easy to be focused on who we are, what we do, and the value we provide—not to mention what we want (a sale, a new customer, a media placement, to “just end this stinking meeting” already, fill in your goal here).
What we want doesn’t matter.
What matters is how we can serve the needs or wants of our target customer, and our communication needs to reflect that repositioning.
Often we think we are doing this, but when we really dig into how we position things.
Default is always to make everything about ourselves.
As communicators, we have to do everything in our power to fight against that.
Your Priorities Don’t Matter to Me
Your customer has a set of priorities based on their goals.
As a business, you have a set of priorities based on your goals.
Normally those goals and their associated priorities do not align.
This seems very straight-forward and logical, right?
But too often, outside vendors or organizations approach consumers with disregard to this differentiation.
A communication initiated based around self-focused objectives will almost always end in failure.
And this is true both for your sales team and communications efforts across all media types.
Real Life Fail
Here is an example of the above which pretty much everyone of you will relate to.
I had a vendor call me in the middle of the day.
Now considering I’m their typical target customer, they should know enough about their target audience to understand an unsolicited call in the middle of the day is fail number one.
Most likely an unsolicited call in the middle of the day for someone in my position will result in a quick “send to voice mail.”
If for some reason I pick up the call (by accident or curiosity) it’s in the middle of doing five million other things, just getting out of a meeting, running straight to another meeting, responding to client texts, and deleting as many emails possible, all while juggling two flaming swords.
(The two flaming swords are only a slight exaggeration.)
Long story short, if I was this vendor I’d find another way to initiate the first conversation.
If forced to call at that time, I’d go into it with the knowledge I’m disrupting the flow of an already busy work day and allow that be an important understanding to guide how I communicate.
That didn’t happen, either.
Third customer relationship fail: lack of research.
We live in a world that provides a frighteningly unlimited amount of data to help inform understanding about our customers.
Failing to use it is not just dumb, it’s negligent.
If this salesperson at taken a bit of time to understand what mattered to me (not her) it would have given her really important knowledge to strengthen her communication.
Let’s sum up the fails so far (there are so many, it’s hard to keep up):
- Poor timing
- Lack of empathy around the prospect’s situation
- Lack of research about the prospect
The Plot Thickens (and the Customer Relationship Thins)
I picked up the phone.
I had been working with one of our client’s extended teams on a rather time-sensitive project and I didn’t want to miss one of their calls.
She greeted me with forced intimacy and without an introduction and asked how my day was going.
It doesn’t take the CIA to translate these things as the universal sign of a clueless salesperson, and yet…
I responded something along the lines of what a crazy busy day it was.
A clear cue to communicate: I’m busy, so you have about 30 seconds either offer me a million dollars and a vacation home in Italy or to tell me your purpose.
This cue was not picked-up and she started her pitch.
I let her finish and told her we were not interested.
“But I’d like to set up a 20-minute demo for you next week.”
“But we’d want to show you the platform and why it’s better than what you are using.”
“What are you using? This is better. I’ll set up a demo for you.”
At this point, I was just still there to see how long this might keep going.
“I just need 20 minutes of your time to show you what’s so great about XX.”
And I hung up.
Thirty minutes later she emailed me because four “no” responses weren’t enough to get my point across.
Ban French From Your Communication
I love this story because it is a VERY clear example of lack of respect for the value of customer relationships.
The communication was selfish and one-sided.
She didn’t take time to think about my needs or goals. Only her own.
Gini Dietrich frequently reminds clients and our team to take the French out of your communication: the “we, we, we.”
No one cares about you.
And, if you make customer relationships the foundation around which you build your communication, you’ll quickly see this “French” has no role.
No offense to French as a nationality or a language.
The example above was sales-specific and extreme, but this rule remains true for all communicators.
After you write something—whether it be a pitch to an influencer, an email, a blog post, an eBook, website copy, collateral material, or a social media update—ask yourself:
“Is this about me, or them? Does the goal of this communication align with my goals or my prospects?”
Customer Relationship Content Audit
“Me, me, wonderful meeee …”
My Dad always used to sing that song to me when (as an only child) I did or said something that was extremely self-involved.
(He may or may not still do this.)
And unfortunately, it is also a song many of us sing to our customers every day through our content.
Take some time this week and do a customer relationship content audit and see what you find.
Really think about it.
This doesn’t come easy at first because you are so focused on your goals, it’s easy to see them as universal.
- When you write a pitch to a journalist or influencer, is it about you or about a topic or story that’s of interest to them and the community they serve?
- How many times do you say “we” on your website pages? Count them.
- Look at your social media updates. Are they a curation of content valuable to the community you are trying to target (even if they aren’t a customer)?
- Do you serve as a moderator for discussion in your community or an infomercial?
- Review your email marketing and newsletters. Is the information provided thought-provoking and valuable—separate from your product or service?
- Look at the emails you send clients, partners, colleagues. Are they self-focused or relationship-focused? Is the language inclusive and supportive or exclusive and demanding?
Build Customer Relationships First
Human connection is always the number one goal for communicators.
That means customer relationships always come first, even if it’s inconvenient at times.
Customer relationships take time and effort.
A relationship-focused organization takes time, effort, and a genuine interest in people to build and maintain.
It requires you to set-up processes and goals for your team that align priorities with customer relationships.
Customer relationships are a long-term investment.
As communicators, it is our job to make sure it’s one our organizations and clients know how to make.