Posted by: Chris | April 25, 2008

Tools + Stuff in This Post = Relationships? Maybe.

Loyalty programs, CRM, CEM, social media. These and so many other strategies are designed to improve relationships with customers. And while these tools are powerful, they are simply that: tools. They are not the final step. They are a means to an end.

Sometimes, we lull ourselves to sleep in the peace of knowing that the mailer we just sent went directly to the very focused demographic we intended it to go to. Or that we addressed a hot issue on our blog. Or that our e-newsletter was one of the most robust we’ve created.

The thing is, while these things may be true, our relationships with customers may not have improved one iota. Implementation and execution do not necessaarily result in improved relationships.

I read a lot of marketing blog posts that intend to scare readers with some obscure insight that supposedly undermines convention. That’s not my intention here. I’m writing this more as consumer than a marketer.

You see, I am loyal to very few companies on a personal, consumeristic level.

Why? Well honestly, I just really don’t care too much about the grocery stores I shop at or the fast food restaurants I eat lunch at. These places are faceless commodities to me, and I’d turn my back on any of them if a better deal came along and not think twice about it. The same thing goes with department stores, book stores, online music services, airlines, toy stores, home improvement centers (although there is definitely one I will refuse to go to—Home Depot), and I could go on and on.

Despite my fickleness, I have been absolutely loyal to one establishment moreso than any other I can think of in my life, and that establishment is a small car stereo operation here in Tulsa called Car Toys. I’ve mentioned my guilty pleasure of car audio in past posts. Much of this love is attributable to Andy at Car Toys.

Let me list a few reasons I have been so loyal to this shop:

  1. I absolutely knew that Andy would not try to rip me off. Let’s go beyond using the fuzzy, nebulous word “trust.” That word is merely symbolic. Here’s what it means: on multiple occasions, Andy told me that the equipment I was eying was unnecessary, or that I could get just as good equipment from a cheaper brand. At times, he even told me that the equipment I was really looking for could be found elsewhere. And do you know what I did in response? I spent thousands of dollars at Car Toys, because I knew that the things Andy was selling me on were the right things for me, my car, and my car audio goals.
  2. Andy listened to me, even when it was obvious that I was not immediately in the market for equipment. I know that sometimes, he had to be contemplating turning the other way when he saw me coming in the door. I took a great deal of his time as I was considering a purchase, but even when I wasn’t and it was clear that I wasn’t, he made himself available to me, and he listened to everything I told him. And somehow, amazingly, he saved all of that information up so that when I was ready to buy, equipment selection was often a no-brainer.
  3. I knew that the equipment I purchased was high quality.
  4. I always knew what I was in for. No surprises. When car audio legend Gary Biggs built my front speaker pods, I knew exactly what it was going to run me per hour for his hands to touch my car. When I moved toward a competition system which required a massive wiring upgrade, I knew before the purchase that this often overlooked aspect of car audio would add hundreds to the price tag. I think that the most I paid over and above an estimate was maybe $20 for clay that had to be added to my pods for reinforcement.

While I am an avid supporter of all of the marketing initiatives I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I can also say that the thing that kept me going back to Car Toys was not merely a battery of tools. It was the fact that Andy had connected these tools to me on a personal level. That’s the key. That’s what’s missing so often.

When you implement CEM and CRM programs, you’re not finished! In order for a loyalty program to promote true loyalty, it’s got to be more than just a discount card. Blogging and other social media cannot be arbitrary acts. As Laura Spencer notes, in order to get potential customers reading your company blog, you’ve got to blog about topics that interest your readers. And in order to know that, you’ve got to know your audience. When I use the word “know,” I don’t mean, “have a good understanding of analytics available to you about a representative demographic” (although you should anyway). I mean, “listen to individual customers (even when they aren’t buying), prove that you’re never going to rip them off for a commission, provide a high quality product, and do all of these things with no surprises. Every time, without exception.

Honestly, I think it’s just plain silly to think that a business can have a relationship with clients without having a conversation with them. And no, an e-mail blast is not a conversation. Here lies the challenge: how does this conversation take place? Maybe a blog, sometimes, for a small audience who is privy to and comfortable with such a medium. I really don’t know.

If you’ve endured this tireless post, I want to know what’s happening out there to build real relationships successfully-ones that, were I to ask your clients and customers, they would agree with you that indeed, a true relationship does exist. Is it that cashiers are spending time finding out about customers’ families and interests? Is it that executives work “on the floor”? I really don’t know, but I think that however it is accomplished effectively, it’s not cheap, it’s not simple, and it’s not without timely, repeated, personal engagement.



  1. Very thoughtful post (and a nice testimonial for Car Toys besides…)

    What grabbed me was this sentence: You see, I am loyal to very few companies on a personal, consumeristic level.

    That describes me too, and I’m betting that it describes a lot of people.

    Thanks for describing what a successful relationship is like.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Laura, and thanks especially for inspiring me with your awesome post!

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