We’re officially deep into what I refer to as “basket season.” This is the time of year when gift baskets sent from partners and vendors begin popping up around the office.Being on a fairly lean diet at the moment, basket season is dangerous for me. It's like having little landmines sprinkled throughout the office.
But I have to confess that I love basket season because it’s a perfect illustration of a business principle that’s often overlooked: success boils down to relationships. And successful relationships of any stripe require regular expressions of gratitude and appreciation.
As the business environment gets more impersonal, and more automation and cost-efficient processes are implemented, personal touches are becoming big differentiators. As trite and common as a gift basket may seem, they represent the type of personal touches that may very well make the difference in customer loyalty.
This means every business should make relationship-building a priority, and it begins by connecting on a personal basis.
Maslow at Work
There are stark contrasts between B2B and B2C, and also B2B2C. The sales look different, the expectations and measures of success vary wildly. But at their core, each of them is based on individuals. Each has some form of customer, who 99.9% of the time is probably a human being.
The model that matters most is H2H - Human to Human.
Just because one or both of the participants in the relationship is performing a job doesn’t automatically change the nature of that relationship. As Robbie Kellman Baxter wrote last week, the fact we’re at work doesn’t mean we put aside our basic needs. Everyone still needs respect and a sense of belonging, for example, two important elements on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Most of us aren’t giant jerks to our customers and coworkers, but we’re all probably guilty on some level of leaving out some basic elements of relationship building. The more of those we can personally express to everyone we come into contact with, the more successful we - and the brands we represent - will be.
Seriously, take a quick browse through The Consumerist and see all the nasty things brands are up to. Focus on H2H, and enjoy the competitive differentiation.
Show Your Face
It’s easy to walk away from a brand, or even a product. But that shouldn’t be your only reason for focusing on personal connections. If we’ve learned anything over the past few months, it’s that deeper ongoing relationships are simply more profitable. And not just in revenue - engaged customers offer more feedback, endorse your brand to their networks, and in some cases, they emerge as leaders of your online community.
Similarly, engaged employees invest themselves in a business and focus on using their role to create a better customer experience. They’re more productive, empathetic, and far less likely to be swayed to a different company.
And as the classic adage says, people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers. Engaged managers make a big difference, but engaged managers who meet with their employees regularly and set clear expectations excel. Make regular (but not too frequent) meetings a priority.
Do the same with customers. If your company doesn’t have the opportunity to personally connect with customers (as is the case with many B2C operations), build a way. Make certain it happens regularly.
Put yourself out there and make connections with coworkers and clients. Don’t be afraid to connect with a business relationship on a personal social network.
Become H2H. Be human and connect with other humans on a human level. When the season arrives, send over a gift basket or some other gesture that shows appreciation.
And finally, a bit of gratitude from me - thank you for reading, commenting, sharing, disagreeing, countering, and all of the many ways you engage me on a regular basis. Have a great Thanksgiving!
(Photo courtesy Allen Sheffield)