The age of relationships: cracking the complex customer

BLOG: Henry Thompson, director of customer success EMEA at Zendesk…. We’ve all been there. There’s been a mistake with an order you made online, and you’ve been trying to reach the company’s customer service team for days to find out when your issue may be resolved. You’re feeling frustrated and don’t plan on doing business with the company again anytime soon.

I’m sure most of us can recall a time when we’ve had a poor customer service experience. These interactions are hard to forget and there’s enough competition out there to make it easy for customers to go elsewhere.

What’s more, research has shown that 95 per cent of customers share bad experiences with others[1] – so for brands, getting customer experience right the first time around is pretty important. We are living in the age of relationships where every customer has a voice and a strong feeling about their contact with a brand. To perfect today’s customer experience, it’s critical that businesses understand these relationships and the behaviour and attitudes of their customers.

Our relationships are based on three common things: identity, chemistry and experiences.

To understand this, firstly think about your relationship with a friend. Their identity (personality, actions and mannerisms) is probably what attracted you to them. Then chemistry is probably what kept you together (perhaps you have the same interests), but it’s the positive experiences that you share that keeps the relationship alive.

When it stops being enjoyable and that initial spark starts to fade, the relationship will start to breakdown and inevitably end. This is exactly how relationships between a brand and customer are built. Identity and chemistry may gel the customer and the brand together, but ultimately, experience is key when building a timeless and watertight relationship

So, what can brands learn about their customer relationships?

Let’s break it down:

Brand voice and identity

A brand identity is a customer’s first perception of a brand. Consumers have the freedom to explore the internet, scroll through social media and choose who they want to listen to – making brand identity one of the most important aspects of attracting new customers.

When it comes to building customer relationships, a consistent brand voice and identity can help to achieve customer trust. To do this, brands must ensure that they are comfortable in their own skin. They need to understand their purpose and create a persona that distinguishes them from the rest. If not, a brand’s identity can get muddled and lost in an over-crowded market. Important messaging may become confused if your brand speaks one way on the website, yet another way when it comes to customer service or on social media -and that’s a sure way of losing your grip on a customer.

Apple, for example, which was ranked at number one in the 2015 BrandZ value report, is well known for a singular proposition, brought to life through an iconic identity and design that resonates with its consumers.

Customer connection and chemistry

Chemistry is the complex emotional interaction between two people. In the case of brands, chemistry goes beyond first impressions. It’s about being the best fit. As we all know, once a customer, doesn’t mean always a customer. And brands must work consistently to keep that chemistry alive.

To do this, brands should be empathetic and work to understand their customer wants and needs. By carrying out research, conducting surveys and creating feedback loops, brands can understand their customer’s affinities and pain points – and ensuring they are putting the customer first.

Even more important is that when a brand has chemistry with a customer, it can create an advocacy effect – where satisfied customers share the love for your brand online and on social media; the holy grail for brands who want to communicate with the over-sharing and the digitally-savvy. Take Cisco for example. The communications company has over 1,300 advocates that are given guidelines and support to amplify the company’s message and get the word out about new products and services through a number of channels such as Facebook and Twitter.

The perfect customer experience

Experiences are moments of interaction. And when those interactions take place between a customer and a brand, they can be optimised to create the perfect experience. In fact, according to Gartner[2], this year, 89 per cent of companies globally will compete mostly on customer experience.

We all know what a great experience with a brand feels like – personal, effortless and makes you want to return. Just like forging a lifelong friendship, it’s these experiences that encourage a customer to not only become a loyal one, but one that sticks around.

In an age of relationships, brands need to deliver on their promises before nurturing new customer relationships. It’s important that we remember that customers are people, and that relationships should be built with them as we would with a friend or an acquaintance. Brands should consider all aspects from brand identity to creating consistent chemistry – however, it’s creating the positive experiences time and time again that will encourage customers to return. The best products don’t always win, but the best experiences do.