As consumers, whether we talk about it or not, we have pretty clear views on the sort of relationship that we expect with the vendors we buy from and interact with. The sort of relationship that we want will be different depending on the type of product or service we are buying, the type of vendor we are dealing with and the point in the purchase cycle we are.
In some scenarios we want a high-touch, advice-based relationship. This usually happens when there are multiple complex options and the balance of knowledge rests with the vendor or its intermediary (sales rep or customer service agent). We appreciate help in navigating the options to make an informed choice (in the case of financial planners or the sales rep at your local hardware store). We could think of this as a "trusted friend" relationship.
In other scenarios, where we hold the balance of knowledge by doing our own research, we prefer a straightforward yet smooth transactional relationship. Good examples are purchasing commodity goods like fuel for the car or simple, cheap customer electronics. This we could call a "casual acquaintance" relationship.
The relationship we want has a lot to do with the reason we are making the purchase. Is it a consumer staple (necessity) or a luxury item (desirable) purchase?
Our expectations of the relationship with the vendor in either case will probably be quite different. For a luxury item, we might start out with that vendor being a simple crush, but then as we learn more about the item (perhaps try it on or take it for a test drive) we begin courting.
It is likely that (particularly if the vendor excels at creating a great customer experience for us) we will be deeply in love with that brand and vendor for a while. Our demands and expectations in this phase will be different from when we first became aware of this vendor and their brand. Over time, however, things could change.
The reasons why you really loved that brand might change or your situation might change. For example, that car ride-sharing app you loved was unique, affordable and quite clever. You liked their cheeky marketing messages, provocative positioning and challenger branding at first. But now, after you've been using the service for a while, it feels more like a friend. You don't really want the cheeky messaging and them reminding you of their competitive jostling. Frankly, you'd prefer they focused more on serving you as their customer because your expectations and demands of the relationship have changed.
Such a pity they aren’t recognising this and adjusting their messaging to you accordingly. Why can’t they pick up on all of the signals you are giving them? They don’t see the places and times you use the service, the way you interact via mobile channel, the way you pay and the things you publish about their service on social media?
The interesting thing is though is that they can and they should. These vendors should be able to learn from the data crumbs you leave behind, the signals you send and the behaviours you exhibit. Like a friend of a friend whom you've met multiple times. After a while they become more familiar and you become friendlier. The way you talk and interact with each other changes. So should the messaging and conversation with your friendly brand, the one you used to love and now regard as a friend.
Through adopting micro-segmentation techniques to identify your unique characteristics and learning through observing your behaviours and interactions, it is not difficult to create models to determine what, when and how to communicate with you.
The tools and techniques required for this are readily available. Many organisations are making use of them, but aren't yet taking into account the customers’ relationship dynamics when tailoring these personalised interactions, whether they be marketing, service or operational messages.
More and more companies are taking deliberate steps to become more customer-focused and putting the customer at the centre of everything they do. This is great, but they must also realise that the customers they think they have will change over time and so their relationships also need to change. By paying more attention and understanding customers more in depth, those companies that are able to tailor their interactions to the type of relationships that their customers want, will really take the chocolates when it comes to excellence in customer experience.