Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The New Science of Customer Relationships

There is a large number of people making a living by telling companies how to improve customer relationships. Some of them are just mouthing words and platitudes while some have some real knowledge to impart. I believe the reason so many are working in this area is because customer relationships are recognized by the business community as an important component of customer loyalty. I believe, based on the recent work published by Dr. Daniel Goleman, that we may have a science that will allow us to examine customer relationships in a more systematic, scientific way.

Dr. Daniel Goleman, the author of "Emotional Intelligence" has a complementary book that appears to indicate the science of human relationships. This new book is titled "Social Intelligence, the Revolutionary New Science of Human Realtionships."
I do not intend to either review nor abstract his book on this site. Rather, I am offering some brief excerpts that have convinced me that this may be a science that gives those of us in the customer loyalty field some insight that has always been obvious but difficult to translate into a systematic, repeatable set of rules that would withstand the rigor of scientific scrutiny.

According to Dr. Goleman, people seem to be programmed to want to connect with other people. He postulates there are two roads to connecting with another person; namely the "low road" and the "high road." The "low road" is circuitry that operates beneath our awareness, automatically and effortlessly, with immense speed. For example, quoting from Dr. Goleman, "when we are captivated by an attractive face, or sense the sarcasm in a remark, we have the low road to thank.

The "high road" is very different since it runs through neural systems that work more methodically and step by step with deliberate effort and is generally part of our consciousness. Dr. Goleman notes "as we ponder ways to approach that attractive person, or search for an artful reposte to sarcasm, we take the high road."

The low road is very emotional and traffics in raw feelings whereas the high road is cooly rational and relatively cerebral and looks to understand what is going on.

So, what does this mean for those of us who analyze customer loyalty? Since I am a believer in the three variable model for customer loyalty (customer relationships is one of the three variables and, in my mind, the most important variable), I see the work of Dr. Goleman as foundational to our building a comprehensive theory about how to train employees. I think one key is the work of Dr. Goleman since it provides a model for understanding what creates and builds a strong customer relationship.

Customer relationships are built on rapport between the customer and the employee. Three elements appear to be required to provide the rapport; namely mutual attention, shared positive feeling and a well-coordinated nonverbal duet. More information about these are described in Dr. Goleman's book.

One of the errors most often made by employees when dealing with customers is simply not paying attention to the customer. Mutual attention is necessary and that means the customer should be given the undivided attention of the employee.

One of my pet peeves is to have an employee at a store where I want to make a purchase start to wait on me before he/she has finished some task. I am not given the undivided attention of the employee and the first thing I feel is that I am not worth their time. I will usually stop interacting with the employee until I have their undivided attention. I will stand quietly and wait until the employee stops or finishes the taks. Sometimes the employee "gets it" and does a great job of recovery by giving me great service while other employees will become rather distant and do whatever it takes to get rid of me ASAP. The store with the latter type of employee will not get much of my business in the future.

I intend to examine the implications of this work by Dr. Goleman and design ways that employees can be trained to build those lasting customer relationships.

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