Making Friends with Customers – Yes or No?
Making friends with customers – is it always a gamble?
We get this advice all the time online…”build customer relationships!”
After all there are social media companies has built a multi-billion dollar businesses encouraging us to play nice and become friends with our clients and customers.
But there are both positive and negative aspects of moving past the business free throw line when it comes to dealing with your clients or customers.
There are some very good reasons (both personal and business) why you should and there are some very good reasons (both personal and business) why you should NOT.
In this article, I’ll explore the pros and cons of engaging with customers on a personal level. If you have ever wondered if you should or should not be more “friendly” with customers, then read on.
First let’s get some jargon out of the way.
For this article, when I say ‘friends’ I mean real people that you actually know and correspond with by email, over the phone or by physically visiting their place of business.
Basically, I’m taking about people who know, like and trust you and are willing to interact with you beyond your business dealings.
I DON”T mean ‘Friends’, ‘Fans’, ‘Followers’, ‘Endorsers’ or whatever name some social media site has come up with to mean people who only have to click a mouse button to establish a ‘connection’ with you.
I mean real “connections.” Now the next terms, we need to define is “customer loyalty” and “customer engagement.”
Customer loyalty has been defined as “…The willingness to consider, trust, and forgive.”
Most small business people think that loyalty is basically a “repeat” customer – someone who buys your stuff over and over again.
But say your company has a contract with another business and the employees within that business are “required” to buy and use your products or services, exclusively.
They might be “repeat” customers but these people’s loyalty is highly questionable. This is because customers “trapped” into buying will switch from you as soon as the prices or situation changes (which is bad for you in the long run).
So a loyal customer is someone who is:
- Willing to consider any products or services you recommend,
- Trusting enough to take you at your word,
- Forgiving of mistakes – as long as they aren’t repeated or aren’t too terrible or awful (i.e. harmful or expensive).
Which leads us to our final term of the day – brought to you by the letter E – Engagement.
Customer engagement means, “the desire to think about and interact with an organization beyond what is necessary.”
An engaged customer is someone who is willing to talk or interact with you or your company — beyond what is necessary. Engaged customers spend a lot of time browsing and reading your website content.
They will email you asking you specific questions or commenting on your blog posts. They might even call to hash out the specifics of a potential deal or sale.
Engaged customers are “friendly” customers. Engaged customers are also usually “loyal” customers as well.
Now does this mean you should attempt to turn every customer you have into a friend? It depends. Is your business based on relationships or transactions?
Making Friends with Customers – the Advantages
Some business models are designed to be more or less transactional. For example, while McDonald has a very strong brand name, it is based on individual transactions.
I don’t expect the folks behind the counter at Mickey D’s, to make an effort to learn what I like on my burger and remember it.
But I do expect the waitstaff at an independent restaurant that I frequent downtown to remember me and build a connection or relationship with me.
Now I am loyal to both companies. If I buy fast food, I usually grab a burger from McDonald’s…unless Wendy’s is offering something new or on sale.
As for the downtown restaurant, I go there almost every other week. When they have new servers I take note. When they change their lunch menu, I notice and will make a comment on my preferences.
At McDonald’s, it’s a one and done deal. At the downtown indie, I’m engaged. I have an emotional “investment” in the success or failure of this particular establishment.
If the McDonald’s nearest me closes down, I can always get another Big Mac.
But there is only a few places where I can get prime, lean ground beef, grilled exactly the way I want it, on a hot Kaiser Roll – baked in the back – that morning with fresh lettuce, tomato, onion.
So for this style of restaurant having brand loyalty isn’t as important to their long term profits as having repeat customers who are engaged – i.e. friends to the business.
This kind of relationship marketing can expand generations. This restaurant model can have people date, get engaged, get married, bring their kids and celebrate their anniversaries at the same location for years.
Not that this doesn’t happen in transactional models, but the one-and-done system isn’t set to encourage this type of engagement.
Making Friends with Customers – the Disadvantages
Now the main disadvantage of making customers friends, is that some people don’t want to become your friend! They just want to hit it, get it and be gone.
They are NOT desperately trying to connect with you on social media. They don’t want to see or hear from you until they are ready to purchase what you offer.
A perfect example of this would be funeral services. This is most definitely a one time deal.
Uncle Buck is only dead once. And he only needs the one coffin, memorial service, flower arrangement etc.
Now while the funeral service industry goes out of its way to be helpful and kind during these difficult moments, few people “engage” with the business past the time the coffin is lowered or the headstone is set.
Despite this being a very geographical business, most funeral services are promoted based on “niche branding” – not relationship marketing.
After all no one is expecting (or looking forward to) getting unsolicited Facebook posts to Twitter tweets about coffins. But we all know to look online or in the phone book for funeral services.
Yet a website for a funeral home can establish a “friendly” connection with potential clients by answering ALL the questions almost everyone wants to know about this type of service.
- How to choose a funeral home
- A guide to cemetery purchases
- Choosing headstones and memorials
- Cremation facts
- Driving in a funeral procession
- What to do if you can afford a funeral service?
Answering these types of questions online can make a funeral parlor standout from all the other competitors. Their site would become a “trusted” resource yet keep down the creep factor that would happen, if they attempted to make potential clients “friends.”
So should you make customers friends? Look at your business model and ask yourself is it more transactional or relationship based?
Well now you know more about the benefits and potential hazards of making clients and customers into friends, I invite you to download and read my free ebook, “Boost Your Sales!” and discover the 4 proven strategies I use everyday to help clients improve their business profits.