3 ways to make your social relationships better with customers and why it’s good for business

You may be willing to help a neighbor by mowing their lawn while they’re on vacation, but if they offered to pay you a few dollars how would you feel? Once, money enters the equation you’ll think differently. At the same time, if you accidentally ruined some flowers while mowing, how would your neighbor react? They’d probably forgive you on the spot. But what if it were a lawn care company that made the same mistake, your neighbor would probably demand the company replace the flowers.

This is an example of the differences between a social and market relationship. Each have their own rules or “norms” and each have different benefits. Building a social relationship certainly has the greatest benefits, but it’s also more difficult to establish, especially if you’re already within a market relationship.

If you were a lawn care company that mutilated a customer’s flowers, you’d benefit from increasing the social relationship with your customers. Doing so will decrease customer sensitivity when mistakes do happen and hopefully keep them from spreading bad word or leaving you altogether.

Some of the biggest companies and marketing firms have mastered the ability to increase the social relationship between businesses and consumers. Home Depot’s, “You can do it, we can help” campaign is a great example.

Here are a few ways to increase the social relationship with your customers:

  1. Imagine you’re in a social relationship. Act on things you have the ability to within your business. Simple right? If you were helping your neighbor by mowing their flowers and you ran some over, what would you do? You’d probably offer an apology and replace them before they even ask about it. If they were on vacation you’d replace them before they came back.If you’re an insurance agent and you noticed that a customer’s rate was going to increase, imagine that you were their friend. A friend would let another friend know that they are likely to see an increase. They would explain they couldn’t find them a better price but promise to keep an eye out and are still going to be there for them if they ever need anything. Because you treat them like a friend they’re more likely to treat you like one and stick around because they know you have their back.
  2. Personalize your communication. How do you sign holiday cards you send to friends? Do you say, “Happy Holidays from all of us at Smith Family LLC.” Something as simple as how you address and sign communication to customers will impact your relationship. Always make sure that there is a real person they can get back to, and as much as possible make sure that a customer receives communication from the same person.Having a huge email signature might seem like a good idea from a business perspective, but might also be reiterating your market relationship not your social relationship. Consider an email signature that contains relevant information but isn’t too long or too “corporate”. In fact, use your first name with existing customers and if the communication is short just delete your email signature altogether.
  3. Plan for what happens when you must enter market norms. it’s important to realize that while working within social norms offers many benefits, it can also be a fragile relationship. If you work hard to build a social relationship, doing something contrary to social norms can quickly unravel it. For example, a bank may build a social relationship by offering gifts and friendly service, but then turn around and peg someone with a huge overdraft fee. In these scenarios it’s important to analyze your current business and find places that are likely to break down the social relationship. Make a decision to change them, or how you are going to manage the situation when it comes up. The bank for example may decide to call the customer and warn them of their first overdraft and offer to setup overdraft protection prior to the fee.

Keep an eye out for future posts where I’ll dig even deeper into social relationships and  explore how you can use them to generate more loyal customers, and of course generate more referrals.

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