On relationships, separations and true love
Ideally, customers and companies form a strong pair, overcome challenges together and celebrate their joint successes. If things go wrong, there is the risk of infidelity or even separation. Companies should cultivate their relationships with customers as they would a love relationship. Because customer love pays off. Need proof?
Let us begin with an excursion into the world of couple relationships. Humans are herd animals and subscribe to a romantic couple ideal. As the saying goes, “together, one is less alone”, people like to gather – in communities, in groups, as couples. The couple forms the smallest social unit. Hardly any other sociological phenomenon is the subject of so many self-help books and, at the same time, is a source of unbridled joy and profound sadness. Eduard Augustin and Philipp von Keisenberg wrote in their book: “Ein Paar. Ein Buch.” (One couple. One book.): “Everyone is part of a couple at some point, and every couple has its preferences. […] Without couples there would be no buddy movies, no two-seaters, no community gain, no duels, no really expensive divorces, no Noah’s Ark – and without Noah’s Ark: Nothing.”
“The ideal of romantic love is not natural.”
Güzin Karscreenwriter and director
Couples do not have it easy negotiating the field of tension between loyalty, reliability, security and love of freedom, variety and the desire for something new. Certainly not in the 21st century, where temptation seems to lurk around every corner, where Tinder and other dating platforms are frequently used assistants, and the Internet whispers: It can be better, easier, more exciting. Is the couple an obsolete model?
The death of the couple
Yes, says screenwriter and director Güzin Kar, the woman behind the SRF series “Seitentriebe.”
“[The classic couple relationship] is in crisis, to say the least. The ideal of romantic love in which sex, love and reproduction should be experienced with the same partner is actually unnatural. It is a construct of the 18th and 19th centuries.” Her suggestion: Give up the limited view of love relationships and develop openness towards different models of living together. “Families should be able to have several parents who have equal rights before the law – and why shouldn’t three people be able to marry, rather than just two?”, stated the Zurich director.
The love relationship as a computer
Guy Bodenmann, professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Zurich, and renowned couple therapist, sees things differently. He is not ready to write couples off. The relationship expert is convinced that it is worth working on the couple itself, and the partnership. Love must be cultivated, according to his credo: “A love rela- tionship is like a computer. It sometimes needs an update to keep the machine running and to prevent it from crashing.”
“A love relationship is like a computer. It sometimes needs an update to keep the machine running.”
Guy Bodenmannprofessor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Zurich, and renowned couple therapist
His research focuses on the question of what keeps cou-ples together and what separation predictors are. Besides the ability to nurture love, the commitment of the partners plays an important role: Am I prepared to invest in the relationship? The simple equation applies: The longer a partnership lasts, the more resources and time have been invested in it, the more valuable it is. “[The value of a partnership] increases over the years if it is looked after and if it has survived difficult times,” according to the couples expert. His advice, which is easier to say than do, is: Be nice to each other! Also: Stay interested, share, have an open ear for each other’s concerns and be a reliable partner.
Swiss author Thomas Meyer, on the other hand, does not have a high opinion of relationship work as a way of fighting for love. His plea: Separate if it’s not right! He has already written an entire book on the subject: “Separate! An essay on incompatible relationships and their well-deserved end.”
“If the relationship is not right for one of the partners, then it is never going to work.”
Thomas MeyerSwiss author
He is a realist: “If the relationship is not right for one of the partners, then it is never going to work and it is better if you separate, because the person you are with is simply how he or she is, and not who you think he or she should be.” In his guidance on letting go, Thomas Meyer emphasizes how important it is to trust your gut feeling when it comes to realizing whether a relationship is right or not. There are compromises you must make and those you should never agree to. And: Only separation will show whether you have made the right decision.
Lifelong (customer) loyalty?
The advice given by the relationship experts quoted also applies almost without exception for the company-customer couple relationship. And this couple does not have it exactly easy these days. Decades-long good relationships between customers and companies have become rare; you could almost say: They have fallen out of fashion, have become an obsolete model. The merry-go-round of gaining, retaining and losing customers seems to be turning ever faster. The reasons for this: We have buyers’ markets, globalization drives cross-border and intercontinental competi-tion, while innovative, agile start-ups are putting pressure on the establish- ed market players. We have everything and need hardly anything more. It is more and more about wanting and less about needing. At the same time, we are bombarded from all sides with advertising, recommendations, offers and enticements, leading to absolute overstimulation.
Temptation on every corner
Customers are also easily distracted and then perhaps even poached. There is a danger that customers, who are actually satisfied, suddenly have the feeling that things could be even better, more exciting and easier. Anne M. Schüller, management consultant and expert in loyalty marketing, even goes so far as to say: “In the consumer society you are seduced into disloyalty on a daily basis.”
Does this mean that companies need not bother investing in customer loyalty because it would be a futile labor of love? No! On the contrary! There is simply no way around customer loyalty if companies want to remain viable in the future. Along with the focus on new customer acquisition, existing customers may not be neglected. These want to be charmed and ensnared. Towards this end, companies must appreciate their existing customers and know them well. Otherwise, the following scenario could become reality: “While you […] are busy wooing customers from the front door, others are leaving through the back door. Because they have learned that you get the best incentives as a new customer, which means: You only get goodies if you are disloyal.”
Favorite vendor = life (phase) partner
So how does a company manage to become a life partner – or at least a partner for a particular phase in life? It sounds so easy, and yet there is so much behind it: Treat customers fairly, meet them as equals, impress and surprise them again and again.
To do so, you have to really understand your customers as partners. You must appreciate them, listen to them and even walk for a while in their shoes. Because when customers truly feel understood and addressed – “they mean me” – then suddenly, loyalty is no longer so far away.
The right chemistry
Loyalty is also always a bit irrational. Anne M. Schüller does not shy away from comparing it with love: “[Loyalty] most resembles love: There must be a spark between vendor and customer.” She goes even further to say: “The cordial ‘wanting’ combined with brilliance, creativity and a touch of madness and, of course, sexiness, are the ingredients for passion. Companies that can offer this are the ones we follow blindly.” Perhaps it is not really quite so simple. And who really wants blind allegiance anyway? Loyal customers who question nothing, nod at everything and thereby do not push companies to further develop, to surpass themselves and to break new ground: A bit of a challenge may be a good thing.
It is no secret that both the heart and mind always play a role in the relationship between the customer and company. Besides the facts, the gut feeling must also be right. And it never hurts to get hearts racing. A research group even claims to have discovered that the emotional connection between the customer and a vendor counts more than customer satis- faction. In their article in the Harvard Business Review, Scott Magids, Alan Zorfas and Daniel Leemon present emotional motivators that control consumer behavior. Among the ten leading emotional drivers:
- feel a sense of freedom
- feel a sense of belonging
- feel a sense of thrill
- feel secure
These are all emotional needs that cause us to rethink the couple relationship and which point out the field of tension between freedom and security. If companies keep this in mind when they interact with their customers, then much is gained.
Customers who feel emotionally connected with a company are, on average, 52% more profitable.
«The New Science of Customer Emotion»Harvard Business Review 2015
Think hard before you commit
Always applicable, whether it is a relationship between two people or between a customer and company: Use your head, ask questions and gather opinions and, in the end, trust your gut feeling and listen to your heart. Customers notice if customer love is just being faked, when it is nothing more than hot air, if profit is more important than anything else. That is when they become unfaithful. However, when they notice that a partnership is based on equality, that a company is truly interested in them, that they are appreciated and can rely on the company’s services, then that perhaps is the start of a great love story.