Real Leaders

How to Lead in the New Relationship Economy

Even in the digital age of high tech and low touch, customers still seek genuine caring and personal attention. In fact, the disruptive force happening today in business is relationship building. Here’s how to attain meaningful, lasting relationships. 

One of my biggest pet peeves as a business owner is when I meet a customer who can’t remember who she dealt with in one of my businesses. I tell my employees that this is the worst insult they can receive. 

Even in the digital age of high tech and low touch, customers still seek genuine caring and personal attention. In fact, the disruptive force happening today in business is relationship building. Relationships are critical to customer trust and loyalty. The more companies place technology between the company and the customer, the more they remove the important human experience. 

Company leaders know this. A study found that 89 percent of executives believe relationships are the most important factor in their success, yet only 24 percent of those leaders actually do anything intentionally to promote relationship building. Organizations need specific strategies for helping their professionals develop and strengthen the relationships required to achieve their goals. This is the premise behind the new Relationship Economy era we’re now entering.

It’s not enough to tell your employees to build a rapport with customers. You have to tell them how. Make it black and white, and make it measurable. Companies need to train staff members in social skills — and often basic politeness. Barking out commands to Alexa and Siri may be fine in their personal lives, it should never carry over to interactions with actual humans.

Today, leaders who want to stand out from the competition can benefit from focusing on strategies to help their staff develop and strengthen relationships with internal and external audiences. Research shows that a 5 percent increase in customer satisfaction can increase a company’s profitability by 75 percent. 

Leaders must realize that soft skills and customer service aren’t innate behaviors or common sense. In fact, the vast majority of employees have extremely low service aptitude, especially when just entering the workforce. The five characteristics that make up the building blocks of the Relationship Economy include authenticity, curiosity, listening, empathy and a love of people. Few employees come with these traits intact, but they can be acquired through intentional training. Employees must be taught how to avoid the traps of a low service aptitude and how to embrace the customer’s perspective.

Here are some tools to use for putting the Relationship Economy attributes into action:

1. Apply the Five Es. These include eye contact, ear-to-ear smile, enthusiastic greeting, engage and educate. Together, they’re simple to accomplish, can be executed with the majority of customers, demonstrate genuine hospitality and, importantly, practically no one else is doing them.

2. Encourage staff to collect “FORD” facts. FORD stands for family, occupation, recreation and dreams. These represent people’s hot-button topics — what each individual cares most about. By working FORD questions naturally into the flow of sales or service conversations — without making it sound like an interrogation — staff will build a rapport with the customer. Following the interaction, staff should document FORD information and use it when following up with the customer. For example, if a customer calls to ask a question about a policy and, in the process mentions his favorite sports team, the astute employee will send the customer an email when the team wins a playoff game applauding the team’s win. Such gestures take little time, cost nothing and make a strong impression on the customer.

3. Emphasize conversation dos and don’ts. A sure way to alienate customers is when the employee multitasks while the customer is talking, finishes their sentences as though their concern is commonplace, or steels their thunder. Instead, encourage employees to always make eye contact, wait until the customer is finished before responding and commit to following up. Customer-facing employees need to eliminate “no” from their vocabulary.

4. Focus on creating a relationship, not a sale. Without the hidden agenda of making a sale, the focus can be on building a relationship — which leads to making more sales. Teach employees to educate customers rather than sell to them, with the objective of making sure customers end up with the right product for their needs.

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