At the weekend I was honoured to witness the wedding of a very dear friend of mine. It was a quite wonderful occasion from beginning to end. Those of us who have had the pleasure of attending a wedding (whether it be our own, or of others) have all seen the traditional exchange of wedding rings. It was not until Saturday that I considered how the wedding ring can act as the analogy between the coming together of two people in marriage and the coming together of a customer and business.
Now I know some might snigger at this concept – for a variety of reasons!! Firstly, the fact that I can be thinking of a potential blog post during a wedding ceremony. As other bloggers I am sure will testify, there is no rhyme or reason for how a blog idea comes about! Secondly, how can I possibly compare marriage between two people who love each other and the commercial relationship between a customer and a business?! Let me try to explain.
Just before the wedding rings were exchanged, one of the guests was asked to come to the altar to read a poem about the significance of the wedding ring. I cannot remember the whole poem, but do clearly recall the opening lines. They were as follows:
Of all the traditions that true love may bring,
The most cherished custom passed down
Is the ring……
A circle unending, complete and unbroken,
Exchanged in the moment love’s promise is spoken.
Focus on the second paragraph – ‘a circle unending, complete and unbroken’ – before I heard these words, it had never dawned on my how the wedding ring (or any ring for that matter) is the perfect analogy for how we would like relationships between ourselves and our customers to be – a relationship that is like a circle…..never ending and continuous. You cannot tell where the relationship starts and ends because it in itself is endless.
Even while I write this I am slightly concerned that I am venturing into the ‘too deep’ category of blog post. However, the principle of the unbroken ring does seem to make so much sense to me. For years I have created visualisations of the customer journey as a circle – a continuous circle that should never end. This is not deep, it is a reality that businesses should aspire to have.
I always remember having a discussion with colleagues in my role as Head of Group Customer Experience a few years ago. The business at the time considered customers who had not placed an order for a certain length of time to ‘no longer be customers’. This would mean that their ‘status’ as customers would change, ultimately meaning that they would receive less marketing collateral than an ‘existing’ customer. However, when reviewing feedback from ‘real’ customers, it was clear that some customers could go for long periods of time without placing an order – but it did not mean that in their mind they were no longer a customer! They could be forgiven for feeling like they had been divorced without their other half telling them!!
When a customer chooses to commence a relationship with a business, the business should consider the first interaction to be the start of a long, prosperous, relational journey – not just a one off transaction. The journey will not go completely smoothly – things will go wrong, but the strength of the relationship should see both customer and business working together to resolve issues as they occur. It is also important to keep the relationship fresh – continually improving and innovating to meet the changing needs of the customer.
It is quite clear to me, the more you consider the customer relationship alongside marriage that there are many similarities between them!! The best marriages last for decades – but so do the best customer/business relationships. It is only when things go beyond the point of no return that a marriage comes to an end. That is no different from a customer relationship. I am delighted to say that whilst my marriage is still intact (just!!), my relationship with a number of companies who deliver experiences that have failed to meet my expectation have fallen by the wayside.
So how complete and unbroken is the customer journey that your customers are currently experiencing? Are there gaps in the circle of your journey where customers can and do drop out? If we want to have sustainable and growing businesses, we need to ensure that our customer relationships have the ability to become endless – that the journey remains unbroken for years. The most customer centric businesses will last as long (if not longer) than many marriages!!