Lifetime Relationships Create Longterm Success


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I recently had a pair of nearly identical customer service experiences that made me scratch my head. (Disclaimer: this is not going to be a rant about a specific company. In fact, we’ll omit the names to protect the guilty.)

In both cases, the businesses in question chose to charge me nominal amounts of money (about $20) for something I felt I shouldn’t have to pay.

Now as the business owner, they had the right to charge me. But the experience – including the attitude that was dished out with each of the decisions – was so dramatic that both businesses turned me into instant ex-customers. Walking away from each experience, I swore to never patronize either business again (a gym and an auto parts chain). And even though I am just one customer, I represent thousands in potential profit over the rest of my lifetime. Or at least more than $20.

In the real world, we call that a bad deal.

It also reminds me of a concept we practice in PR: that the pitch you’re making to a reporter is never about this story, it’s about the next story. A good experience now paves the road for more interactions, more business and a sustained relationship later. Those relationships can last for years – and reap nearly limitless potential and profit.

Think about it: if those businesses had stopped for a moment to listen to my complaint, and judged that my dissatisfaction was legitimate, they could have waived those fairly insignificant charges and I might still be patronizing their stores. But because of the experience I had – for $20! – I’ll never set foot in either business again. And if a friend were to ask me whether they should use one of those businesses, I’ll probably tell them a (much harsher) version of this story. And it will likely cost them that customer, too.

Whether a gym, auto parts store or in PR, all business is about people. It’s about making people feel valued and well-served. Sometimes we have disagreements, and sometimes people don’t get their way. Policies are in place to help employees navigate the customer experience. But sometimes those policies need to be scrapped in the name of (wait for it) MORE BUSINESS.

As those who are on the front lines of the customer service experience, we need to step back from the individual transaction to appreciate the larger picture, and understand how this experience will affect the next one. If done poorly, this experience will make it the last one.

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