Until very recently, successful businesses treated their customers the way farmers treat their crops: They were impersonal, transactional relationships. They made sure there was enough water, they kept the weeds out, and when Thanksgiving came around, there were lots of yams to harvest.
Successful companies no longer get away with this kind of behavior.
Customers aren't yams. They need to be listened to, conversed with and treated as individuals.
Today, and especially this week, a much better way of thinking of your customers is like family. Here are five reasons why:
(1) You Can't BullSh*&t Your Family. Siblings don't let you get away with anything. If your conversation veers into fact-free hot air, they call you on it. If you don't fix your act and take it with a sense of humor, you'll be in the doghouse. Your customers are no different. You can't hide anything from them, and you certainly can't fool them. Try to, and they'll revolt.
(2) Talk About Yourself Too Much, Your Family Ignores You. What happens if you go home, sit down in the kitchen and talk about your work for fifteen minutes? Chances are everybody else will move to the living room. They don't want a lecture, they want a conversation. Ditto for your customers. They don't want to hear about all your new products. They want to have a conversation about how you can help solve their problems.
(3) You Can't Buy a Family. Where did your family come from? It wasn't bought, it was built, probably over a long time. Advertising agencies may tell you they can sell you customers, but they actually give you vegetables. To get a customer, you have build a relationship. You have follow them on Twitter, comment on their blog and listen to them.
(4) Your Family Will Embarrass You. Is there anybody who can poke your buttons like your family? Anybody who can find the one story from high school that you're particularly sensitive about? You might be mortified when your family raises these things, but it's good for you. It gives you character and helps you avoid taking yourself too seriously. Your customers do the same thing. They'll point out bugs in your software, challenge you on their blog and strain your customer service team. But those are all good things. If your business isn't being challenged and knocked out of its comfort zone it's not growing.
(5) You Should Eat Turkey With Your Family. Your family may be a lot of work, it may drive you nuts sometimes, but your life is better with them in it. You need to invest in your relationship with them. You need to go eat Turkey -- or whatever it is you eat -- with them. If you treat them like vegetables, a commodity you tolerate every once in a while, you'll lose them. The same goes for your customers. Spend time with them, communicate with them, invest in relationships with them and they'll be around for a while.
Photo: key lime pie (Anna Wiz)