Thursday, August 25, 2005

Customers, Relationships, Friendships

My friend Mike Sansone has a great story on his blog about Panera Bread. He is apparently there a lot, enough so that the employees know him and miss him when he's not around.

It's a great example of a relationship and how this affects customer retention. Yes, he started going to Panera for the food, but he kept going because the people are nice. Age old story and something that should be recognized as a basic tenet of business.

Relationships aren't established in an instant, they take time. That's partly what this online media revolution is all about: building one-to-one relationships even when you can't speak face-to-face. Blogs, for example, are personal. You feel as if you have insight into what a person is thinking by just reading one. You can't get that through a press release or an article in a trade journal.

But they also maintain relationships. I know a woman who I see maybe twice a year; more a "friend of a friend" than anything. But she reads my family blog and told me recently that she cried on the day we got out daughter, just from reading my posts. Here is someone on the outskirts of my life who stays in contact with me, just enough, to maintain a relationship. Despite hardly ever seeing her, she knows enough to engage me in conversation on the few times we do meet. Imagine having that kind of relationship when you visit a prospect who you haven't seen since the last industry trade show.

A few years ago I attended a printing trade show with my father and he introduced a customer as a "friend." I remember thinking to myself "but he's a customer, how can he also be a friend?"

I quickly realized that my father was right, this man was (and is) a friend. My father is a smart man.

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