Nothing new, or bleeding edge is perfect right off. We know it takes time and determination (and a little luck) to build a great business. But those ‘lucky’ businesses got it right by building relationships not just with their suppliers, but with their customer as well.Are you making a transaction or building a relationship with your customer?There seems to be a distinction that businesses make between a ‘customer’ and a ‘client’. I’ve always assumed a customer is someone with whom you determine the value of a one-off transaction with, while a client is someone who’s long-term spend is calculated, and valued and therefore someone you build a relationship with.It’s far more economical to make multiple sales to one client than to spend money chasing new sales which make building a relationship a far more sustainable business model, even if you don’t see the profits straight away.

Finger pointing vs problem-solving

Another distinction in the ‘transaction versus relationship’ subject is reflected in your business model. For example, I had a client that had an issue with a sign-writer that they had chosen themselves. When something went wrong with the sign printing, instead of focussing on solving the problem the sign-writer was focussed on finger pointing. The issue was caused by an uneducated mistake on the client’s part, in that they sent the low-resolution file instead of final art work. But the finger pointing really started when we suggested that they might have noticed the file was low res and asked the client for a better file. The signwriter’s words were “I just hit print four times (for the four signs), it’s not my job to check the files”.This is an example of a company basing their business model on transactions, rather than relationships. The fear of not making a profit on this transaction through, as he saw it, no fault of his own, blinded him to the need to keep the customer in a relationship.

Be the professional

If the difference between successful brands and the lesser ones is about relationships. The accountant, lawyer, web developer, or graphic designer are paid by the client to be experts in their field. With regards to the sign-writer example, if the sign company based their business on relationships than their processes (of checking files, for example) would reflect that in having their client’s back. The ‘all care, and no responsibility’ that is given to clients by professionals in too many service-based industries in that they want to ‘help’ but not own the outcome in any way to me means they should be ditching the ‘client’ term in favour of a customer transaction.

Relationships are about the good times and the bad

Software companies set an expectation of failure on their part, but we still buy their products. Their software is sold with the knowledge that you will need incremental updates to the software you’ve just paid for. You can see this in names like IOS10.3 with the ‘.3’ showing that small update for that release.With a transaction, we only get one chance to get it right and to not get it right, especially in the product sales and the frustration that a faulty product causes to the customer. But even with the faulty product scenario, a good retailer has the opportunity to build a customer relationship through putting it right. The difference between the short term loss of just swapping a faulty item for a customer versus, say, sending something off for repair (or denying the issue in the first place) provides the opportunity for a future sale. Whether you’re providing a service or selling a product or, in the case of a restaurant, providing an experience should be irrelevant as to your perception of having a relationship with a client or a transaction with a customer. And this differentiation should always be considered when building a business’s brand. It is the difference between a successful brand or a failed one.

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