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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Relationship Marketing and Customer Service

By Terry L. Brock

The other day I was talking with a friend who was sharing a sad tale in her buying experience. She told me about a particular vendor she had worked with for several years. This vendor started as a friend and a colleague but has sadly moved into a category of not only disgust but their friendship has been damaged.

It seems that the vendor was a sole operator helping with technology. The man she worked with--- we’ll call him Brian --- is a nice guy who provided a service on the Net and knew a lot about technology. My friend had Brian set up several items on her website and work with her in several technical areas.

Most relationships in business start very well. You like someone. They seem not only affable but also technically competent. If you have a need in their area of competence, it can be a good match. Everything seems just right in the beginning. This is the way relationships often work initially.

Later, my friend had problems with her website and needed Brian to help. Problems are a normal part of business and life. Don’t run from them. Embrace them and use them as a chance to dazzle customers with how you care and your ability to produce results.

Brian got really busy. It seems that he was very good and a lot of people wanted his services. However, Brian was more of a technician than a businessperson. He didn’t plan for expansion and that all-important customer service when he was exceptionally busy.

My friend sent numerous email messages and left voice mail messages with Brian. Finally Brian sent an email apologizing for not returning the calls and said he would rectify the problem. However, nothing was done.

We all get busy. That is the nature of our work and life today. However, a good Relationship Marketer continues to do what is right and what is necessary even when things are tough. I’m sure that Brian meant well. He really is a nice guy from what I’ve seen. He just seems to be deficient in customer service and following up on those important little things.

Harvey Mackay has told us often that little things don’t mean a lot. They mean everything. Little things matter most in Relationship Marketing and maintaining relationships with customers once they have said yes and need assistance.

Brian meant well. However, meaning well is not enough. Too often today people think that if they “really care” that settles it. Caring is important. I think it is critical for a healthy relationship in business and in our personal lives. However, you have to couple caring with competence. You must have both to succeed.

Part of competence is to have systems in place to deal with the unexpected. Since unexpected problems are normal, they really shouldn’t be a surprise. Plan for them. Build in systems to take care of the unknown. Have a system that is elastic enough to deal with common problems. Build in enough legroom for your system to handle unforeseen circumstances.

My friend shared the story of Brian and I could see the sadness in her eyes. She not only had lost a vendor that she wanted and needed----she had lost a friend. Yes, she will be friendly to Brian when she sees him again, but the damage is done. It will take a lot of time, money and effort for Brian to recover, if he ever does.

Relationship Marketing means we think like farmers. A farmer can work for months with a crop and watch it grow. However, one storm or ravaging herd of animals can destroy all the work done very quickly. A good relationship farmer is ever vigilant for potential problems and has solutions ready to go if they ever happen.

As I’m writing this, the world is going through some difficult financial times. Some are saying it is the worst since WWII. In the midst of this, many vendors will try to focus on generating new business to the neglect of taking care of current customers. Successful relationship farmers know that they not only plant new seeds, but also need to care for existing crops. That gives them an advantage in the midst of tough economic times.

I hope Brian corrects the damage and can move on. Relationship Marketing is a lot more than just smiling and handshakes. It is about producing results for important people who pay the bills. That means good, old-fashioned customer service and technical competence. This is simple--- but not easy. However, in any economy, it is worth paying the price to keep valued customers.

Terry Brock is an international marketing coach and columnist who helps businesses market more effectively, leveraging technology. He shows busy professionals how to squeeze more out of their days using time-honored rules and practical technology tools. He can be reached at 407-363-0505, by e-mail at or through his website at

Copyright © 2008, Terry Brock, Achievement Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved Internationally. No portion may be reprinted or used without prior written permission.