why you shouldn't love your customer

Last week I attended a digital innovation conference. It brought together a series of thought leaders, digital agencies, successful companies and start-ups. It was a fantastic event with one exception: an oft-flouted phrase that really disturbed me.

A couple of presenters spoke in impassioned tones about ‘loving your customer’ – stomping home the message with ‘Love your customer’ emblazoned on slides above their heads. As one agency head said: “You gotta love your customer and ask them what they want”. I grimaced.

I felt myself catapulted back to the memory of a blind date in my youth. The young man once snagging a first date couldn’t help but profess his love there and then over the phone: before he had even met me. Needless to say I was a little shocked and should have stopped it there. But given I’d already committed I went on the date. Over a couple of exhaustingly long hours the young lad waxed lyrical about his achievements and personal qualities whilst he fawned over me and groped for approval. Needless to say it was the only, albeit numbingly memorable, date. I was insulted and infuriated.

Why? Because I knew this kid didn’t ‘love’ me, or even ‘like’ me. His protestations of interest had absolutely nothing to do with me. It was all about him. He was seeking approval and hoping that by intimating love, I might take note, invest in him and give him what he wanted (an unquenchable desire for attention). Without realising it he was screaming with insincerity and inauthenticity. I was left insulted and angry. He was left alone.

And it’s just the same for business. You simply cannot just decide to love your customer and then try to prove your love and expect results. Great relationships (romantic and economic) do not start with loving someone. They start with knowing someone.

Seek not to love your customer. Seek to know your customer.

It is only once you truly know your customer that a meaningful and profitable relationship can ensue. So how do you get to know your customer? As with most relationships there are a series of incremental steps that lead to love. And it starts with being open and listening… deeply.

Here’s five simple steps to knowing your customer:

Step One – Ask them about a their interests

It’s the first step to getting to know anyone. Take some time to learn a little about your customer: his/her likes and dislikes. What are his/her interests and tastes? Can you see some synergy between their interests and what you have to offer?

Step Two – Get to know them better

Once you’ve established some shared interests, get to know them better. What drives your customer? What thoughts and feelings drive their decisions? What’s important to them? Who's important to them? Why do they make the decisions they do?

Step Three – Listen to know them deeply

Learn to listen deeply. Seek to understand and listen without putting your view of the world in front of them too quickly.  As you listen - without judgment - seek to understand them beyond just what they say: look for the hidden, unsaid messages that can reveal their true selves. Deep observation can reveal needs, concerns and pain points that the customer themselves can’t always articulate. These unstated and unmet needs are what feed value creation. It is here that innovation is born.

Step Four – Nurture the relationship over time

Invest in value creation. If you really want to delight your customer, invite them to work with you in the spirit of co-creation. Together you might create something truly unique, that your competitors have never thought of and that many others will also appreciate. This is finally where we see love start to grow. Together you and your customer can create something that is truly valuable.

Step Six – Honour the relationship

No relationship will last unless it’s constantly valued and nurtured.  Once the commitment between you is established, keep close and connected. Stay present with your customer and continue to listen closely.  As time goes by do new needs or expectations arise? Has your customer grown and changed over time? But even the greatest of loves will die without constant and authentic nurturing. It is with constancy and consistency in listening and nurturing the relationship that a truly lasting relationship evolves. This is love.

So instead deciding you want to love your customer, decide instead that you want to know them, listen to them, nurture them. Change your mantra from “Love thy customer” to “Know thy customer” and watch as your relationship blossoms and evolves.