Advantages of Relationship Marketing: The Evolution of Customer Centricity

Deliver high-touch (and effective) customer experiences through high tech.

Have you ever connected with a brand? Think back to how that connection was built. With some brands it’s easy – you fall in love with their products and their impeccable service. But, in our experience, what typically sets brands apart are the staff and the many associates who are the face (and voice) of the brand to the customer. Your impression of the brand is completely in their hands. How did they handle your customer service call when a product didn’t quite meet your expectations? Did the service staff actually reach out to you with recommendations on new products that were “perfectly you”? Trader Joe’s has won us over for these reasons and is a great example of the advantages of relationship marketing. How can you not love the brand that always keeps the customer first? They will place a special order for products just for you or open a product just so you can sample it. These human touchpoints endear you to the brand. This is what we call relevant dialogue or paying attention to customers, and acting accordingly.

The advantages of relationship marketing (RM) are derived from a consistent, relevant dialogue, often through digital channels, that replicates the onsite personal relationship.

It does get complicated in today’s environment with so many different ways we can interact and connect with brands. And while some brands are making headway, the experience can be different through each channel. What the front desk associate knows about you at check-in doesn’t get translated into the emails you receive at any other touchpoint. What you share on social doesn’t cross into the email sphere, etc. Some brands are starting to dabble in this space but the use of data points is still pretty fundamental. Old Navy, for example, sent us an email survey asking about the clothes we bought in their brick & mortar store. It’s nice that they connected these dots but it’s all too fundamental.

How can the evolution of relationship marketing help us scale the personal relationship?

The steps companies should take are pretty intuitive and similar to how traditional service associates build relationships. However, the key to realizing the advantages of relationship marketing is leveraging technology and analytics to be able to apply the high-touch physical experiences across thousands/millions of relationships.

Step #1: Listen + ask questions:

There are so many experiences and touch points we have with brands – all of which are opportunities for them to learn about us. It can start with our behavioral history (purchases and online website activity). Brands typically also ask initial questions on profile or preference pages and this should just be the start. As relationships evolve, brands must think about the next set of data points that need to be captured and how to address this explicitly and implicitly. What should brands know that allow them to serve up more relevant products, communications, partnerships and ultimately a better customer experience? Consider what service associates are learning through their exchanges with customers. What is their natural sequence of building a relationship?

TIPS: Capture this information across all data sources into one data mart. Tie social activity into the database. Update profile or preference questions based on the relationship. Capture service associate data.

Step #2: Act on what we know:

There is nothing worse than a brand not acting on the customer data they have in hand. One offender we encountered recently was Apple. We’ve owned an Apple watch since launch, purchased using our Apple ID, and yet a recent Apple email simply asked if we’d like to buy a watch. FAIL. Two weeks later (after signing up for Apple Music), we received strike two with a push to sign up for the new streaming service. FAIL again. Know me and act accordingly.

Over time, content may evolve into next/best product recommendations, a la Amazon. You should curate content and offers specifically for me. At the very least, show that you know the basics about me. If I’ve told you that I’m interested in dogs only – please don’t send me offers for cat food. These are the basics. There are so many opportunities for companies to be smart. Be personalized – and this means more than “Dear Karen”. Be timely. Be relevant.

Customer insights should do more than drive relevant communications. Ideally, companies make products based on these customer insights, build partnerships that make the customer experience better, and support charities that align with your brand and your customers’ values to name just a few of the advantages of relationship marketing.

TIPS: Employ smart analytics, contact strategies and customer journey mapping. Build a customer journey map based on what the customer wants to know and what the business wants customers to know. Content should be a balance of the two. Lead with the benefits to the customer, not the product features. Version. Push personalization. Test, test, test.

Step #3: Be authentic + consistent

All experiences should feel “on brand” and be true to the brand, no matter the channel. To that end, RM is more than just an email program, versioned by product history and a preference center. RM is every touch point with a customer, in the voice of the brand in a way that augments the channel experience. It’s brick-and-mortar, customer service, emails, social,’s omni-channel. The ultimate way to drive the evolution of relationship marketing and build customer relationships is the cultivation of the customer experience – and to make all touch points feel as on brand, in the same voice and high-touch as in the in-person experience.

We recently had a less-than-perfect experience with Bloomingdales. As a top spender (and credit card holder), we made an expensive online purchase only to be told a couple days later, through a canned response, that the item was no longer available. We have since followed up expressing our frustration and have not received a response. That was two months ago. Since then, we have received high touch mailers and significant offers to drive us back to shop. We haven’t come back. Brands need to hear us and connect the dots.

As companies grow, it is critical to be ultra-focused on the customer experience. Develop tools that promote a customer-centric environment.

TIPS: Gain leadership buy-in. Re-assess customer experience across touch points. Incorporate a closed feedback loop. Survey. Prioritize training. Ensure evaluation metrics are measuring the right thing (e.g., are customer service reps being managed by the time spent on the phone or by issue resolution?)

Finally, as technology today is making it even easier to stay in touch with your customers, you don’t need to wait until you have a highly-sophisticated infrastructure in place. In the evolution of relationship marketing, it's OK to start small. Sometimes it’s the little things that deliver the biggest advantages of relationship marketing. Identify your low-hanging fruit and test. For some companies (hint: Apple), that might be updating suppression lists. For others, it might be increasing the ante with personalization. Take a step back and define your ideal customer relationship. Now, how can you bring that to life?