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The relationship between business and customer is still somewhat dysfunctional with 69% of business leaders feeling that their companies are either in an 'open marriage' or an 'on-again-off-again relationship' with their customers, according to a survey conducted for St. Valentine's Day by customer strategy firm Strativity. This article is copyright 2013 The Best Customer Guide.

The survey of 402 managers and directors examined the current state of relationships between companies and their customers, and found that 47% of businesses believe that customers stay with them because of inertia, and a further 24% feel that customers stay only because of convenience or price. Like a marriage that has lost its spark, expectations have sunk to an all-time low with 37% of executives acknowledging that they have become "too comfortable and complacent".

"Many couples find that good communication withers away a few years into a marriage; the same is true of companies and their customers," explained Lior Arussy, CEO for Strativity. "If you only talk when you are fighting (when a customer has a complaint) and on special occasions (a renewal date), then it's time to call a marriage guidance counsellor."

Despite a need to fight harder to retain custom in tough economic times, it seems that British companies are still opting for minimal investment in their relationships, unlike their US counterparts. A worryingly small percentage (only 7%) of UK companies said they were planning to shower their customers with gifts (i.e. rewards or loyalty schemes) to entice them to stay loyal, compared to 20% of US companies.

With regard to the state of customer relationships, the survey found that:

  • 59% said customers are in an open marriage (i.e. they look at the competition);
  • 26% said customers were in a monogamous relationship (i.e. clients only purchase from us for a particular product or service);
  • 10% said customers were in an on-again, off-again relationship (i.e. customers are indecisive about the company's service or product);
  • 5% said customers treated them as a one-night stand (i.e. purchasing based solely on price).

And when asked about the main obstacles to a good customer relationship:

  • 37% said the relationship has become too comfortable;
  • 29% said money has become an issue;
  • 20% said the company and customer simply want different things;
  • 9% there's someone else (customers are defecting);
  • 5% said they simple don't talk any more.

According to Chris Mills, Strativity's UK managing director, the time has come to inject some excitement into the customer relationship: "If you let your ego get in the way of making an effort with your relationship, don't be surprised if your customer walks away. There is no room for complacency in good economic times or bad but when we are threatened with a triple dip recession, you have to put the customer first in order to survive."

The survey did, however, see some hint of good intentions. It seems that being asked the question prompted many directors and managers to think about change, as 52% said they would try to sweep their customers off their feet in 2013 by providing exceptional customer service, and 51% did promise to try something new. And, while complacency may be rife, only 5% of companies felt they were a "one night stand" based on price only.

Consequently, the company's three tips for putting the passion back into the customer relationship are:

  1. Take an honest look at the state of your relationship. Is it inspiring and emotional or merely transactional?
  2. Focus on delighting and surprising your customers. Stop boring them with the same old experience.
  3. Collaborate with your customers to create exceptional experiences. Don't assume you know what's good for them.