The Benefits and Risks of Developing Social Relationshiops With Customers

One of my summer reads is Predictably Irrationalby Dan Ariely. I found this to be a pleasant and thought-provoking book. I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the fundamental underpinnings of human behavior. All of Ariely’s observations are research-based and are presented in an extremly accessible manner.

One chapter of the book struck me as particularly important for communicators. “The Cost of Social Norms” explores the benefits and the risks of creating a social versus a purely business relationship with customers.

Done well, the social approach develops longer-term deeper relationships between the customer and the business. The customer acts on a sense of connectedness in the business and sustains the relationship through continued interactions and transactions.

Done poorly, the social approach can create a break-up with all the animosity of a nasty divorce.

Writes Ariely: “If you are a company, my advice is to remember that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t treat your customers like family one moment and then treat them impersonally–or, even worse, as a nuisance competitor–a moment later when this becomes more convenient or profitable. This is not how social relationships work.”

This means that if you take the foray into social media, make sure you are allowing a two-way exchange. A blog that does not allow comments or filters out any remotely negative comments is not social. A toll free number that only provides recorded information and tells the caller that messages aren’t accepted isn’t social. E-mails that don’t invite comment or don’t accept replies are not social. A website that does not allow the visitor to make comment or sign up for additional information is not social.

Pete Blackshaw at Advertising Age offers more perspective on this issue in his article “Marketers Love Conversation, Unless the Consumer Starts It“. 

“I dare you to find a feedback form that winks even a quasi-friendly smile” says Blackshaw. “And if you find one that allows consumers to truly communicate in their native voices — complete with links, photos, audio clips or videos — I’ll eat my just-published book.”

Please share your examples of good or bad business to consumer social behavior.