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Friday, September 10, 2010

Happy birthday to...who exactly?

Relationship marketing is getting better.

Well, maybe just, “more prevalent”.

Every year, my birthday provides my very own “Big Mac Index” measure of the growth of relationship marketing, as service companies use show their CRM investment by sending me a birthday card. It was novel when I received my first one more than a decade ago. Truthfully, the novelty hasn’t worn off much, though I’m getting to the point where company-initiated cards are competing with the number I receive from friends & family.

But while more companies are showing me that they are using information to monitor and respond to important events in a customer’s life (though no one has ever asked me if I consider birthday important) the use of that information for relationship-building activities – the part requiring human thought and creativity – still has a galaxy of room to improve.

Cards I recieve generally fall into one of three categories, with my utility for them decreasing below zero by the 3rd:

A card accompanied by a genuine gift. The gifts are usually token, $5 - $10, sometimes much less. But these small recognitions of the relationship without any expectation of reciprocity get my greatest response. They fit with the birthday theme of gift giving, and usually get me to engage them in a service encounter in order to “redeem” my gift, where I likely spend in excess of the gift amount.

A simple birthday greeting. These represent a majority of the cards. Not much in terms of tangible benefit, but recognition of the event representing a genuine appreciation for the business I do. Even though I know how little effort this type of program requires, the fact that any effort is taken, without the express objective of corporate gain, makes me appreciate them.

A birthday greeting including a promotional offer. These often come as a 10% / 20% / 30% off coupon – “because it’s my birthday” – on an upcoming purchase. Of course, 10% off means than I’m still likely spending hundreds in the redemption transaction, and doesn’t consider whether I need the service in the promotional timeframe. These create an almost viscerally negative reaction, and have caused me to speed ending a relationship with a company that, not surprisingly, was not a very good service provider to begin with.

Companies talk almost constantly about developing “relationships with loyal customers.” What surprises me is how many of those same companies execute their relationship communications with their own benefit as the sole objective. When I see a “birthday wish” conveying 90% of the benefit back to themselves, I am capable of little sympathy as a company grumbles about their customers being “price-driven”. When all customers have seen through the false-intentioned rhetoric, the only ones that remain are those you've conditioned to be price purchasers.

In company customer relationships, like interpersonal ones, it is wise to remember that we reap what we sow.

1 comment:

Jan said...

Happy birthday! Oh ... this comment entitles you to 10 percent off your next creative instigation. Because your business (and happiness) is important to us. :-)