Customer Relationships and the Trap of the Familiar

Recently, the sidewalk outside of our office building was closed for about ten days due to road construction. On several of those days I drove past the orange cones and barriers to our parking lot and not even two minutes later walked around the corner to take the sidewalk like I always do, as though nothing had changed. Each time I sort of chided myself for my short memory and then crossed to the other side of the street to get to the office. While I knew the sidewalk was closed, I was still operating on my normal unconscious routine until I was confronted by the bright orange barrier that said “Sidewalk Closed.”

One of those mornings I realized that in all the time I’d been walking my route to the office I had never been down that side of the street or seen the building from that vantage point. So, I stopped and looked up toward the spot where our offices are. Because I followed a normal routine I hadn’t appreciated the color of the brick, the architectural nuances or the way the morning sun lit up that side of the very familiar edifice. I really had missed out.

Sometimes our clients have much the same experience when dealing with their customers. The relationships are stable. The people they interact with and their requirements and expectations are familiar. They get into a routine. Sure, from time to time events take place and conditions change, but very often all appears to return to normal. They revert to the comfort and unconscious nature of the familiar pattern. And just like my walk to the office, they miss out on things.

To avoid missing opportunities and failing to see potential threats in customer relationships, consciously change your routine. Look at your customer from a new angle. Just a few simple ideas to avoid the trap of the familiar:

  • The next time you meet with them, ask different questions. Instead of discussing products, deals and problems ask about trends in their market. Inquire about business challenges they anticipate and opportunities they want to pursue. To get at different information, have a different conversation.
  • Be conscious about your routine, and change it up. Consider what you might be missing and do something new to discover something new.
  • Talk to their other suppliers. Compare notes and knowledge with other companies that serve that same customer.
  • Call a contact that’s less familiar to you to build a new relationship, verify what you know, and potentially uncover something useful.

The street repairs outside my office are finished and the sidewalk is open once again. Tomorrow I’m still going to cross to the other side of the street, just to see things from a different perspective.

Eric Engwall
Business-to-Business Sales, Customer Relationships, Voice of the Customer

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