By J. Dean Spence
In last week’s blog, I discussed how blogs can be used to improve or ignite relationships with existing and/or new customers. In future blogs I will discuss relationship building in greater detail. This week I want to discuss specific relationship-building strategies that can be adapted for the blogging format.
A relationship-building strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve long-term bonds of loyalty and mutual reciprocity between customers/consumers/clients and a business. Some relationship-building strategies may be specific to your industry. Many hospitals, for example, use the so-called AIDET framework when interacting with patients and visitors. It’s beyond the scope of this blog to describe AIDET in great detail, but the acronym stands for Acknowledge, Introduce, Duration, Explanation, and Thank You. AIDET is a communication and relationship-building tool that reduces patient anxiety, improves consistency, standardizes success, and improves patient experience.
Other relationship-building strategies are just plain common sense. In Power Relationships by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas, the authors describe one useful strategy: treat a prospective client like he is already a client and there’s a good chance that he will become one. Here’s how that might work in your blog. Imagine you own a catering service. Following the strategy outlined by Sobel and Panas, you could build relationships with potential clients by giving your audience advice (what type of wine goes well with pizza?), make suggestions (try combining zucchini Provençal with pasta for a hearty, healthy meal), and offering interesting bits of information (humans can detect 5 different tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami). If you are interesting enough, you will effectively groom your audiences to become clients—and hang on to existing clients.
I discovered the four remaining relationship-building strategies while conducting research for my Major Research Paper when I was a graduate student. They are facework, constitutive rhetoric, facilitating self-actualization, and peer linking. (Please note, if you are more of an expert on these strategies than I am, recognize that I am putting my own spin on them. My interpretation of these four terms may differ from yours.)
Facework occurs when an organization helps one of its customers look good by protecting his dignity. Consider our blogging caterer again. Suppose she writes a blog containing a difficult recipe, for example a bouillabaisse. One of her readers tries the recipe and posts on the blogger’s site how upset he is and how he has lost his confidence because he screwed up the meal. The blogger would employ facework by encouraging the reader to try again. “You can do it. It just takes practice!”
Constitutive rhetoric occurs when an organization uses special predicates in its communications to describe its clients. It helps the client understand his role in his relationship with the organization. Moving away from the caterer momentarily, a great example would be a housing provider that refers to its tenants as “good neighbours” in its community blog. This simple predicate can suggest that for a person to have a successful tenancy there are certain “good” behaviours that he must display.
Back to our caterer. An organization can facilitate self-actualization by helping its clients reach their full potential. Imagine that our caterer also teaches cooking classes at a private college. She may offer her blog audiences a discount if they want to take her course. Or maybe the focus of her blog may be teaching audiences about fusion-style cuisine and she not only provides recipes but discusses fusion cooking in great detail.
It’s not only important for an organization to have a good relationship with its customers, it’s also important for organizations to facilitate community and bonds of connection between its customers. Creating a successful brand today typically involves creating such a community of happy consumers. Therefore peer linking may be the most powerful strategy discussed so far. Our caterer may employ peer linking by encouraging her readers to share recipes amongst one another.
Peer linking is potentially the easiest strategy to employ because of the dialogical nature of social media and blogs. Your customers are already talking amongst themselves! Your job here is to ensure that the discussion is free of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of ignorance. In short, you must be a sheriff—without a appearing to be a sheriff. It’s a delicate balance.
Consciously using these relationship-building strategies will result in stronger bonds of loyalty and mutual reciprocity. Your customers will become your friends!
Do you know of other relationship-building strategies that businesses can employ? I’d love to hear them. Comment below.