Why Investing in Your Customer is the Best Bet You Can Make

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The following is a guest post by Julien Smith, my friend and co-author on an upcoming book with me.

Here’s one thing Chris and I have learned since writing Trust Agents:

Going all the way matters.

As people, we all know this. We enter committed relationships. We help and support our family and our friends. We join organizations where we help each other.

We do this stuff naturally. Coming together is a basic human activity that our brains understand well because we were brought up in groups. We’re not only individualistic, like cats, but also work well in packs, like wolves.

But something weird happens in business. We forget the individual. We deliver a message instead of just talking to customers. We’ve been told to say one thing out of the left side of our mouths, but another out of the right.

Person to person, we know we need to go all the way, and to be straight with people. But in business, we stop short.

Why companies stop short

The prevailing business culture is one where we eliminate risk and cut costs. We’d never do this with our spouse or our friends, of course.

But outside our circles, we do it without even thinking about it.

Our customers aren’t trying to take advantage of us. We want relationships with them– we know it’s profitable. So why are we leaning away?

Here’s what we discovered. Something special happens when you lean in… when you really invest in the relationship, whether it be with the customer or elsewhere.

We’re all watching it happen

Chris and I have seen it in organizations all over the world who are embracing social media, organizations we’ve seen the inner workings of. It works.

We see it in cities like New Orleans and Detroit, where many people have leaned in because they love the places they live in and want to make those places great. Those people have put in their all, and because of them, those cities will rise again.

We see it in personal relationships across the web everywhere that people have build because of Twitter or blogs, and through which they’ve found real friends and more.

How the math works

We can see the numbers working too. In investing terminology, dollar-cost averaging is what happens when you buy more of a company’s stock, even when their stock is doing bad. Why would you do that, you might ask?

You do it when it’s still a good company, and it’s going to survive because the numbers are right. You do it when you see that the company is undervalued– when it’s the underdog and it’s going to do better later.

In other words, you do it when you believe in them.

Do you believe in your readers? Do you believe in your customers? Do you believe in the web? I sure as hell do.

That’s what’s different about us.

That’s why companies are embracing Twitter. That’s why we them doing whatever they can to make their customers happy. They’re starting to see its value because they see that it works.

They are starting to lean in, not lean out.

When I started writing this post, I didn’t want to start a manifesto. But that’s kind of what it’s become, because I really care about this.

I’m going to guess you do too.

Everywhere I go and things are worth doing, or things make me happy, it’s because I decided to care. It’s because I decided that I wanted to make a difference.

That’s why here, on the web, I feel like we’re in it together. I feel like we can change the world.

But to do it, we need to lean in. We need to start caring again.

The economy sucks, and everybody’s broke. Some of us are down and out. You might be one of them.

If you are, you need to find more people like you to help each other.

You might be the opposite– you might be doing ok. If you are, you need to help those who are having a hard time.

You need to get in there and give back.

That is the message of the web for 2011. And I think it’s the message America needs to hear.

Reinvest.

Give back.

Give everything you can.

We have to do it. We’re counting on each other.

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  • Taexalia

    “I think it’s the message America needs to hear.”

    It’s World Wide Web sweetie… Always amused at marketing types who forget that…

    • julien

      Cool, I live in Canada, so… :)

  • http://raulcolon.net Raul Colon

    It is great to see content on Chris’ Blog aligned to what Chris shares all the time.

    Leaning in or out.. what a great (and simple) way to explain to your customers the action they can take when it comes to embracing things (especially social media).

    I do agree that most companies have an issue with making a difference like you (Julien), Chris, and I myself in my environment want to do. The biggest issue I have seen with many companies & organizations is that they want to make a difference but at the same time they want to follow, competitors, industry trends, and the traditional ways of doing stuff even when they might not be as effective.

    It is very difficult for big organizations to lean towards making a difference without having people wanting to lean (or jump out. ).

    You have explained it well making a difference requires yo to go all out and the most important thing is giving back and re-investing but so many people and organizations are so resistant of doing that without expecting something in return.

    We need more posts like this one to have people understand that you have to give before you start receiving. (What a better season to start than right now).

    • http://twitter.com/peas4luck Christy Annis

      I think businesses, corporations, and individuals need to think about creative ways to give back – there are so many ways to help and make a difference, it’s not always about writing a check.

      I have worked with homeless adults and teens for a year – many have stable job histories and college degrees and never thought they would be homeless. They are extremely hard workers and are very anxious to work. I hire them to assist with packaging of my product. People always talk about how much I give them and help them but in reality, they are giving me more than i could ever give them.

      Thank you for your comment – I hope it will encourage others to give back!

      • http://raulcolon.net Raul Colon

        It is great that you are planting those seed of hope and making them feel useful. I guess some people lose touch when they can’t relate to the person or entity in need.

        For example I have never been homeless but I have had a few family members that ended up being homeless. In my culture being homeless is a bit of choice because family will make sure for the most to give you a home.

        In my case my home was foreclosed on many months ago but when I started having issues with paying my mortgage I was very scared of ending up homeless “Although I am more than sure most of my friends would have given me a place to stay”.

        Every day I am so glad I was able to save money and rent a place when things got better I might have lost my house but I gained even more empathy towards those that are not as lucky as I.

        So I try to do the most to get people to feel useful (which is more difficult than writing a check or just given them a place to stay).

        I applaud you because those individuals are right you have given them the opportunity to succeed now it is up to them!

  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

    This is a battle cry for the future of not only business but humanity. Engaged because we choose to… because we care.

    I’m in.

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  • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

    Do we avoid leaning away in personal relationships? I have this debate a lot regarding online relationships. Some would argue that in the online world, people who may have been hermits a few years ago are out and about, talking to people, making friends, etc. However, is that the same as truly investing in a person? Is that the same as leaning in “in real life?”

    I’m also not sure that we avoid cutting costs when it comes to individual relationships. Look at how often people have to be reminded, “promote others, then yourself.” Is that a society where relationships are placed first? I don’t know…

    One other caveat I’d like to add to the business thing, too. When times are tough, I don’t care what your business is, trying to sell something – a product, a service, whatever – is easy for people to interpret as a slap in the face, even if that’s the farthest intent from your mind. “You can’t see I’m down and out? You’re asking me to buy your book, your machine, your whatever, when times are so tough? Must be great to be you.”

    It’s definitely a sort of balance. You need to lean in, but you need to make sure you don’t tip over. You need to be invested, but you need to be prepared for your investment to be rejected, or to fall flat.

    Thought provoking post, as per usual :) Though I have to admit, it’s weird to be commenting on a Julien post on a Chris site. I feel a bit muddled.

    • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

      Hi Marjorie,

      Is that a society where relationships are placed first?

      I think the conflict arises as we’re brought up to be competitive (in sports, school etc) but then told to put others first, thus the potential for mixed messages.

      • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

        Good point — Social Media highlights this, too. “Compete, but be nice about it.” “Promote others, but make money for yourself.” Tough line to walk sometimes, eh? :)

  • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

    Do we avoid leaning away in personal relationships? I have this debate a lot regarding online relationships. Some would argue that in the online world, people who may have been hermits a few years ago are out and about, talking to people, making friends, etc. However, is that the same as truly investing in a person? Is that the same as leaning in “in real life?”

    I’m also not sure that we avoid cutting costs when it comes to individual relationships. Look at how often people have to be reminded, “promote others, then yourself.” Is that a society where relationships are placed first? I don’t know…

    One other caveat I’d like to add to the business thing, too. When times are tough, I don’t care what your business is, trying to sell something – a product, a service, whatever – is easy for people to interpret as a slap in the face, even if that’s the farthest intent from your mind. “You can’t see I’m down and out? You’re asking me to buy your book, your machine, your whatever, when times are so tough? Must be great to be you.”

    It’s definitely a sort of balance. You need to lean in, but you need to make sure you don’t tip over. You need to be invested, but you need to be prepared for your investment to be rejected, or to fall flat.

    Thought provoking post, as per usual :) Though I have to admit, it’s weird to be commenting on a Julien post on a Chris site. I feel a bit muddled.

  • http://ClimbingEveryMountain.com Mary E. Ulrich

    You sure you weren’t a minister in another life? :)

    Solid advice Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, people on the left and right would agree on.

    • julien

      lol, thanks Mary. my uncle is a priest. :)

  • http://ClimbingEveryMountain.com Mary E. Ulrich

    You sure you weren’t a minister in another life? :)

    Solid advice Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, people on the left and right would agree on.

  • MatthewLiberty

    Interesting side note, this “lean” word is growing, MSNBC slogan right now is “Lean Forward” and if I’m not mistaken Seth Godin talked about leaning in his book Linchpin via posture, etc. Love the language in this write up and agree that leaning in, giving of yourself, is important in all relationships, period. Cheers!

  • http://www.678partners.com Parissa Behnia

    Thank you for a thought provoking post. Though my business is in its infancy, we’ve successfully taken the stance to treat every business situation we come across like a fingerprint, or completely unique. That’s because the people tied to the business situation are completely unique. We can’t focus solely on the tangibles – the intangibles matter, too. It’s of utmost importance to us to build trusting relationships with our customers. And that sometimes means that they only way to build trust with someone is to tell them I don’t have the tools to help them but that I can introduce them to someone who does. It’s honest and it’s memorable. And we stand out for it.

  • http://www.trustedadvisor.com/trustmatters Charles H. Green

    Great stuff, guys. I love Julien’s uinque way of posing insights. In this case, the insight is how the economics of trust works.
    I works by detaching from the outcome, which is the opposite of nearly all business school-taught metrics and processes. If you aim to make money from your customers, you’ll fail. But if you aim to help your customers, they will help you, and then you’ll make money. The key is to stop obsessing about your customers as means to your ends.

    Detach from the outcome; demote your economic results to the status of byproduct, rather than targeted outcome. Then it all works.

    As Julien puts it, we’re all depending on each other. That is what drives the whole thing.

    Thanks Chris and Julien, for this yet another example of insightful wisdom phrased seductively and provocatively.

  • http://www.webconsuls.com Judy Helfand

    You say lean in and MSNBC says to lean forward! Bottom line is we all need to reach out and touch someone (like the song says), by doing this we will support each other!

  • http://www.webconsuls.com Judy Helfand

    You say lean in and MSNBC says to lean forward! Bottom line is we all need to reach out and touch someone (like the song says), by doing this we will support each other!

  • http://www.mikemccready.ca/blog/ Mike McCready

    This is a great reminder for all of us. Even the most customer-minded people tend to get caught up in the business messaging. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  • http://linkedin.com/in/joesorge Joe Sorge

    Great post Julien! Preach on brother, I couldn’t possibly agree more :)

  • Anonymous

    Chris and Julien, thanks so much for publishing this article, it’s such an important message. It’s ironic how simple the solutions you suggest are, and yet most people are ignoring them and still going about things the way they always have–with poor results. This reminds me of when I get on an airplane…the flight attendant starts his spiel about safety. What he’s saying couldn’t be more important or relevant, yet nearly everyone tunes him out. He is literally giving you instructions that will save your life–and we dismiss it. Why? Maybe we think we know it already. Maybe we don’t think a water crash landing is likely. Maybe we don’t care.

    Pulling together is the answer.Pulling apart leads to desperation, and relying only on ourselves. We may end up chasing the best prices or quickest transaction, a quick road to nowhere. There is strength in numbers. 1 x 1 = 1. But 1 x 100 or 1 x 5,000 is a lot more powerful when we all work together towards a common goal, a cause or just trying to do business with each other.

    Great post guys!

  • http://martynchamberlin.com/blog/ Martyn Chamberlin…

    Very nice Julien. Only one paragraph with four sentences. I see you’re really starting to listen to CopyBlogger.

    It makes it much easier to read.

    Not to mention the content – the audience needs this! I’m just now beginning to understand how humans respond to internet marketing, and how to approach this business. Fascinating.

  • http://mydarabell.com/ Dara Bell

    I think America is re-grouping perhaps it needs to hold off international competition in longrun. Investment is happening in health care and energy and people are not used to so much flux. But it probably comes at a good time for those in need, their basic needs will be met like Canada and in the Uk.

    Some probably are taking advantage of cheap stocks or property prices. Everything is as alarming as you deem it, for some it a time to cash in. Stability probably above all the noise for a company might just come from building social capital. In boom times you here companies speak of “investing in our people”. Investing in your customer, your community is the next logical step.

    Has to be great WOM marketing to build a Pepsi community centre. It worked for the Quakers, Cadbury, Wedgewood. Back then Fortune 500 companies hired people, didn’t leak money and were respected (trusted).

    Dara

  • http://www.coopersbarnyard.com Frankie Cooper

    Investing in customers more often is a great idea and needs to be practiced more often.

  • http://doonbook.posterous.com Howard Stein

    Excellent post, Julien. I see your title references the customer, but ends with friends, neighbors acquaintances, the web of relationships, the importance of the new priorities of caring and they ARE new, this is a time where we see people working the old paradigms of hard sell profit as motive and we think, I think, OK, you don’t yet get it, the game has changed, if we are going to make a difference we need to lean into people and listen and give a damn.
    You guys are clearly part of the leading edge of that charge but it won’t go to your heads.
    We need you to keep hunting and dancing and discovering and gathering.

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  • Whitney Hoffman

    I had a similar discussion with some folks at a school meeting yesterday. There is resistance from some folks in ‘management’ (ie teachers) to change and learn new stuff, like integrating tech into the classroom. But if faced with that same resistant attitude or avoidance from students, they would be all over them, and complaining how negative and uncooperative they were.
    There’s still a blindspot that assumes that somehow, “business” requires people to deal with each other as if they were in combat, and fails to consider that cooperation, a human approach, gets us farther in the long run than an “us vs. them” mentality.
    I look at business as requiring perhaps a more outlined approach to mutual responsibilities than my friendships, where the rules are less defined. However the end goal, of having a successful relationship that’s mutually beneficial is the same. I prefer to walk away from any negotiation feeling everyone has gotten a fair deal, even if they haven’t gotten everything they may have wanted- everyone wins in small ways and no one feels defeated.
    The biggest losers are people who look at business relationships as combat, because when one side loses, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the other, and you have degraded your reputation in the process. And that poor reputation is something that will cost you, little by little, as people replace you with substitutes that don’t make them feel degraded and awful after the fact. Add to the fact that your reputation is more easily discovered and vetted than ever before, and you can see an easy trend developing- it’s not going to pay to be a jerk for very much longer.

  • Whitney Hoffman

    I had a similar discussion with some folks at a school meeting yesterday. There is resistance from some folks in ‘management’ (ie teachers) to change and learn new stuff, like integrating tech into the classroom. But if faced with that same resistant attitude or avoidance from students, they would be all over them, and complaining how negative and uncooperative they were.
    There’s still a blindspot that assumes that somehow, “business” requires people to deal with each other as if they were in combat, and fails to consider that cooperation, a human approach, gets us farther in the long run than an “us vs. them” mentality.
    I look at business as requiring perhaps a more outlined approach to mutual responsibilities than my friendships, where the rules are less defined. However the end goal, of having a successful relationship that’s mutually beneficial is the same. I prefer to walk away from any negotiation feeling everyone has gotten a fair deal, even if they haven’t gotten everything they may have wanted- everyone wins in small ways and no one feels defeated.
    The biggest losers are people who look at business relationships as combat, because when one side loses, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the other, and you have degraded your reputation in the process. And that poor reputation is something that will cost you, little by little, as people replace you with substitutes that don’t make them feel degraded and awful after the fact. Add to the fact that your reputation is more easily discovered and vetted than ever before, and you can see an easy trend developing- it’s not going to pay to be a jerk for very much longer.

  • Sharon

    Great article! You are correct – so often the ‘human’ gets overlooked in the course of business, but business relationships (like any other relationships), built on openness, trust and respect are key to any long-term success.

  • http://www.bigjobsboard.com/ Brad Jobs

    Business is not just all about money or the competition. For a long-term success we need to establish good relationship with clients. Treat them as our best friends because we wants all the best for them.

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  • http://twitter.com/PeterPaluska Peter Paluska

    Yes! Creating an enjoyable, fulfilling, and memorable customer experience through strong relationships.
    Well said, Julien!

    Peter

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