It’s become a bit of a Cliché. Every survey tells us that clients value their relationship with us.
But some stressful events of the last week have caused me to examine what we mean by valuing Business Relationships.
I was in South Africa, when I heard a close relative had been taken into hospital. Clearly, I needed to change my plans and return to the UK.
First up was South African Airways. We had international flights to change, and cancel, as well as internal ones.
And yes, I tend to go for their cheapest Fare Class, but generally book direct with them, and tend to use SAA, especially for international flights.
The reaction was brilliant. No charge for changing my flight, and all other flights held over for 6 to 12 months until we can use them. There will be a small admin fee to change the flight at the time. And I could speak to a human being who could see the notes on my file as well!
Next is the hotel we use in Sandton. I left in a hurry, all packed, but unsure if I could get a flight that night, so did not check out, just settled the bill. Once I was on a flight, my business partner in SA checked out for me. At 3.00pm. They then refunded me that nights accommodation costs, even though it was a full day after the contractual deadline for doing so.
Whilst mentioning the hotel – Garden Court, Sandton City, by the way – can I mention they found me a room for a colleague when they were officially full? Based on a chat with the Manager, who took personal control of the situation, and reported back to me herself. And no paperwork by the way. ‘Mr Billingham, let me sort it out’. And she did.
I had similar re-assurance form the car hire company I always use, retuning the car early, I was told that ‘No worries, we will close the contract and make a refund’.
Not everyone was as helpful. But in the main, these were people I had never dealt with before, and did not know how to trust me.
And that is the point. I was reflecting – it’s a long flight! – on the value and nature of these relationships, and had the following thoughts.
It’s based on reciprocal loyalty. I use the same companies because it works for me, but they can see I am a frequent customer, and went out of their way to look after me
Relationships mean nothing until they are tested. When it all goes well, then buying cheap, shopping around works. But when it goes wrong, you are on your own. And that feels stressful.
Relationships are based on a two way street. If I don’t engage, what right have I to expect them to engage with me?
Relationships reassure. I was under stress, and anxious for someone to listen. They did so, and made me feel that there was someone who, if not ‘caring’ as such, certainly was willing to spend time and listen, and tell me how to best deal with a situation that was new to me.
So clients want the following from us:
Understand me, and care about me
Understand this is all stressful
Be in my corner – no one else seems to be
Don’t measure the cost of looking after me when I’m stressed, and I won’t measure every penny when its going well