Can You Just Automate Customer Affection?


I’m a sucker for love. But not just the romantic kind of love – I want it all. I want my friends to love me, my workmates to love and adore me … and truth be told, I want my customers to love me too.

So, after a wonderful Valentine’s Day in which I was showered with affection, my thoughts circled around one question: Is it wrong to want your customers to love you? And for my line of business in particular, does the creating of customer advocates mean that we are creating true loyalty and affection?

I think sometimes Marketers jump on the Marketing Advocacy bandwagon and try too hard (and too quickly), to win the affection of their customers, all without offering much of value in return. Just because you remember your customers’ birthdays, or use some fancy advocacy software like Influitive, doesn’t mean you can turn around and ask for referrals or try to up-sell your customer.

I mean can you just automate affection? Does just calling a customer an advocate make a relationship?

It has been over 20 years since Ken Blanchard wrote "Raving Fans". He offered solid advice on building customer relationships by setting a goal to create actually raving fans Instead of just having “satisfied” customers. This line of thinking has influenced customer service businesses for the past two decades, to the point where expressions like “exceeding customer expectations” have become nothing but a corporate cliché….and like all clichés in general, it is often spouted without actually being understood, or even executed well. 

Fast-forwarding to our current use of technologically solutions…  It also amazes me that Customer Service leaders think that just by using some cool software like ZenDesk(customer service software) they can create customer meaningful relationships. In fact, I recently worked with a VP of Customer Service who took pride in not actually talking to his customers, he could just create a dashboard to show the trend of how users were relating to the company by the tickets that they were logging in the system. Wait a second, Seriously??? I see a future of very vacuous customer relationships ahead.

And to be clear, I am not pointing my finger at the software companies; they are truly creating a platform to help business leaders develop a repeatable and sustainable relationship with their customers. But we need to push harder on the human side of building a lasting customer relationship. Right now these “out of the box” templates are creating customer behaviors that are neither sustainable nor healthy for businesses. By solving problems with software and following what they list as “best practice” metrics all only means that businesses fall into the fateful ‘best’ practice of doing things in, ironically, the same ineffectual way.

So, let me put on my customer hat for a minute, and in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, reflect on the“relationships” I have with brands. In other words, let us think about what affection to a brand means.

Really - does anyone pay full price for retail anymore?

When it comes to retail purchases, I certainly tend to wait for my e-coupons to come into my Inbox. It’s natural, you want the best possible deal. So does that mean most shoppers have been conditioned to just wait to shop on coupon days? For me, paying full retail price feels well… wrong. But is that because I’m frugal, or is it because I have been trained by customer advocacy tools to act this way? I really don’t feel any added affection towards these brands because I get some discounts here and there. And I think most buyers now expect them, and feel entitled to NOT pay full price anymore.

In contrast, one of my favorite local brands is TekSavvy (Internet and Telecom Services), and they have never offered me a discount. They don’t woo me, I have never had a “Happy Birthday” email from them, and they don’t clog up my Inbox with discount coupons worth (rhetorically) less than the paper it takes to print them on.

But, the few times I have had questions, I call their customer service helpline, and they answer me quickly. They are extremely helpful, they use real life examples when they explain things and I feel like they actually care – The way they win my love is to focus on actually great (and actually useful) service. They use all the same software that other companies do but they funnel their efforts into training their staff to really make sure that customers get everything they need form the service. Also, I never feel like they are going to hit me with a gimmick. Guess what? Even if Bell or Rogers offered me free service, I would not break up with TekSavvy because of the quality of service. Now that is a committed customer relationship!

I'd love to hear how you are handling building customer relationships. So please comment, and tell me the good, the bad, and the ugly. I can be reached at