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A Radical Customer Relationship Building Approach

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ways to enhance the personal touch of customer relationship building. So much interaction, education, sales and service can be handled without every actually talking to another human being that it’s easy to fall into that mode completely.

mikecogh via Flickr

I think the real beauty of using all of this new technology is that it allows us to automate the routine and therefor should free up time and energy to focus on creative ways to deepen actual relationships.

Today I would like to talk about just such a creative idea that is an innovation that may feel a bit radical, but borrows heavily from a proven concept.

The idea is taken from the “in residence” approach that you’ll find in many artistic endeavors. Artist-in-residence programs exist to invite artists, scholars, poets, curators, and all manner of creative people for a time and space away from their usual environment to reflect and create and in many cases mentor.

Some more entrepreneurial schools have added Entrepreneur-in-residence programs to match students with seasoned entrepreneurs for a more immersive introduction to the day-to-day life of building a business.

I think any business, particularly business-to-business organizations, could borrow from this successful tactic by creating their own “Customer-in-residence” program.

The elements of the program could be similar in nature to traditional in residence models.

  • Select a customer each month to act as your customer in residence (Designed and operated properly, this could turn into a highly sought after designation.)
  • Determine that part of the monthly designation includes extra time with your firm. Set up a series of meetings that include a very deep exchange of information, a brainstorming day, or a take your customer to work day. The goal is to create an approach that allows you to move beyond the normal interactions you have with this client. The key of course is to create interaction or exchange that will be mutually beneficial. Perhaps, this would be a good time to make introductions to your key strategic partner too.
  • Create a featured topic each month around some element of work related to the results this client has achieved, something they’ve overcome or a common struggle in their industry. The key here is to develop a theme that allows them to share key learnings or best practices.
  • Host a Peer-2-Peer sharing event, either in person or online, where your Customer-in-residence could present a monthly assignment and discuss in a forum like setting the things they’ve done, things they’ve learned and perhaps even the things they are still struggling with. Invite the rest of your customers, prospects and network to attend and take part in the discussion. This could turn into a very rich sharing and networking event and provide valuable information for your entire community while really shining a nice spotlight on your Customer-in-residence.This could be a very small group thing as well, five customers over lunch. You could get really creative with this event and go to a really fun location like an art gallery or local hiking trail.
  • Give every member of your community a brief overview and homework assignment related to the chosen theme. Invite them to submit their work for feedback from your staff. The monthly assignment related to the theme could be simply a series of tasks related to making their website more user friendly or something more global like researching and creating an employee handbook.
  • Archive on your Customer-in-residence section on your site and repeat again next month.

The key to making this work for your business is to think about and design it in a way where your entire community benefits from taking part and having access. Start by creating elements that will entice your best customers to apply to be this month’s chosen customer and move to find ways to motivate others to participate each month.

This program will take some work and commitment to get going, but the community and relationship building opportunities could make this program the foundation of how your business stands out.

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