communicating with your customers

My wife and I agree that there are two things that we need to stay married. The first is trust. This is something that I think of many times a day. When I whip out my credit card I ask myself can I justify this purchase to her or will I want to hide it from her. If I want to hide it, I have second thoughts. I don’t hesitate to purchase things like books or music. I do hesitate to buy things like video games, computer toys, or electronics. True I am a gadget freak and like the latest toy but I don’t want to penalize her by getting something that takes away time and money from the family. There is a trust that I won’t go out and purchase a new iPhone even though I need a new phone and want a new iPod. It is a little difficult hiding $600 and a new shiny toy like this one. If I buy one I will do the second most important thing in our relationship; talk to her about it.

Communication is something that I think is very important. I have an understanding with my wife. If you ask the question, expect an answer. If she wants to know what I want for dinner or where I want to go and I say I don’t care, I can’t complain about the place that she selects. If I say that I really want to get a new iPhone she does not make fun of me but starts asking questions like do I need a new phone and how much does it cost. Once we get beyond these logistical questions we start talking about how we can afford it. I’ve learned not to ask certain questions like does this shirt look good on me or do you like my haircut? My kids will give me a brutally honest answer for those questions. My wife will smile and nod her head in agreement if I give her a questioning look. We both have learned how to politely ask each other to change clothes rather than saying “are you going to wear THAT”. A simple question like “do we need to get that dressed up” or “is this a casual event” says volumes beyond “I thought I put that in the paint shirt cabinet, did you dig it out” question.

This diatribe bring up a question. If you could communicate with your customers, what would you want to say. If you could provide a communication mechanism that they wanted to use, what would you want to talk about beyond what your web site says? It is important to get your message out about a new product or service but how many times does your customer go to your home page? I send out an email communication to all of my customers about three times a year. It usually is an offer to get together to discuss an announcement that might effect them or a notice of a meeting near their office. I try to keep the communications to a minimum to keep my message relevant. I also try to maintain a running discussion about topics that my customers want to talk about. That usually happens when they email or call me and this results in multiple exchanges in a short period of time.

This brings up the question, how much is too much communicaiton and how much is too little? There is one customer that I talk to through email three times a year. There are other customers that I talk to on the phone every other week. Both buy the same amount from us annually. Both are well educated on our products. I know I could ask either of them a question and get an answer. It might not be the answer that I want to hear but I haven’t learned how to ask them if the shirt that I have on makes me look old or fat. I do know how to ask them if they need technical help or if they want to see something new that we are working on. I like my relationship with both of them so I can’t say that one works better than the other just that they are different. The difficult question that I have to ask is what do I want out of my relationship with these customers? Do I want a vendor-customer relationship? Do I want a technical advisor-expert relationship? Do I want to talk more about my kids swim team and college football? It depends. One thing that I do know is that both of us need to be successful in our jobs or neither of us will be able to spend the time talking because we will be busy interviewing for new jobs.