A few might dispute the notion, but most will agree — relationship trumps everything.

Whether in the business or personal arena, relationship provides the context in which almost everything is interpreted. It influences judgement and defines value.

The Relationship That Wasn’t

Nearly a decade ago a small technology start-up was out of money, and about to give up. But a professional service group showed the entrepreneurs a way to convert intellectual property into a revenue stream; and the start-up was reborn. An eighteen month revenue stream that defied even the most optimistic pro forma ensued.

The company praised their advisors. Glowing emails spoke in reverent terms of the counsel and strategy that saved the business from the fate known by many when the tech bubble burst early in the 2000‘s. The relationship between client and service provider could not have been better.

Or so it seemed.

Two years after being rescued, and just ninety days after authoring an unsolicited “we-love-you” email, the company fired the professional service group to embark on a new relationship with a sexy, aggressive suitor.

The Essential Client Experience

We know relationship is both critical, and difficult. Enterprise invests millions in customer relationship marketing strategy and management technology. Yet loyalty seems increasingly illusive.

One big reason? We misunderstand the experience-to-relationship equation. The advisors noted above thought quality counsel and the experiences of yesterday were enough.

In case it is necessary, we should stipulate that this is not a discussion about the experience one possesses or might gain in a particular subject or service area. It is about the experience one creates, facilitates and delivers.

This is the stuff of which relationship is made. And the equation that delivers experiences that differentiate has three parts:

  1. Listening. This is about getting smart. Hearing expectations. Learning what matters most. Even identifying what might put the relationship at risk.
  2. Communicating. Dialogue — honest give-and-take — is essential to relationships that grow and last. Here is where plans are born, objectives articulated and shared aspirations identified.
  3. Collaborating. This is about the mutual pursuit of objectives and shared aspirations.

Apply each of these three factors consistently, and the result is the creation of shared experiences at the deepest level. Nothing binds a relationship more.

Give only lip-service to any, and weaken the relationship. Leave one or more out — or employ a sporadic strategy (say, a touch-base-quarterly-communication plan) — and any relationship is at risk.

With shared experiences as context, relationships have a shot at withstanding all that will threaten — from market metrics to blatant rate plays, from aggressive competition to high-consequence change.

Certainly, quality and expertise are essential. In fact, in the markets in which most of us live and work, these are presumed. To an increasing degree, the client / customer experience you deliver — daily — is both the most effective means of differentiation, and the DNA of client relationships that last.