Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Are Customer relations friendships?

Customers in a shop or guests in a restaurant usually very much appreciate it when the employees are friendly, understanding or even empathic. It contributes to the fulfillment of their desires and needs with full satisfaction. Therefore, customer focus rightly is an important requirement in customer relations – the customer as a human being should always be in the center.
However, the human relationship between the customer and the company is being abused more and more as a sales gimmick. At Starbucks, you’re the barista’s best friend; you belong to the IKEA family or the salesperson at the high end Ralph Lauren store trusts you with her very own preferences.

The staff in shops or restaurants is instructed to create a feeling of closeness through simulating a strong friendship. Customers get the feeling that you really like them. But in reality it is only about encouraging them to buy more. It’s not about the individual and understanding and considering his or her personality and needs, but about hard selling and sale success. So customer focus ultimately only serves the purely financial success of a company and doesn’t add to the perceived quality of life of a particular customer.

 However, in a humanistic perspective, human beings are considered as ends, not as means. Each human being is a unique person with specific interests and values. Already in the 1970s, Erich Fromm called for recognizing the “oneness” of people in a capitalist society, instead of considering them only in anonymous customer group categories in terms of “sameness”. Pretend friendships exploit our human peculiarities.

The employees of companies with such sales strategies are exposed to an emotional dilemma. They are asked and usually also trained to put their human abilities in the service of financial ratios. As a customer you also face a dilemma: How should you interpret the kindness of the salesperson? If it is authentic, you don’t want to reject it, but if it’s only manipulative, you can’t and don’t want to trust their advice.

 However, recent empirical 1) evidence confirms that the trustful treatment of people and their recognition is crucial to the perceived quality of life. I hope that in 2014 you will have the opportunity in your professional life to contribute to the quality of human life. 

1)      Anderson, C., Kraus, M. W., Galinsky, A. D., & Keltner, D. (2012). The Local-Ladder Effect: Social Status and Subjective Well-Being. Psychological Science, 23, 764-771.

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