“Connecting” is one of the current crop of buzzwords. And while it definitely is a buzzword, it is also an important concept for one reason: It is assumed to make money. While there is considerable data emerging that solidly suggest that companies that connect also prosper, there is a commonsense aspect to it that does not require data. Connecting is about emotion. In a nutshell, the emotions of feeling as though you are part of something that you can be proud of and that values you. Who wouldn’t want to shop or work in a company that makes you feel that way?
The Roots of Connecting
Life is about relationships, with the best of our relationships contributing to our sense of being valued. From a practical perspective, this suggests that companies look for opportunities to create this feeling. Good idea, but doing so is only part of what it takes to connect with customers or employees. That’s because relationships have a tone to them.
A positive tone is described by feelings of warmth and welcome; of being able to be yourself without fear of judgment. But what is it that creates this tone? Many, many years ago I was reading a book on the topic of the content and differences between feelings such as joy, envy, jealousy and so forth when I happen to glance at a footnote in the book where the author made the point that a good relationship was defined by feelings of respect, understanding, caring and fairness. His observation hit me like a brick as it seemed so obvious (once said) and of high potential to anyone in the business of building relationships. For your convenience, I have defined the four characteristics in the following table.
Four Characteristics of a Valued Relationship
- Respect: Showing high concern for the rights, value and dignity of the other person.
- Understanding: Seeing things from the other person’s perspective without requiring it to match your own.
- Caring: Being kind and thoughtful and behaving in ways that show high concern for the comfort and well-being of others.
- Fairness: Working with people in ways that are reasonable, open and just.
While there can be more to a good relationship that these four characteristics, they are the basic ones. As a test of their importance, use them to evaluate the tone of your relationship with someone who is close to you or your last bad experience as a customer.
The Four States of Mind
Tone helps to determine whether a relationship will be valued. However, there is one other critical characteristic: the state of mind that the relationship creates. We all react to an interaction, but the state of mind the interaction creates will determine whether the relationship will be valued. There are lots of emotion-laden words that could be used to characterize our immediate and sustained reactions to a relationship, but they can be reduced to four: confidence, competence, belonging and pride. They are the four states of mind created by one person’s experience of another person, company or institution.
Four States of Mind
- Confidence: Believing that if I try, I can succeed and that I can handle what comes my way.
- Competence: Believing that I know what I am doing and have the right skills and abilities.
- Belonging: Believing that I am valued and belong.
- Pride: The sense of being associated with something good, laudable and that is a source of happiness.
The states of mind fit nicely into the idea of self-esteem and its two components: feeling competent - (If I try I will succeed) and being worthy of happiness — sprinkled throughout the states of mind shaped by the principles of a valued relationship.
Back to the commonsense that began this essay: connecting matters because people matter. People matter because they are the source of any enterprise’s success. The strength of the connection between a company and its customers can be directly measured by what we call: active loyalty. These are customers that go out of their way to buy from you and not only say they will refer your company to friends and family, but actually do so. That gets us back to the question of how to build respect, understanding, caring and fairness into a relationship in a way that routinely creates the four states of mind. This is not a problem of creating a “connection program” but one of understanding the points of connection between your customer experience and your customers definition of what it means to be connected with your company.
Gaylin, W.G. MD, Feelings: Our Vital Signs. New York, New York, Harper-Row Publishing, 1979. The definitions have evolved over the last several years. While any errors of definition of the principles are mine (Dr. Gaylin did not define them in his book), they have stood the test of time.