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Strengthening customer-dealer relationships

We frequently hear that good customer service adds value to products and helps build enduring relationships. Nowhere could that be more important than in today’s boat business — perhaps, even more so because of the need for loyal customers when there’s a possible sales slowdown ahead.

According to a recent report in CRM (a magazine devoted to customer relations management), deepening the relationship between you and the customer must be a major objective as consumers appear to be moving past the functional aspect of choice for products and services and are moving to a more emotional level based on what the product stands for. Some call it a movement from purchaser to believer.

So contend article authors Ivan Bojanic and Nancy Walter, integration architects at Gongos, a decision intelligence company. They cite one motivation for this change is to fill the void being left by institutions (governmental, financial or educational), as well as companies, that don’t treat people right. While these entities once provided stability in our lives, many are now embroiled in scandal, fraud or gridlock. We’re collectively more anxious, even lonelier, especially the younger generations.

That’s why companies are now ranked based on such measures as how they treat workers and customers, the environment, their community support and even their human rights records. And it’s not surprising that “purpose-led” brands enjoy more resilient relationships with people, Bojanic and Walter say.

They put it this way:

In one notable romance-comedy, the guy stands out in the rain with a boom box blasting a song that has meaning for both of the people involved. Metaphorically speaking, that’s what companies must do to forge meaningful relationships with customers. But to start, brands must understand and share peoples’ values and take a meaningful place in their hearts and minds. They must be clear about their principles — who they are and what they stand for.

Here are three ways Bojanic and Walter recommend that could deepen the relationship between you and your customers.

1. Always be real. Today, 62 percent of people say they want to deal with brands that are authentic. For a business, that can be challenging. The authors cite McDonald’s as an instructive example. Seeing that Americans wanted healthier food, McDonald’s redesigned its menu to focus on healthier options by marketing salads and wraps. It failed, losing 500 million orders over five years. It turns out we do want healthier foods, just not from McDonald’s. The brand didn’t align with its business decision, and people rejected it.

The fast-food giant recovered by reclaiming the brand identity that people recognized: inexpensive burgers and and improved identity by switching frozen to fresh meat. The reinvented burger has been a hit, from both a taste and business perspective, strengthening customer relationships.

2. Take the lead. Not surprising in today’s political climate, nearly 90 percent of Americans believe our country is too divided. It reveals a startling insight: We see our bedrock institutions, such as government, religion and civil society, as ineffective, paralyzed or even broken.

For any business, there is a risky landscape in taking a stand at a time when everyone has different points of view, and no single approach will be right for everyone. As a recent #MeToo-inspired commercial by Gillette demonstrated, passionate supporters and vocal detractors will react. Still, at a minimum this indicates brands should go beyond thinking about product, price, and features, and establish acceptable values to communicate.

3. Show that you get them. Eight-eight percent of people say digital ads are more intrusive today than two or three years ago; today’s consumers have a desire for greater space, and more trust, in their lives. Some businesses react to this by curating environments that don’t pressure people to buy on the spot but, rather, create a memorable experience that may lead to a sale in the future.

For example, strive to establish a direct relation between the boat and the experience. Boats don’t simply fulfill a functional need; they are meaningful partners that can make life more rewarding for the customer and the dealership. It’s a shift that should move a relationship from transaction to interaction. Moreover, today’s boats must meet high buyer expectations, demands and desires. Connecting on an emotional level is important for any relationship and certainly for the future repeat sales.

After all, the goal of a relationship is to live happily ever after.

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