con·nec·tion /kəˈnekSHən/

Connection. Connectivity. Connectedness. More and more, we are starting to understand ourselves as nodes in a network – it’s true we are living in a world where there has been an irrevocable collapse of space and time.

This connexity (seriously, it’s a word) has altered what we expect of the world and our experience of it. Yes. So far, so we’ve-heard-this-already. I have been reflecting on this sense of connection lately as a result of a negative customer experience I have had and I thought I would share the story with you as something of a cautionary case study.

I am the customer of a certain company (let’s call them Acme Supplies), as is each member of my household. Over the last 6 years we would have spent heading on for six figures with them. Gulp. Lately, Acme have consciously and deliberately downgraded their service to customers like me. They are cost-cutting. That, I get. The thing is, there are loads of opportunities for step-change growth and innovation in the way they do business and yet these go untapped. Why? It would be a much more exciting way of increasing profits, surely. Why would they choose to cut services and alienate their core customers instead?  The answer is: they don’t know the opportunities are there. Why? Because they don’t know who their core customers are. Seriously.

In all the years I have been a customer and after all the money I have spent with them, not once have Acme asked me: Who are you? What do you do? What is important to you? What kind of relationship would you like to have with us? The sad thing is, many of their core customers are corporate Masters/Mistresses of the Universe: Chief Executives, Board Chairs of multi-nationals, executives of multi-billion dollar corporates… now, while this doesn’t make them better people than the rest of us, in terms of a corporate opportunity, they are GOLD. There are companies that would kill to get to know them and leverage those relationships to their benefit. Not Acme Supplies. Oh no. Opportunities for extensions to product lines, premium services, corporate relationships, innovative engagement, farming additional sales out of that core customer base… all go unexplored. There is money to be made. Meanwhile, they are looking for profit growth out of cutting services and irritating the same people others would love to impress.

I decided, rather than a simple complaint, I would point all of this out to Acme and write to their Chief Executive. To his credit, he has asked if I would spend an hour with him and some of his senior team to share information, so that will probably happen when I get back from my globe-trotting. But they are an interesting cautionary tale of how, even in this hyper-connected age we live in, it is possible to be seriously disconnected from your customers, given the right cocktail of complacency and introspection.

While these days fewer and fewer of our interactions are in-person (or perhaps it is because of it?), we are demanding a greater sense of connection from the people,  companies and organisations with which we interact. The act of connecting is easy – adding a LinkedIn contact, accepting a Facebook friend request – we do it almost unconsciously now. But this is not enough. Valuing our connections and breathing life into them with interest and energy is what transforms them into relationships…

Connection + (interest + energy) = relationship

…and it is our relationships (corporate, professional and personal) which provide us with the different kinds of support we need to do great things in the world – for ourselves, our families, our employers and our communities.

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