We were in southern Spain and our Airbnb sat above a small, battered shop. It sold water and crisps, an unbearably sweet wine and a few magazines. Subdued demand for this range meant the owner had time on his hands and, despite not speaking each other’s languages, we built a friendship. I say ‘friendship’ – it involved more gesturing, pointing and pretending I knew about football than usual. Nonetheless, we were sad to say goodbye five days later.
Considering the language gap, any form of friendship should have been impossible. But although it was slow moving, we got there in the end. Humans can manage it. Empathy is easy, warmth is contagious. So when the question is put to brands – how to build relationships with customers – the answer should be straightforward.
It is only recently that companies have even thought about brand-customer relationships. Evidence of this is the rapid rise of the role of ‘Chief Customer Officer’, the executive responsible for the company’s relationship with the customer. I’ve been in customer-led innovation for three years, but it took two CCOs and one book about them to teach me the difference between building products that are customer centric (an efficient way of creating successful products) and building relationships with customers (the essential route to growing a company for the long-term).
And it is true, the latter isn’t easy. My five day bromance with a Spanish shopkeeper was achievable, but then it wasn’t particularly complex either. Companies are waking up to the fact that the relationship they have with their customers is complex. It matters. It can’t just be gesturing and pointing, throwing in the odd footballer. It needs to be real.
Which is why our new CQ metric is so clever. It is designed to build these company-customer relationships, to analyse and improve them. Like marriage counselling, it puts relationships on the psychologist’s couch, diagnoses what’s going right and wrong, and advises how to make it better.
Everyone knows there is something inherently human about brand-customer interaction. This is why ‘branding’ as a discipline has always been seen as ‘fluffy’: another way of saying it’s hard to pin down, like humans. For me, CQ removes the fluffiness. It pins relationships down.