At work today we were running through a virtual version of Forum‘s program, Achieving Service Excellence, on Adobe Connect Pro. Forum was a pioneer in “customer service” and organizations still come to us because our deep experience and expertise in the customer experience. For years ASE (and its companion, Managing Service Excellence) has helped fancy ice-cream stores, banks, hotels, gas stations and more improve customer satisfaction, retention and spend. A center-piece of ASE is a simple but powerful ‘customer interaction cycle’. And the model presumes you’re going to see the customer again.
Relational Proximity Dimension #2 is Continuity or Time: our relationship is formed and strengthened by the amount, frequency and span of time we are together. ‘Together’ is a function of directness (Dimension #1), so even if you only have an online relationship with someone Continuity will likely still strengthen the relationship.
I’d argue that if we meet once, we don’t really have a relationship. Not that I would approach you like that, especially if I’m a customer service representative. If I meet you once, but expect to meet you again, and you expect to meet me again, then suddenly it’s as though something is at stake, so trust is required and therefore a relationship is established. You can see how the expectation of a future meeting might change how we treat someone.
Two sets of vendor-client relationships may have met exactly the same number of times but because one set has an expectation of a future there is inevitably more depth and seriousness to the relationship. Historical perspective works the same way; having a sense of common history together means you can think and feel and say, “That was us, you and me! We did that. We went through that together!”.
Or, of course, you could look back and say “you keep screwing me over!”. Continuity, like the other dimensions, is a necessary basis of a good relationship but doesn’t guarantee it.
Whether with a customer or a friend, try recalling your history together, and discuss plans for the short or long-term future. Then actually start meeting regularly! See how that changes your sense of the health and vitality of the relationship.