People and companies all over the world have sacrificed their routines, comfort, and the old way of doing things in order to protect each other’s health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Small business owners choose cooperation over competition to survive through hard times. Students have mobilized support for older adults experiencing social isolation during quarantine. Families, friends, and neighbors are finding creative ways to show up for each other – from a safe social distance. And those are just three, out of hundreds of examples.
Through the multitude of issues 2020 has thrust to the forefront, it’s clear companies need to show up for their people on a deeper level. Salesforce has developed a discipline to connect the increasingly important relationship between a company and its communities with business value. We call it Relationship Design. Here’s how it works.
But first, examples of companies stepping up
The chaos and disruption of societal norms forced many companies to shift their focus from in-person customer relationships to virtual ones. Case in point, CarMax, the largest used car company in America, heard its customers were uncomfortable with car dealerships due to the pandemic. The company expedited the development of its CarMax app and online selling capabilities, enabling much of the car shopping process to happen virtually.
And as people head back to physical office spaces, employers must instill trust that workforce health and safety is a top priority. Companies collaborate with public health departments to contain COVID-19 outbreaks across cubicles and communities, forging unprecedented relationships between the private and public sector. Many employers are also experiencing overdue pressure to respond to collective concerns about racial injustice. Many are standing up for their values and finding ways to work with their employees and customers to create a positive path forward.
This dynamic landscape of customer, employee, and community relationships requires proactive listening and response. To remain successful, business operations must evolve, as do the products and services businesses bring into the world.
We’re here to help
Last year we introduced the Relationship Design approach for the first time, and we continue to develop the practice in response to the roller coaster of 2020.
This set of tools and processes is meant to empower companies to meet the needs of changing relationships. Relationship Design is a creative approach to driving business and social value, focused on building relationships with customers, employees, and community. It’s a practice anyone — in any industry or discipline — can adopt.
This discipline asks us to look beyond a customer’s superficial needs to consider the deeper human desires that drive engagement with the product or service and how those drivers might encourage ongoing engagement with a brand.
For example, with the need to connect digitally during the pandemic, companies such as Houseparty and Jackbox TV are pushing beyond user entertainment, designing games to strengthen relationships between partygoers in virtual space. And AAA Carolinas responded to the disruption of COVID-19 by designing a member out-reach program that puts their members’ well-being over immediate revenue gains.
Above all, Relationship Design enables us to make decisions that build trust by prioritizing human connection. It provides resources, such as Salesforce’s ethical AI framework, to examine the ripple effects of those decisions so we can understand the long-term impact on customers and communities.
A company’s job is to connect with customers, and in order to do that you need to understand where they’re at.Lauren Peters Lague, senior director, Salesforce Experience
Four mindsets make it happen
This is challenging work. But it becomes easier when we embrace the four mindsets of Relationship Design — compassion, intention, courage, and reciprocity. These four mindsets build on each other. And all can be put to work in any role, function, or industry context.
Salesforce Design developed the Relationship Design mindsets in collaboration with IDEO: the design firm responsible for proliferating Design Thinking methodologies, applied widely in companies today. Relationship Design is the next chapter: continuing to bring humanity into technology and business by focusing on how we relate to each other.
When entering a new relationship — be it with a person, a product, or an environment — we often wonder: “Is this safe for me?” When employees feel psychologically safe, they are more creative, more productive, and more likely to extend empathy to their customers. Companies that design products and services from a place of compassion encourage customer trust, outperform their peers, and gain market advantage. Both employees and customers are loyal to companies that help them feel safe and supported. Lauren Peters Lague, senior director, Salesforce Experience believes, “A company’s job is to connect with customers, and in order to do that you need to understand where they’re at. You simply can’t do that without compassion. You have to have empathy for where they are in their lives, and how your product or service can provide value to them.”
So, how do you engage in this kind of relationship building at work? Here are a few tried and tested methods:
Reward employees for taking thoughtful risks, even when it ends in failure
When employees feel empowered to try new things and solve problems in creative ways, it leads to better solutions for customers. Encourage them to share unfinished work and to give and receive constructive criticism.
Bridge new connections by finding common ground
Show compassion for customers by remembering that they’re people. Not numbers, or data, or dollars. Engage them in conversation to understand their lived experience, and create products and services that actually meet their needs.
Build teams that learn from differences
Create more compassionate work cultures, products, and services by prioritizing inclusion, not just diversity. Beyond hiring people of varied identities and life experiences, actively listen to their perspectives. Create forums for historically marginalized individuals to feel heard and safe. Everyone has biases, but teams of people who can check each other’s blindspots can build solutions that reach more customers where they are.
Intention for us means a real focus and a plan for how we do our work.Melissa Lemberg, senior director, Salesforce Experience Design
Relationships, in both business and life, only grow when we are intentional about fostering them. We can use design tools and practices to stretch beyond sales and prioritize relationship building. Making the conscious choice to put people first shifts us from transactional to trusted relationships. When we operate with intention, we can assess the ripple effect of any decision we make and avoid harm to people people — as well as our company’s reputation — taking control of the impact. Melissa Lemberg, senior director, Salesforce Experience Design shared, “Intention for us means a real focus and a plan for how we do our work. That means an approach that’s user led, that’s design led, that focuses on key user needs and objectives, challenges in getting the work done.”
How can you do this?
Set and commit to relationship-centered goals
Hold teams accountable for relationship building by prioritizing metrics that collect customer experience data – such as Net Promoter Score® – over vanity metrics, such as reach or downloads.
Research the impact of your actions on nonusers and noncustomers
Hold your work accountable to your organization’s mission and values
Be proactive about mitigating risk, and develop principles to prevent your organization from causing harm. For example, Salesforce created Privacy and Ethical Use Principles as a part of our COVID-19 response, to ensure we make decisions that align with our values.
It can take courage to look an executive in the face and tell them that a reality that they believe to be true is not as firm as they would have you believeMarc Escobosa, senior director, Salesforce Innovation
As Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff always says: “Business is the greatest platform for change.” It is imperative organizations hold themselves responsible for inspiring systemic change, and create space for their communities to hold them accountable. It takes courage to do what’s right, instead of what’s expected. It also takes courage to be transparent when we make mistakes, and to repair harm done. Just like in personal relationships, growth happens when we admit our fallibility and move forward together. Marc Escobosa, senior director, Salesforce Innovation added, “It can take courage to look an executive in the face and tell them that a reality that they believe to be true is, in fact, not as firm as they would have you believe.”
What does courage look like in practice?
Live your values, even when it’s at odds with desired business outcomes
Build a culture of courage in your organization by pushing against perceived boundaries. Show your customers where you stand by sharing your values and sticking to them. And then actually take action to make change in your organization by aligning incentives with your values.
Empower your employees to challenge the status quo
Create a forum where employees can air grievances. Reward employees for raising red flags when a business decision doesn’t jibe with your mission. Encourage them to speak up for accessibility in product design, representation in marketing, inclusion in recruiting, hiring, and promoting.
Be open and vulnerable, even when you want to be safe
Provide transparency into the equity of your pay structure, your environmental impact, and the demographics of your workforce. Own up when your actions fall short of your values, and take steps to repair any damage that’s been done.
When we make a solution, an interface, a product, and put it out into the world, it becomes an intermediary for how people interact with one anotherKat Holmes, senior vice president, Salesforce Product Design and UX
A relationship is a two-way street. We have to talk with and listen to our customers to add lasting value to their lives. Instead of designing for people, we need to design with them. This results in the kind of innovation we saw above with the CarMax example.
When we collaborate with those who need our products and services, we create better solutions. Because people and communities understand their needs, their obstacles, and their opportunities best. The insights they share can inspire products that actually make their lives better, which in turn make our business stronger. And it’s not one and done. We have to keep the conversation going, because people’s needs change. If we don’t continue to meet those needs, we’ll lose relevance. People stick with brands that stick with them. “When we make a solution, an interface, a product, and put it out into the world, it becomes an intermediary for how people interact with one another. And the design consideration that goes into the kind of value they’re trying to gain or give in that moment is incredibly important to emphasize, to understand,” said Kat Holmes, senior vice president, Salesforce Product Design and UX
Here’s how you put reciprocity in action:
Engage in shared learning beyond the walls of your company
Seek opportunities to partner with people and organizations outside of your company. Embrace coalition models and collaborative problem-solving. Value the wisdom of your customers and community, and find ways to engage them in your process. The best solutions come from cocreation.
Lean into mutual exchange and accountability
Encourage customer engagement with opportunities for direct feedback and involvement in creating solutions. At Salesforce, 10% of our product updates come from our IdeaExchange forum. When people feel a sense of ownership in an idea they invest in its success.
Listen openly and share candidly
Use tools to understand the landscape around your business: what are your customers saying about you? What about your products? What about your competitors? Gather and interpret customer feedback to keep adding value to their lives. And follow up with them to demonstrate you value their participation.
Designing a better normal
There’s no such thing as “business as usual” anymore. Getting back to work will require organizations to think differently about how to engage customers, employees, and communities. It won’t be enough to reimagine our workplaces and remote work policies. We’ll need to reimagine new systems and a new economy that can work for everyone. As daunting as that sounds, the mindsets and tools of Relationship Design can help us get there. Not overnight. We are at the beginning of this journey, and won’t claim to have everything figured out.
But every wave starts with a ripple. Gradually, with compassion, intention, courage, and reciprocity, we can revive our businesses, reignite our economy, and reshape our world.
Learn how to ask your customers what they need from you now. Take the Survey Basics Trail on Trailhead.