According to the anthropological theory Dunbar’s Number, humans can only maintain up to five close relationships in their inner circle before becoming inattentive or generally uninterested, and it’s believed that as the number of friends increases for a single person, their emotional closeness to individuals decreases. Though Dunbar’s Number was developed with human-to-human experiences in mind, the same inverse correlation holds true for customer interactions with brands. As competition increases across consumer-facing industries, shoppers are less inclined to develop genuine and loyal relationships with brands, committing instead to simply finding the highest quality goods, at the lowest prices, delivered in the shortest amount of time. To change this mindset, marketers must shift their interactions with their customers from the transactional to the personal, offering the same level of humanity found in the closest of human relationships. The challenge is to do it and do it at scale, but when done thoughtfully, these changes drive authenticity and enable strong relationships that can be grown and maintained over time.

Ask, Don’t Tell

Oftentimes, marketers only reach out to customers when they have news to share - information on an upcoming sale, new products in their assortment, special offers, etc. But when customers are continuously bombarded with self-serving messages that lack personalization, they eventually stop reading and often end up unsubscribing from them altogether. In fact, Adobe found that 40% of consumers want to receive less promotional content and 50% want fewer emails. So, what’s a brand to do?

As the saying goes, “It takes two to tango.” Successful relationships of all kinds require mutual, two-sided engagement. By listening to your customers rather than simply talking at them with promotions, they’re more inclined to engage with you, offer valuable feedback, and remain loyal to the brand. Reaching out and asking customers for their opinions makes them feel appreciated, valued, and special - three key qualities to nurturing any healthy relationship.

Showcase Value

Asking alone is not enough. As you make two-way communication a standard practice, continuously let customers know how their insight is being used to inform business decisions and positively impact the brand experience, not only for them, but for others too. According to a study conducted by Vision Critical, customers enjoy hearing what brands are doing with their feedback and are more likely to continue to engage if they see the results of sharing their opinions. This holds true in relationships of any kind.

For example, it’s unlikely that a person will continuously give advice to a friend when it goes ignored - eventually, the well runs dry and advice is no longer there for the taking. By keeping customers in the loop and informing them how their efforts have a tangible impact, brands can garner ongoing, valuable insight.

A Little (Or A Lot) of Respect

The foundation of any strong relationship is respect. Marketers should communicate with customers in ways that prove they value their customers’ time, money, and energy. This means only interacting with them in meaningful ways, no matter what the outreach might entail. For example, instead of bombarding customers with “notification style” emails or generic surveys that go straight to their trash, brands should personalize communications based on customer information already provided. Additionally, asking for both negative and positive feedback proves to customers that you really care about what they think, no matter how difficult it might be to hear. Negative feedback should be seen as an indicator to engage even more. Customers who care enough to speak up when they dislike something often reflect the opinions of many others and can have the greatest impact on a company’s trajectory.

Building and maintaining valuable, authentic relationships with customers isn’t easy, but the effort must be made to outpace competition and win loyalty. When considered from a personal perspective, the necessary steps and technology to achieve this are doable and available; all it really takes is a dose of humanity and a few lessons from the closest relationships in our everyday lives.