Before my grandfather passed away at age eighty-six, I asked him how his era was different from mine. “Our day was harder,” he said, “but happier.” The “harder” part I had expected; the “happier” part surprised me. I asked him for his reason. Looking out across a field of freshly played ground, he slowly answered, “Seems like back then we had more neighbors.”

The pandemic has changed customer expectations in many ways. Physical distancing has caused social distancing, leaving many with a feeling of lonely isolation. Bars are dangerously crowded with people seeking relief of “I just gotta get out of here.” Bottom line, cocooning has elevated people’s need for connection and a sense of communal belonging. It means they look to the enterprises with which they interact to help renew their sense of community; essentially, to have more neighbors. Let’s examine an example.

Max Gentry

Max Gentry is a happy camper! Literally! Max is a dog that belongs to my friend Todd Gentry and his family. When a trip is on the family calendar, Max goes to camp at the Paws-a-While Pet Resort at the Animal Medical Center of Cumming, GA. Max may be the customer, but the Gentry’s pay the bill. The Gentry family worry about how Max is doing when they are away. But their worries are short-lived because Paws-a-While sends them peace of mind through their fun and innovative daily communications. 

Every day the Gentry family gets a text with messages like “Max’s enjoyed playing with his new friend today, Lucky.” Or “Max had a blast today running wild and getting lots of hugs during his petting session.” The best part is the happy photos that accompany the daily texts. When the Gentry family picks up Max, he is always wearing an attractive bandana. There is a detailed report card outlining his entire stay along with photos of Max with his friends to take home and post on his bulletin board above his food pail! One more thing. Max gets birthday card on his birthday. Ask Max how he likes being their customer!

The experience of community is created through personalized communication, tailored actions, and specials of all types. But it is most powerful when it comes in the form of remembering. When I walk into my dry cleaners to pick up my clothes, owner Scott asks, “Where were you off to this week?” When I stop by Ace Hardware to pick up a needed item, Tommy asks me, “Where’s your bride?” I could keep going but you get the point. 

Partnerships feel on the way to forever. Partnerships are evidence of the possibility of “I’ll always be there for you.” It turns superficial drive-bys into connections with depth, maybes into memories. It reminds customers that they truly matter. Today customers are way more particular about their return on investments of time, money, and energy. They would rather fund relationships than transactions. Stop treating your customers like consumers and start helping them feel like partners.