This morning I was getting some seeds started for my garden, and I was reminded of a tweet from a few weeks ago where I said something to the effect of ‘customer service is now more like gardening and less like hunting – nurture relationships.’ Well, the SCRM crowd (social customer relationship management) pushed back. [@wimrampen @grahamhill @ekolsky @myjayliebs @mkrigsman @SameerPatel @pgreenbe @kitson, you know who you are!] They said this wasn’t the case, and that studies had shown that customers don’t really want a relationship with a brand. To me, “relationship” doesn’t have to mean I’m going to have you over for dinner. There are levels. It can just mean that I will recommend you to a friend. I let it go at the time, but I want to go for Round 2.
I think that gardening is as powerful a metaphor as any for the life-cycle of a process, and I do see a correlation between what it takes to grow a garden and what it takes to build trust with a potential customer, client, or future alliance. Here’s how I see it:
It starts with a seed. Tiny enough to get lost in the crease of your palm, seemingly insignificant on it’s own, it’s value not immediately apparent. This is that new contact, that new Twitter follower, yourself. Without attention, it will not grow and thrive. But, with just a few simple components – for the seed, soil, light, and water; for the person, your ear, your empathy, your altruism – the magic begins to happen. The seed will stir, the person will consider lowering their guard. This is the beginnings of trust.
As time goes by, the foundations for your relationship emerge. You don’t know exactly what will come of it, or if you will receive a benefit at all in the long run. The plant may die, the person may choose to move on. You can’t force it or will it or rush it to give you anything. You nurture the relationship without specific expectations, just confidence that you are doing what can be done on your end. And you build a little more trust.
You will be challenged along the way. You will have to respond accordingly if the relationship is to continue. There will be weeds to pull, or extra nutrition needed for the soil, or protection against an unexpected frost that will be necessary to handle if the plant is to thrive. These are the customer service issues you resolve, the advice you freely give, or access you provide to your resources. A tipping point is reached, and a silent agreement is made – you have earned each other’s trust, and now you can begin receiving gifts.
This is the final harvest from my garden last summer. It might as well be money in the bank. If I didn’t have a grocery store, the investment I made in these plants would be enough to sustain my life. In a similar way, the investment you make in people is what will sustain your business.
And the beauty of the human network is that people pay it forward. In addition to a sale, you’ll also get a referral. The loyalty and trust you build with people will continue to reward you in unexpected ways, as long as you maintain your end of the bargain – be authentic, share you gifts, and maintain a vision that’s bigger than your bottom line.
Be a gardener, not a hunter.
Social media, when it is done best, is organic: http://ike4.me/smio
Venessa Miemis said:
speaking of compost, i have one of these, and it is awesome. you get a batch in about 2 weeks.
Randy Deutsch said:
I like ‘cultivate” over “maintain.” Is this not what Voltaire meant when he wrote “That is well said,” replied Candide, “but we must cultivate our garden.” Invest in yourself, invest in those around you? Cultivate implies preparing, improving, fostering the growth of – a forward-moving word – while maintenance implies to keep a certain state. Another great post – and timely!
Venessa Miemis said:
ahhh, cultivating would have been a better word choice. am i allowed to change the title?
The question may be, “What could Candide possibly mean today?” What is cultivation today? Compost, and organic compost at that, is one node of the fractal of cultivation. After the soil there is aeration, sun, water and drainage. Nipping undesired growth and weeding and harvesting and composting.
There is leaning on the fence or truck and talking, sharing ideas. There is carrying fruits and produce for exchange for fruits and produce, in the truck and in wheelbarrows through gates. There is the invitation for dinner, conversation, joy and exchange of recipes and tastes. There is sleep and morning and poking the compost.
This is called maintenance.
Michael J said:
As usual the conventional wisdom as especially interpreted by those whose livelihoods are involved are wrong. And you’re right. Garden is precisely the right metaphor. I don’t know if it got on your radar, but Obama said recently something about the media and farming. It was something of the order of “Can you imagine any of the media having to be farmers? They would plant a seed. Come back the next day. And report “It’s NOT GROWING!!!!”
I think the problem is the pressure of earning revenue NOW. The reality is that things don’t evolve NOW. It takes time. The fact is that time is the single most precious commodity in our evolving society.
If you look at hs dropout factories the independent variable is that time is organized for factories and hierarchical organization. I used to teach at Parsons. Consider that the limitation of “efficient use of classrooms” dictated a time organization that did not allow for a common lunch or dinner hour.
The new good news is that brands can no longer depend on selling. I think “trust” in the biz enviro or the education enviro is a clear and plausible prediction of behavior in the future. Uncertainty leads to inaction, whether it’s in education, marketing or the Stock Market. One of the reasons that this recovery is happening so much faster than has been predicted by many of the pundits is they have neglected to understand the speed with which trust can be created.
Consider the huge shift both in the media blabla and on the ground once Health Care became a fact instead of an “idea.” Trust is created by actions, not by words. It’s a bit confusing for us in that words, before real time transparency and YouTube is so very often bullshit – in the sense that they do not predict action. Passing health care signals that going forward for a while and for some, words really do count..again.
Cole Tucker said:
You’ve hit on something I believe really important here. I think that the problem of immediacy runs deep, even within established network culture. It seems like each day, someone recants their hope that hyperconnection can aid us to save ourselves.
Gardening really makes for a beautiful metaphor for this process. When I began gardening, it really catalyzed some deep changes in myself. The necessary attitude challenged my character structure, and the trends to homeostasis often came up in frustration and resistance.
As the late, great Dr. Christopher S. Hyatt regularly pointed out, make haste slowly.
The universe appears self-similar at different levels of scale, and it seems to me that homeostasis plays a key role in many organizations. I think we have ample examples of companies attempting to enter the hyperconnected fray, expecting to maintain the same philosophy of customer/vendor interactions. Many spent a lot of money trying to port traditional advertising to the social web. Now we see the blowback, proportional to the amount of initial effort, driving them back to their safe-zone.
Honestly, I don’t think many of our institutions or large companies can survive the shift. Look at the Catholic church’s response to its laity interconnecting; it simply cannot grasp that its built its foundation on a bed of sand, controlling the networks of communication.
As the costs of high-intensity activities grow, I predict the need to adopt a systematic slow-philosophy, reaching beyond food and industry to education and government, personal relationships; in fact, make it a deep assumption of our culture.
Cole and Michael,
>> [Cole] I predict the need to adopt a systematic slow-philosophy, reaching beyond food and industry to education and government, personal relationships; in fact, make it a deep assumption of our culture.
Thanks to the speed and quality of flows in social networks, I’ve found that “aha!” moments — stunning insights that used to happen a few times a year – are coming faster and faster. Yes, they lack the depth of context that I love in slow conversations. Yet the keepers gathered from the fast-flowing stream enable me to all the better enrich what I bring to actual life and relationships. So I think we need to define a systematic view that respects the fast things that deepen our understanding and appreciation of the slow.
>>[Michael J] Uncertainty leads to inaction, whether it’s in education, marketing or the Stock Market.
Yes! The sluggishness of established, hierarchy-based institutions — relative to the far more agile OODA loops and confidence of self-organizing, trust-based social networks — suggests that trustnets will innovate and implement actions far more quickly has possible before.
I’m all for this fast track, as it will enable — given good “design for emergence” – the kinds of understandings and appreciations of slow, earned things to more rapidly emerge.
Cole Tucker said:
I very much agree with you regarding fundamental acceleration of insight, and the the value of quick OODA orientation. The perplexity from my comment has its base in my applying a conceptual short-hand I’d developed in conversations with friends at the local cafe.
We stole the use of ‘slow’ from the Slow Food movement , applying it to any group of thought that shares the same underlying values.
I generalized the Slow to refer to respecting natural rate-limiters within systems to maintain their long-term stability. So the trustnets you refer to can move much more quickly than traditional institutions while still meeting my criteria of slow.
Sorry for the completely avoidable confusion, and thank you for your response.
RT @VenessaMiemis new post – Cultivating Your Garden of Trust http://bit.ly/aiXrzc – this is for you #CRM #SCRM folks 😉 -> #CMR (customer-managed relationships)
Spiro Spiliadis said:
The gentlemen you mention above i have followed them for over seven months religiously, in fact they are my scrm mastermind group of individuals who are consistent on the topic of scrm and crm. as well as co-creation which also fits in well with your analogy of garden of trust.
the way co-creation works like a garden is basically, drop the seed, the seed will do it’s part but the person who dropped it also has to do they’re part, the minute you stop watering then the seed cannot do it’s part, it’s interdependent.
but fromm this blog what i get in “understanding” is you cannot force it anymore. you cannot cram things down people’s throats anymore and expect a smooth ride.
Example is the IPAD, sure it’s something new but you have seen all over the internet how many people are dissapointed that they’re own needs having been met with this device and the lack of features.
the garden of trust is a two way street, companies are beginning to realize that they have to trust their loyal customers and listen to what they are saying, as well, customers have to trust that their loyalty is being appreciated for improving on products and services.
Venessa Miemis said:
i agree, you can’t force a relationship, and you also shouldn’t have false expectations. you mention the disappointment about the ipad – what exactly were people expecting?
a rather personal analogy:
before i got married, i caused myself a lot of pain and suffering trying to decide whether he was the “best” choice as a life companion. i grew up with a fantasy implanted in my head of this perfect person that would satisfy all my needs, be charming, smart, funny, rich, handsome, etc. was this person those things? could i “do better?”
well, better than what? what is it exactly that i want? and is it fair to expect ONE PERSON could give me all those things? damn, that’s a lot of pressure for any man.
so i shifted my thinking, and decided i want a companion who will be trustworthy, loyal, loving, and gentle. and that’s what he gives me.
when i want to be stimulated in a conversation discussing networks and symbols and strengths and systems, i talk to you. [i.e. all of You who come here or interact with me on the interwebs]
and all the other levels of fulfillment i get from different kinds of people.
all my relationships have improved since i’ve enjoyed them for what they are, instead of trying to force them into being something they’re not, and could never be.
I also like the use of organic metaphores – but can never get past the dilema of nature Vs cultivation although I guess that every conscious act has a purpose …
Maybe it could be possible to extend the cultivation metaphore
– “factory” farming – there are many who apply artificial additives to produce big crops
– Many cultivators swear by the use of manure and still come up smelling of roses
Venessa Miemis said:
why do you see a dilemma between Nature and Cultivation? are they not One?
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Shawn McCormick said:
On “…studies had shown that customers don’t really want a relationship with a brand”, I would agree. But I would love to have a relationship with someone within the company that actually cares about me as a customer of said brand.
I love the analogy with gardening, for the cultivation of that relationship. I would add that there is more going on than just the gardener and the seed though – that there is a diverse system that includes weather, animals/insects, etc. that create the environment (community?) in which the seed either thrives or dies before reaching the edible bounty….
Venessa Miemis said:
i like that. it is definitely an ecosystem.
Matthew Asbell said:
I love the gardening analogy.
Before my career as an intellectual property attorney (handling issues related to copyrights, trademarks, domain names, patents, etc.), I used to manage singer/songwriters. At the outset of my former career, I struggled in my efforts to help my artists get gigs so I attended a workshop on booking, where I asked why I couldn’t get club owners to return my calls or consider my acts.
One of the panelists, Mr. Ray Naylor #raysings60, ran a coffeehouse in the Philadelphia area. He responded that these owners get calls from musicians and their reps all day, and many are jaded by the somewhat pushy, selfish nature of their ‘demands’. He suggested that I should learn what I can about the particular club of interest and call to inquire about their needs and issues. He advised that the owner would likely see that I was taking genuine interest in the club’s needs and attempting to align my own objectives with its.
This advice stuck with me for over 10 years as I forged ahead in the music industry. Not ironically, Ray’s advice became the seed of a beneficial relationship between him and me over the years as well.
Nowadays, I mentor a lot of law students and new lawyers interested in practicing in the field of intellectual property. I often talk about involvement in bar associations and networking, and the latter term seems to be a dirty word, evoking fear in my mentees. They apparently think of networking as artificial and slick. My response has been to develop my own term, METANETWORKING, which I use to promote my services as a mentor and advisor.
The idea is to put yourself where your potential clients/customers and colleagues, are likely to be, and not the be slick, but rather just relax, be yourself, and meet people as if you were sitting at the same table at a wedding. You ask people about themselves, actively listen, and find commonalities with them that serve as the basis for your conversation and your relationship. I tell my mentees not to ask for that job they want so badly. Networking is not about the job you need when you graduate…even though it can lead to that very thing. Instead, it is about being part of a community over the course of your career.
Going back to the gardening analogy, one does not primarily choose to garden in order to harvest the fruit, but rather to experience the incremental joys of watching the garden grow as a result of his/her efforts. Even after fruists are harvested, the gardener continues to nurture the plant and returns to plant the next crop.
I am ever grateful to Ray Naylor for the “gardening” lessons, which yielded even my current job, but more importantly, the joy and success I’ve experienced throughout my career.
Venessa Miemis said:
thanks for the personal story. i’m terrified of ‘networking’ and any kind of situation where i have to meet strangers. learning how to communicate online has actually been a helpful learning tool for me to realize that we’re all just people, and if you want to build relationships you have to be able to have a conversation! (though often here it’s obviously asynchronous). i still am not good with meeting people….but i’m getting better….
Matthew Asbell said:
I used to be completely shy, but no one believes me anymore. There’s something about finding your crowd, I think. I find myself more at home with creative people and people that strike me as authentic. It’s generally about being able to find something in common with each other. But I guess there’s a little risk in just going up to a stranger or making a cold call. Then again, if you realize that you have something to offer (without being cocky about it), it’s not so hard. Going back to the garden analogy, you have to remember how essential you are to your plants’ survival and growth.
Vanessa, Matt’s totally correct that you need to find your crowd. While there are lots of people I talk to, finding people who are interesting to me, who are interested in what I have to say and who I feel comfortable around are only a small percentage of all the people I talk to in a week. I tend to get along really well with non-traditional, creative people. Also, as your life changes your group of friends change. I’m really excited about things that I’m learning in grad school and find I have new friends I connect with and that I connect with other friends on a new level. Keep trying, keep talking to people, and much like you’ve found your crowd online you’ll find your crowd in your everyday life! Maybe join a gardening club 😉
Semira Soraya-Kandan said:
The gardening is a great metaphor, Venessa, the cultivating also. I really like the fact that you announced a series. I am late in catching up, but I can see how there are very valuable threads leading through the various posts here. Also, the fact that there are returning commentators already shows that your seeds have started to grow. I really enjoy this at the moment.
Since I intensified my twitter use and started my blog, the immediacy of this worldwide communication really excites me. At the same time, I feel the need to digg deeper at some points, to pursue some lines of reasoning. Your blog is a good example as to how this can be done. Thanks for that. And guess what? I replantet my balcony this weekend…
Sally G. said:
Hi Vanessa – I love your analogy of growing a garden to building trust relationships with potential clients. (Thank you to @Ambercadabra for tweeting this link!)
It is critical to create conditions conducive for growth to be possible. It’s critical to stay on top of the weeds. Every now and then, it’s important to shift things to ensure that growth continues and your garden doesn’t stagnate from soil no longer able to support what is planted there. And, as someone else has stated – the growth of some plants can take time … and it’s inevitably worth the attention, care and waiting.
This all works extremely well in personal relationships too. Thank you for this …
Great analogy! I really like it!
Recently I started posting interestnig analogies I found on the web on blog.ygolana.com. I thought it could be a good idea to create a place where people can share useful analogies such as this one.
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