Relationships? Don't Kid Yourself…

I can’t remember the name of the move, but here is a movie moment that still carries a great message:

The waiter comes to the table and says, “Hi, my name is Daniel and I’ll be your server for the evening. I am so happy to be part of your dining experience etc”

To which the movie star guy says something like, “Hey, I’m here for a meal, not a relationship.”

There’s a lesson here.

We all go nuts about creating relationships with our online prospects and customers. But the level of relationship we would like to create has to match the level that our customers are willing to accept.

There are many levels of relationships we can aim for:

I have a relationship of one kind with my wife.

I have a different kind of relationship with my best friends.

I have a bundle of different relationships with my colleagues, some of whom are also my friends.

I have a relationship with the guy at the local video store who doesn’t understand why I have trouble remembering my own phone number.

And yes, I even have a relationship with some web sites.

But the relationship I have with those web sites is absolutely nothing like the relationship I have with my wife.

“Now hold up there one danged moment Mr. Fancy Pants Usborne. Aren’t you the fella who keeps writing in the ‘vernacular of dating’? Aren’t you the one who keeps making comparisons between picking up a hot date and catching the eye of a new customer online?”

Well, yes. And I think there is a lot of value to painting a picture that shows how relationships develop, one step at a time. But just because the development of relationships can be usefully compared, that doesn’t mean that the relationships themselves have much in common.

I love my wife. But I don’t love any web sites.

I know I can depend on my best friends. But I wouldn’t expect any loyalty from a web site.

I know the guy at the video store will give me a quick smile as he recognizes me as the idiot with the memory problem. But I understand that the best a web site can offer is, “If you’re not Nick Usborne, click here.”

So when you’re planning to create relationships with your online visitors and customers, match the level of relationship provided with the actual need.

With the video guy I just don’t need the same depth of relationship that I have with my wife. And he’d be pretty surprised if I offered it (as would my wife).

By the same token, when I buy airline tickets through I really don’t need a relationship of any depth.

But if I’m chatting about Linux and other nerd stuff with the folks at (as if I could), I’d expect a sense of relationship that would run much deeper.

There is, of course, a small irony here. The guys at take some technological steps in order to create a sense of relationship. They greet me by name and remember where I like to fly from and keep me up to date with news of the cheapest fares.

Not so at If I turn up and want to offer some thoughts, fine. If not, they could care less.

This could a be scary thought for the many business owners who are in the process of investing millions in creating relationships through online technologies. Because it is ultimately the customer who will decide whether your efforts result in a relationship of any significance. It is they who will decide whether the level of relationship you offer matches their needs and expectations.

Not you. Not your programmers. Not your investors.

In short, you can’t force people into a level of relationship that may appeal to you, but is of no interest to them.


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