Choice Not Chance Living to LEARN — 16 December 2011
Connection, Engagement and Value – Buzz Words or Realities?


There’s much being written these days about connection, engagement and value. Are we truly connecting with our customers? Providing value? Are we really engaged? What does it all really mean? And what are you choosing to do?

In many ways, everything old is new again. Connection, engagement and providing value are what the corner store and mom and pop operations have always done.

Do you remember:

Walking into a store where the owner knows and calls you by name.

Receiving a hand-written card or note from someone you did business with, congratulating you on a recent accomplishment, thanking you for your business or simply indicating they are “thinking of you”.

Getting a telephone call to follow-up on a recent purchase you made, to ensure your satisfaction and expressing thanks for the purchase.

None of those things should be things-of-the-past. And if you listen to online gurus and experts,they are all singing from the same page…Connect with your Customer! Engage with your Community! Provide Value!

But how do you really do that? Is it enough to appear on social media platforms to “look like” you’re connecting and connected? Are you engaged when you answer a question from a customer?

I believe that true connection and engagement is an inside-out job, at the individual level. Unless there is true caring and concern at the individual level, it won’t translate throughout a company.

And I think there’s a very simple way to do that.

Treat others as you wish to be treated.

If you don’t like standing in a long line to return an item, only to be treated with indifference or disdain by the store clerk, would you want your employees to behave that way?

If you want knowledgeable, helpful staff to assist you with product knowledge or availability, why wouldn’t all staff be trained to provide the same?

If you dislike being treated like a number, would you want your staff to treat your customers as “just another number”?

Good old-fashioned manners, etiquette, courtesy, kindness and common sense: have they gone out of style, or are they making resurgence, especially through social media? The words are there…connection, engagement, value…but are the actions speaking louder than words?

There’s a huge difference between a transaction and a relationship.

A transaction is the sale. You want something. You exchange money for the product or service.

A relationship is the experience before, during and after the sale. It’s what you do to cultivate, acquire and retain that customer, in a way that is meaningful to the customer.

Push-selling might result in a transaction. Sometimes it will be the loudest voice that captures the attention and the sale. But to stack the odds in your favor for repeat business…for loyalty, referrals and strong word of mouth, it’s all about building relationships.

First: Connect – in ways and means that your customer wants to be connected with (read: do not cold call at dinner hour and expect a warm response by your potential customer)

Second: Engage – spend time to cultivate a relationship in ways and means that are meaningful to your customer

Third: Provide Value – be sure that when your potential customer is ready to buy, the product and/or service you provide makes a significant, beneficial difference in their life, because it solves a problem in their life, reduces their pain or enhances their pleasure.

In the final analysis, it really is simple: Treat others as you wish to be treated.

Kaarina Dillabough, Amaranth, Ontario

Kaarina is a business/life coach living in Ontario, Canada. For over 25 years her high-voltage energy, expertise and experience has inspired those she has worked with to reach beyond their grasp, to attain great things in business and in life. A former Olympic sports colour commentator and coach, Kaarina parlayed her coaching skills from the gym floor to the boardroom, working with business owners to improve their profitability and prosperity. In doing so, she has seen people grow both personally and professionally. Kaarina is known as an inspiring motivational speaker in areas such as branding, marketing, business growth strategies, and personal growth and prosperity. She is a passionate, seasoned coach and accountability partner with a proven track record, who loves nothing more than helping people achieve their goals in business and in life. Check out her Blog or follow her on Facebook or Twitter. Email contact: kaarina (at) kaarinadillabough (dot) com

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(42) Readers Comments

  1. Hmmm – I remember when people in stores knew their products – but I have to admit I never got called out by name when I walked into a store. Sounds nice though.

    Oh wait a minute – a newspaper shop or a grocery store, yes but when you mentioned store I was picturing electronics stores, littler friendly ones we call shops ;-)

    I remember too the expression ‘The customer is always right’ but that seems to be lost on some of the vendors I see these days!

    Here’s to a simple life, great relationships, actually caring about people and being the boss of our technology (instead of the other way round) now I need something to toast that so I’m off to make myself a nice cup of tea! ;-)

    Thanks Kaarina,

    take care & best wishes,

    • Alan, so nice to see you here:) And I LOVE your final paragraph: cheers to that! I raise my cup of tea to you:)

      Jack makes a valid point in his comment that we seem to have come to expect poor customer service (although I think that’s an oxymoron…poor and service don’t seem to go hand in hand, haha!)

      I say we all do a Peter Finch from the movie “Network” and proclaim: “I’m mad as h – - – and not gonna’ take it anymore!”

      To a 2012 full of stellar service. Cheers! Kaarina

      • Don’t get me started on tea…

        I think there’s nothing better in the world than a nice cup of tea.

  2. Customer service has gotten to be so bad that people expect to be treated poorly. A business that does more than the bare minimum distinguishes themselves from their competition. And this is the kind of distinction that leads to great relationships.

    • Jack, you are so right. We seem to accept dismal customer service as the norm. If more of us would only vote with our wallets, perhaps we could change things.

      For myself, I know that if I have a bad experience that does not get rectified (sometimes I’m like baseball and I “might” give them 3 strikes or opportunities to redeem themselves), I take my business elsewhere. There’s a large chain store that I do not give my business to anymore because the staff seem like they’re on another planet, always chatting among themselves, oblivious to customers, unaware of product knowledge or placement, and downright rude. No thanks.

      I’m for a stellar customer service society. Let’s make that happen. Cheers! Kaarina

  3. Quite true indeed; and it seems in this hurry up and be prepared for change world sometimes we lose site of the basics. But that is also why, the little things; knowing someone’s name, a card, a please and thank you can really stand out.

    I try to be mindful of the little things but it is always something I can improve on. December usually allows me to reflect on my business relationships because 60% of my income ‘renews’ on Jan 1. It’s easy to spot my loyal customers vs satisfied vs I just happened to be the cheapest last year as we work to secure the relationship for one more year. Sometimes the lessons are hard, but it does let me know where I can improve.

    Good to see you at A Hopeful Sign; hopefully it is a hopeful sign that 2012 will kick some serious butt, huh?

    • Ah Bill, music to my ears…we are destined to kick some serious butt in 2012. You and I have been talking about all the plans we have in store, and we will most certainly continue to provide connection, engagement and value to our customers, friends, peers, colleagues and associates…I have no doubt about that!

      It’s funny though…many of us put this on our radar screen at the end of a year, sort of like a new year’s resolution. I understand that the timing is perfect for your industry, but I say…let’s not wait for annual reflection…let’s reflect upon our service each and every day, and take a Kaizen approach to betterment. I like the mantra “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better.” I think that would make a superb mantra for everyone in business…and life! Cheers! Kaarina

  4. I totally agree with this post. It’s always nice to see someone stand up for the validity of buzzwords. Just because they’re common doesn’t mean they’re faulty. I would also add a note that within companies, a sense of trust and freedom must be applied to the personnel. Most employees don’t feel the sense of freedom necessary from managers to handle customers “the way they would want to be treated”. The companies I’ve consulted for feel they HAVE to have a script for employees to read when dealing with customers, thereby neglecting what actually should be happening (hiring trustworthy people that can handle and do the job they were hired for). That’s one area that Zappos truly stands out among the rest, their ability to trust their employees to handle customers the best ways possible and not fear repercussions.

    Awesome post!

    • Thanks so much, Joey, and I couldn’t agree more. If employers would only hire for the “right stuff”, allow people to exercise best judgement to solve a customer’s problem, support their growth and help them learn from mistakes, and create a culture of entrepreneurial spirit and pride, many of our “customer service’ problems would be avoided.

      When employers want to provide a “script”, it indicates that they do not believe their employees have the judgement, capability or sense to interact with customers in a customer-centric way. They’re actually afraid of their own employees! Zappos is indeed a great example to the contrary.

      Rewarded behaviour gets repeated. Recognized behaviour gets repeated. Whether good or bad. When we recognize and/or reward the behaviours we want to see, we get more of the same…and vice versa. Here’s to voting with our wallets, and recognizing desired behaviours. Cheers! Kaarina

  5. Kaarina, this is very smart advice. As local businesses wonder how they can compete with online retailers, they should remember how much the Personal Touch matters.

    I visit a soup restaurant often where they know my name and greet me warmly. That makes me feel very welcome when I visit. You’re great at that too, you engage with your readers sincerely and caringly.

  6. What a lovely thing to say Carolyn, and how true about how we can all “compete”. To be genuinely caring, focused on solving a customer’s problem and doing that little bit extra separates the excellent from the mediocre. And isn’t it a sad statement when the latter…mediocrity..seems to be the norm in so many businesses when it comes to being “of service”.

    I, too, visit a lovely little restaurant that recently opened a second location with a slightly different flair. I hadn’t yet visited it, but when I did, the owner greeted me by name, gave me a hug and said how happy she was to see me there. Made me feel like a million bucks. Now who do you think gets my business, my support and my positive word-of-mouth marketing? Cheers! Kaarina

  7. Kaarina, one of the things I love most about social media “marketing” is the way social media brings the conversation and relationship with the customer back. We can get to know them, find out what their concerns are outside of business, say a friendly “Hello!” during the week, and really become the old “village shop” model again, albeit in a much larger way.

    Social media also puts the onus back on the business owner and his or her employees to be attentive, kind, and service-centric, because if they’re not — well, the whole world may hear about it. A bad reputation is hard to undo.

    We’ve received cards and postcards from our own clients (we’re a B2B company), thanking US for OUR service. Now THAT’S unusual, and certainly challenges me to start thinking along those same lines! When’s the last time you, as a business, sent a hand-written thank-you to a business who went above and beyond, gave a customer a shout-out on social media, or left a glowing testimonial online? These are the niceties that go a long, long way, aren’t they?

    Great post, Kaarina!

    • Thanks Michelle: couldn’t agree more with your comment – spot on! In addition to your “a bad reputation is hard to undo” there’s also the “You only get to make a first impression once.”

      I send handwritten cards to clients quite regularly…when I’ve read something in the newspaper about them, I’ll clip the article and give a shout-out…when I know there’s been a positive change in their life or company…or “just because”. Actions speak louder than words, and when we take the time to DO something to acknowledge another, it goes such a long way.

      Great to see you here, and thanks so much for the thoughtful comment. Cheers! Kaarina

  8. How I love to walk into a shop and people not only know me by name, they know what I like to eat, what fashion styles suit me, what wines I like to drink – we have a relationship, sometimes going back many years, sometimes connecting immediately.

    Lovely post, Kaarina, I could not agree more. I remember my early years in sales (selling copiers at Xerox) when push-selling was de rigueur. I was nearly sacked as I never produced the sales figures the management had in mind. And when I stood up for my belief that you first need to build a relationship my boss’ face colour changed to deep red and a rather insulting remark “women should be home looking after the children and not taking men’s jobs” was thrown at me.

    I treat my customers as I would like to be treated. And I do not worry about the few who do not appreciate it or exploit my generosity – but you know that!

    Have a lovely weekend and I will send some snow your way!

    • Wow! I can’t imagine those words flying out of some boss’s mouth today, but I remember those days, all too clearly.

      When we give without expectation of return, the world is a beautiful place. I agree that sometimes some people will take advantage or exploit our kindness or generosity, but those few bad apples…well, we won’t let them spoil the bunch now, will we:) Cheers! Kaarina

  9. Your final analysis Kaarina: live the golden rule! We learned that in kindergarten!!!! But I think we forgot :o
    There is a diner in Ottawa where the lady not only remembers you and your name, she remembers what you like for breakfast and how you like your coffee! It’s called Mellos -
    The service blew my daughter away!
    See how a little bit of good service can make a difference! You’re not the first people I’m telling about this diner and I’ve never been there!

    • A perfect example of the power of making a good impression, providing and being “of service”, and the power of good old-fashioned word of mouth. If I’m ever in Ottawa, I know where I shall be heading for breakfast!

      Congratulations on your 100th post, my friend. A wonderful accomplishment, and I look forward to following you into the thousands. Cheers! Kaarina

  10. Well stated Kaarina – treat others as you would like to be treated goes along way in the customer/ business relationship and is just as important in the company/ employee relationship as well.

    These are established at the very top of any size organization, and the social web can make that stand out like a sore thumb. The companies and business professionals who are rockin’ the social web contain the very positive attributes you mention above.

    Funny, but those who aren’t grounded with a solid social business attitude are always at the end of some major social media snafu LOL!

    Good stuff Kaarina, thanks for sharing miss : )

    • Couldn’t agree more Mark: those rocking the social web realize that online customer connection requires the same “human touch” as offline. True caring and consideration always shine through. Thanks for dropping by:) Cheers! Kaarina

  11. “Connection, engagement and providing value are what the corner store and mom and pop operations have always done.

    Do you remember:

    Walking into a store where the owner knows and calls you by name.”

    YES – YES – YES!! This and the other examples of tough and engage service that you give are exactly what we need these days both in social media marketing and in the customer service end of all our businesses.

    For people who get this – old things have become new. For those who don’t (cough cough WalMart) their customer experience will continue to suck eggs. Will people still go to places like this – of course – but as soon as they find something better – they will jump ship.

    It happens all the time – even online.

    Treat others like you want to be treated. Simple, yet VERY powerful!

    Top-notch stuff here (as always) Kaarina – thank you for “getting it” and sharing it.

    • Thanks so much, Frank, for your kind words and I do agree – old things have become new. Social media was supposed to connect us, but it will do that only when we use the tool as just that…a tool. Sincerity, honesty, integrity, caring and “being of service” are still the qualities that back up true service, not whether or not you have a “customer service department”, online or off. Cheers! Kaarina

  12. Hi Kaarina,

    I’ve honestly never had the experience of walking into a store and having the owner or any employee know my name, but that would certainly be nice ;)

    There is a local grocery store we frequent, because it is alway such a positive experience. The checkers don’t know my name, but are always upbeat AND fast (I HATE the self checkout lines). And the general mood is upbeat. The other stores in our area are just … blah, and it doesn’t seem like the employees want to be there.

    So this attitude comes from the top down. I wish more people in management would read posts like this. Treat their employees better so the customer will have a great experience and come back. Train them well and treat them well. I think that’s what is lost, with companies like Walmart and other mega-chains. I think as far as the big box stores go, Costco is doing it right for now, but yeah, I prefer the smaller places and a more personal experience.

    • I agree, Craig, that the speed of the leader is the speed of the game. If owners/managers/”bosses” don’t walk their talk, why would their employees? I see far too many instances of a Mission and Vision statement posted on a wall behind the cash register, or on the elevator wall or the beautiful marble entranceway to the grand and glorious business, but employees have no resonance with it (if they even know what it is!)

      When we hire for the “right stuff”, train for the rest, support and encourage initiative and solutions-based behaviours, many problems are averted right out of the gate.

      I’ve often said that the people we dis-empower the most – the front line – are the exact people who should be given both the responsibility and authority to solve the customers’ problems. Why do we create layers of ridiculous heirarchy…the “I have to check with my manager…supervisor…Yoda”, when common sense could dictate the day. Cheers! Kaarina

  13. Honestly, Kaarina, most of the ideal experiences you describe I’ve only read about in books, or heard about from my parents, but I’d love to see it come back. I appreciate engaging my clients, and often our relationship does start as a result of a connection we’ve mutually maintained. And I’ve found that when I’m interested in my client’s success at least on one level, the relationship remains vibrant for a longer period of time.

    • Shakirah, some might say that the type of behaviour I describe is “small town” or “old-fashioned” or worse still, “impossible”. I disagree. The more we can personalize the experience we have with our customers, the more connected and engaged we are. We might not know lots about each customer, but something as simple as commenting positively (but honestly!) on a customer’s attire, smile, whatever creates a connection that’s worth it’s weight in gold.

      The other day I commented favourably about a purse that a young girl was carrying. She lit up like a candle and thanked me, as if I’d given her a gift. Even a small gesture like that, without expectation of return, can make a huge difference.

      Was she my customer? No. Did I expect something in return? No. But when we treat others as we’d like to be treated, the world works in wonderful ways. And who knows? That young lady might one day connect back in some way. Kindness and care cost nothing: something that every business owner and employee should remember and adhere to. Cheers! Kaarina

  14. Kaarina,

    As my Grandmother ran a local dress shop here in Maryland for over 25 years, she knew her customers by name and their size. It’s remarkable how that experience can translate for a customer, even my barista at Starbucks knows my coffee and my name as I come through the drive through each morning. I love the personal touch that folks do take the time to give with customers and it makes a huge difference. You create a loyalty to the brand and the products when we can humanize the experience. Thanks, Kaarina.

  15. The personal touch is what it’s all about my GemJen:) Even if we can remember only the smallest fact, it translates to HUGE rewards and benefits when we can make someone feel special. And isn’t everyone exactly that…special? Cheers! Kaarina

  16. Kaarina….so well said…I was just having a meeting with one of my staff and I shared my feelings that the dentistry part of a dental practice is the easy part….as weird as it may seem, dentistry is a customer service business. At the end of the day, the customer (patient) isn’t all that concerned about the actual procedure…they are far more concerned about how they were treated…the “connection…engagement…value” process. If we don’t spend time connecting with our “customers’, if we don’t engage with them on a persona and meaningful level and if we don’t demonstrate to them the value of their relationship to us as well as the value of what we can provide them, then we haven’t done our job as customer service agents.
    You speak wisdom Kaarina…thank you for sharing!

    • So true Claudia…it’s all about the treatment we receive that creates the experience. Even if the product is exceptional, if the people who sell the product are rude, arrogant, ignorant or unknowledgeable, I’d rather take my business elsewhere.

      It always amazes me when businesses don’t follow up on the loss of a customer, to see why they left. In many cases, I’m betting that it was because of the treatment the customer received. And correcting that is really very simple and cost-effective…train/teach/encourage employees to treat others as they wish to be treated.

      Your business will continue to thrive with that attitude, Claudia:) And I can’t wait to see photos of your finished renovated office. Bravo to you! Cheers! Kaarina

  17. Hey Kaarina,

    Thanks for pointing this post out to me! I loved it (you were right!) :) It used to be mom and pop stores, where everyone knew your name. Then, corporations used “customer service” as a buzzword, all while automating both the customer and the service right out of it. This was the “screw you!” way of dealing with customers. Now, the mom and pop era is returning, albeit with more technology. I think this is an awesome time. People are still all numb from the screw you attitude and they don’t expect stellar service. It’s a great time to stand out by truly connecting with your clients.

    I love connecting, and I’ve always done it. Why? Not just because it’s a great business practice (which it is), but honestly, it’s mostly because that makes it a lot more fun for ME. I don’t want a bunch of faceless clients whom I don’t know. How can I truly help them and have a sense of satisfaction, if I don’t connect with them? Who do I bounce my jokes off of? It’s amazing to me how surprised people often are when I answer their emails personally (and quickly) and/or reach out to them. They can’t believe they’re not getting an automated message. That blows me away. We are so used to dealing with a computer, we are shocked to talk to an actual human being… But how boring is life if all we ever do is talk to computers?

    Huge hugs to you Kaarina, Awesome post and very timely. :)


    • You are a bright ray of sunshine, Melody, and the work you’re doing brims with your personality and true connectedness. I’m so glad we’ve met, and I look forward to getting to know you even better. Huge hugs right back at’cha! Cheers! Kaarina

  18. Kaarina,

    Seems that the “Treat others as you wish to be treated” sounds umm, familiar. Why is this so hard for humans to grasp? Another for me is “Keep it simple, stupid.” Well, it doesn’t get ANY simpler that this, ..does it? I guess when I finally got back on line this morning and opened your DM, came here and read this, well, it just snapped something inside me.

    I want to scream. Very loudly. WHAT IS SO DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND HERE, HUMANS??

    I know, I know, it is my own pressures and worries coming out the “blow-hole” but I see it EVERYWHERE. Can you say that you do not? Human kindness. Human compassion. Understanding. These are the things I see missing when I go to “town”.

    Shoot. I see these missing in the little “family” spats right here at home. Folks are wearing me out. It actually IS quite simple, this lesson in business and life. Treat others as you wish to be treated. (and then, if “they” are mean or nasty or indifferent, what then? Hmm. Squash ‘em like the bugs they are.) Ok, ok.

    Kaarina, this is a wonderful post. Now what? What can we do to help (make) people understand that it really IS, that easy? I really do want to see a difference. I will work to be part of it, everyday. Wouldn’t anyone?

    Ugh. Sorry for the mini-fit. I just want us all to be able to say we have made a difference. And for that to come, we ALL have to make a difference. In our own actions and reactions.

    • Amber-Lee, you answered your own question:) Each of us, in our own way, must display the actions we wish to receive WITHOUT expecting anything in return. It really is that easy…to smile at others, to open the door for someone, to let someone into line when driving (does that apply to horses? Do you get traffic jams, haha!), to look someone in the eye when you’re talking to them…all done without expecting anything in return.

      When I go through the drive-through at my favourite Tim Hortons, I always make sure I look the server in the eye, take a moment to wish them well, smile and have a few words of chitchat. Even though the idea of drive through is to be quick, a few seconds of acknowledgement goes a long way. And I know it makes a difference in the day of the server because they take a moment to relax a bit, and I know they feel better for it, because they express their thanks and appreciation. One hopes that one small act given to another will keep it paying forward. After all, that’s all we can do…be responsible for our own actions.

      You’re spot on when you say “we ALL have to make a difference. In our own actions and reactions.” Cheers to that! And big hugs back at’cha;) Kaarina

  19. Oh Kaarina… you know I love it when you talk customer! I’m a bit late here, and a lot of other commenters have said much already. But you hit on something I talk about a lot — the spread between a transactional approach vs. a relational approach to business. It is really this divergence and convergence between transactional and relational that is at the heart of customer engagement.

    The business model has a lot to do with the type of relationship. Starbucks will never have the depth of relationship with a customer that a life coach might, but they can still have a relationship that fits their model and the expectations of their customer base. But even if you have a model that is highly transactional (Wal-Mart, for instance), companies should attempt to embrace as much relational value as possible.

    My favorite example in this discussion is CarMax (not sure if you have those in Canada). They have taken a usually highly transactional business — used cars — and stood it on its head in a number of different ways. By applying relational approaches to a typically transactional industry, it has given them a great source of competitive advantage.

    Good stuff K!

    • Adam, you know how much we both love talking customer service and experience!

      I really love your way of describing how different depths of relationship can be attained, based on the business model. Even if the business is highly transactional, a smile, looking the customer in the eye, not complaining and whining about the shift they’ve been given, not taking one’s “sweet time” as if the customer is an interruption are all small acts that can show “care”.

      I’m always amazed at the amount of time employees have to gripe and gossip among themselves when they claim to be “so busy”. Hmmmm….

      Great to see you here Adam. Cheers! Kaarina

  20. Kaarina – You live by these words! Great blog!

    • Thanks so much Sandra: you just brightened my day:) Cheers! Kaarina

  21. Part of the key for me is in mindset.

    If you think of people as “customers”, then you will tend to think along transaction lines. This reduces the chances of building long term relationships.

    If you think of people as “clients”, then you will think in terms of protecting them, giving best advice and so on. And you will think in term of building and sustaining relationships.

    Warm regards


    • Interesting distinction, Nic. And it’s all about mindset, isn’t it. If our intention is to “be of service”, then our mindset will be one of “building and sustaining relationships”.

      I say that every person we come into contact is one (or several) of these: “An ambassador, champion, client, customer, connector or supplier”. When we treat someone well ONLY if and when they buy from us, we negate the opportunity to develop a relationship in so many other ways.

      Thanks for dropping by, and I like your approach to “clients”. Cheers! Kaarina

  22. I try to treat people the way I want to be treated. If I get an email from a customer, I reply back whether it’s good or bad. I’ve gotten some people say they were really surprised I did. They expected no reply. But if I sent an email asking a question, I’d like to get one back!

    • You got that right Benny! Conversation is a two-way street, and if we only expect things to come to us, we never truly “engage” with the customer. Wishing you the Season’s Best! Cheers! Kaarina