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How You And Your Staff Can Stand Out In The New Relationship Economy


by John DiJulius, president of The DiJulius Group and author of “The Relationship Economy: Building Stronger Customer Connections in the Digital Age

Today’s high-tech, low-touch way of doing business has created a backlash. While advancing technology adds efficiencies and puts more information at customers’ fingertips, the disruptive force happening today in business is relationship building 

To stand out in the new Relationship Economy, businesses need to teach staff what kindness looks like and how to show others they care. Without the hidden agenda of making a sale or a profit, businesses must ensure their employees know how to display genuine interest toward customers, clients and coworkers. The fact is: When you focus on building a relationship instead of making a sale, you can end up with more sales.

The effects of building relationships with others will be widespread. Creating a strong rapport will have an incredible impact on clients and customers, but also on employees’ attitudes toward and engagement in the organization.  

FORD Facts.

A tried-and-true way to make a connection is to walk away from a conversation with someone knowing one or two facts about the topics people care most about: Family, Occupation, Recreation and Dreams (FORD). If you can find out information on these topics, you not only have a relationship, you own that relationship.

FORD represents people’s hot buttons or what they’re most passionate about. Talking about these topics makes them light up and want to share details. Learning about and referring to their particular FORD facts keeps the focus of the conversation on the other person and is a way to show you care.  

Here are some examples of the type of information you and your staff can casually collect on others’ FORDs:

1. Family.

For most people, this is the hottest topic of all. Are they married? How long have they been married? Do they have children? How old are their kids? What activities are their kids into? Where was their most recent family outing?

2. Occupation.

What do they do for a living? How long have they worked at their current job? What did they earn their degree in? How did they get into this industry? What project are they currently involved in?

3. Recreation.

What are their hobbies? What do they like to do for fun in their free time? Do they have a creative outlet? What do they do for exercise? Do they have a favorite sport or team?

4. Dreams.

What long-term goals are they pursuing? What are they doing to get there? Where are they dying to travel? What’s on their bucket list?

Every time you communicate with a customer, regardless of whether it’s over the phone, electronically or face-to-face, you should be collecting and utilizing customer intelligence. That doesn’t mean you interrogate them — you’re not rattling off questions just to tick off answers to each of their FORD items. Still, it’s easy to work in a few questions in the natural flow of conversation.  

I’ve been intentionally practicing the FORD technique in every conversation for more than a decade, and no one has ever said to me, “You sure ask a lot of questions.” It’s quite the opposite. Once you get someone talking, typically they’ll end up offering most of the information on their own. All you have to do is sit back and listen.

Everyone you come into contact with has an invisible sign above his or her head that reads: “Make me feel important.”

Collecting Customer Intelligence.

The best way to make the gathering of FORD information a part of your and your staff’s daily habit is to create a system for collecting and retrieving people’s FORD facts. This can be on a notepad, in your contacts app on your mobile phone or in customer relationship management (CRM) software on your computer.  

These tools help you collect all the customer intelligence thrown at you each day. As soon as you walk away from the customer, prospect or person you just met, take a moment to record the key tidbits the person just told you. For example, the person is leaving to vacation in Bermuda, is an alumnus of Northwestern University or has a daughter on a traveling volleyball team.


Once you’ve established great relationships with your customers, you need to maintain them. An excellent technique for you, your account executives and other staff to reconnect with existing and past clients is to carry out the following 3-2-1 practice on a weekly basis:

  • Send out 3 emails to clients
  • Send 2 cards to clients
  • Call 1 client on the phone

The 3-2-1 system is best used for simply connecting with – not selling to – existing or past customers. It’s an out-of-the-blue act without any solicitation, ideally using FORD information. For example, you might write, “Hey, Jason, I saw that your Chicago Cubs are in first place and having a terrific season so far. That’s great! I hope you and your family are enjoying the summer. Clients like you are one of the reasons why I love what I do.”  

The key is to schedule 3-2-1 on the same day and same time every week. It takes less than 10 minutes, but continues building rapport and goodwill.

Regardless of how you collect customer intelligence, the critical piece is that you create a system to help you pay more attention to hearing and retaining your customer’s information so you can follow up. It demonstrates that you’re unlike anyone else with whom they do business. It shows that you genuinely care about them as a person, and not just as a customer.


John DiJulius is president of The DiJulius Group and a sought-after authority on world-class customer experience, working with companies such as The Ritz-Carlton, Lexus, Starbucks, Progressive Insurance and more. In his new book, “The Relationship Economy: Building Stronger Customer Connections in the Digital Age“, he shows readers how to attain meaningful, lasting relationships with customers.