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Success in business markets demands going beyond satisfactory exchanges with customers. Conventional wisdom therefore dictates that firms must build close customer relationships. Yet, unfortunately, the meaning of a close relationship from the customer’s viewpoint can get lost in translation. We find that, contrary to the widely held use of the relationship metaphor in business, customers do not actually want interpersonally meaningful relationships; in fact, these are often viewed with cynicism and are seen as a burden. Rather, customers seek value creation attuned to their particular contexts to drive instrumental objectives. This article highlights the thorny, often veiled aspects of customer relationships and re-directs attention to the essential connections that help supplierssuccessfully co-create value with customers.
5. It’s time to move on
Clearly, product, price, and service delivery are all critical to supplier success. Increasingly, though, they are simply ante to the game. The difference between superior and mediocre suppliers now comes down to who supports value creation that extends beyond the minimum of what must be done. Suppliers must be cautious, however, about the prospect of creating customer value through customer relationships. Although a surface examination of buyer language and a legacy of scholarly articlessuggest an intuitive appeal to this approach, deeper exploration reveals that it is misleading and potentially detrimental. We found that buyers relied on the relationship metaphor to illustrate the reality that value is best achieved when two organizations work together to attain common instrumental objectives. As such, we believe it is past time to tap the brakes on the relationship metaphor and shift the discussion to connections, in order to understand business interactions. Consistent with how customers see it, success demands that a supplier focus its activities on value co-creation through carefully designed customer connections. Accordingly, customers gain a compelling reason to choose that supplier time and time again.