When I first learnt the definition of Marketing back at University in 1984, I was told the industry was about “identifying the customer’s needs and wants and meeting them at a profit.” I can’t be entirely sure that’s the exact definition since it was over 20 years ago, but I think I’m pretty close.

So, what happened?

Have marketers forgotten how important an authentic relationship is with the customer?

If you’re reading this and thinking – but I really do value my customers, and they love me – please stay with me another minute.

Most of us in business tend to defend our commitment to customer service (or most things for that matter), and in particular how much value we place on the customer experience. However, we tend to be a little optimistic about how much time and/or effort we really put into making relationships actually work.

But, even if the time and commitment is made, I’m not always so sure about the sincerity or authenticity of the process. It’s become a little mechanical – it’s a bit like trying to cook a great Italian pasta sauce without a glass of red in one hand!

For most, the customer is someone who wanders past, who buys your product/service and is always complaining about how you can or should do things better. In truth, they’re pretty hard to keep happy, and it seems no matter how hard you try, they always seem to expect more from you. So, like in most other relationships, you begin to shut down to the noise, and begin wondering “why am I doing this”? It’s a sad reality that the people we set out to serve often become the reason why we begin to resent what we do. But rediscover the art of authentic relationships, and this can be overcome.

So where to begin?

Everything we do in life requires a couple of key ingredients. Firstly, TIME. And secondly: HONESTY.

I have yet to experience a relationship – whether it’s business, personal or family – that hasn’t required great effort. It simply doesn’t work without the investment of significant time and honesty.

People you care about deserve your time and the opportunity to get to know you, understand you and appreciate you. And they feel the same way. They want you to listen to their stories, feel their emotions and really take the time to get to know them – that’s what’s important to them.

Spending quality time with people, and engaging in open and honest communication is extremely powerful. It brings people together like nothing before. Take this for example: I usually try and visit a health retreat for one week each year. I’m normally one of 25 guests, and we see each other every day for 17 hours a day. We eat together, train together, share emotions, tell stories and relax together. And by the end of the 7 days, the bond between the group is amazing: life-long friends are often made.

Imagine if we spent this sort of quality time with our customers. Imagine if we treated them like real people, with real emotions and we were all honest about our thoughts and feelings. We may just have a customer for life. And isn’t that the Holy Grail?

Being authentic is empowering. So I would encourage all Marketers to re-discover how to behave this way, and to define their own and their business’ authentic value. Begin the process by being honest, genuine and passionate about what you do, and how you do it. Then, go out and create new relationships with customers, suppliers and other key stakeholders in your business. Engage your customers in everything you do. Use social media platforms to create consistent and informed open dialogue, press the flesh and spend time with customers, seek answers, seek reassurance that you’re on the right track, and brainstorm future possibilities together.

They’re waiting for you. They’re waiting to connect with you. You’ll see.

Check out more thoughts from Gino here