Customers shouldn’t become your friends in places like Facebook. That’s the conclusion you can draw from new research from the University of Pennsylvania which looked at the whole basis for friendship. When we see people as true friends, we appear to change the way we relate to the individuals. The research shows that we engage with them without any need for anything in return.
If you become friends with your customers your brain will make it less likely that you will seek something from them in return for the relationship. In other words, if your customers become your online friends there’s a danger you won’t make as much money out of them when compared with keeping them at arm’s length.
The new study turns on its head what social psychologists have thought of friendship. For years, one of the reasons for the existence of the concept of friendship was thought to be trade. We need to have friendly contacts in order for society to work.
But this new research shows that the reason for friendship is to surround ourselves with people who will help us in times of conflict. It was previously thought that friendship always involved some kind of “exchange” between the partners in a relationship. But this new study shows that close friends are treated differently – we are happy to be friends with people who we feel will look after us and care for us and we are prepared to receive nothing in return.
One of the reasons that people use online social networks is to extend and deepen existing relationships. If you do that with your customers there’s a chance you will become much closer and thereby be happy for their friendship even if you get nothing in return. Clearly getting close to your customers is a good idea; but this new research shows there is a potential danger in getting too close.