COLUMN: Investing in Return on Relationships

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by Lance Allison | President/CEO of the Murray-Calloway County Chamber of Commerce

Editor’s Note: Lance Allison is the president/CEO of the Murray-Calloway County Chamber of Commerce. He spoke to the Taylorsville-Spencer County Chamber of Commerce last Thursday on the importance of relationships and shared this column, first published in the Murray Ledger and Times, with The Spencer Magnet.

Most of us look at organizational success through the lens of ROI or Return on Investment. Far too many interactions with customers are ones of a transactional nature.  To put it more simply, a good is purchased in exchange for an agreed-upon amount of U.S. legal tender.
My challenge to you, however, is to look beyond ROI to ROR, or Return on Relationships. On a recent trip to Los Angeles for the American Chamber of Commerce Executives Association’s national conference, a chance meeting in the airport drove home this idea of taking interactions from a transactional nature to a more meaningful nature.
This chance meeting, while short lived, underscored everything I have read on looking at things through Return on Relationships.
As I sat in the Nashville Airport peacefully and uninterruptedly reading my local paper, the Murray Ledger and Times, a Southwest employee wheeled a passenger up next to me. Marie is in the later years of her life, well-kept and extremely fashionable.
I really had no intention of engaging anyone in conversation at that moment.
As she arranged her things around her chair, I decided to get a drink. I’m not sure why I did, but I asked her if she would like for me to get her one as well.
As I came back with her water, Marie offered to pay, and I waived her off saying it was my pleasure.
She asked what was bringing me to LA, and I told her about my conference. She informed me that she lived in Los Angeles and had been attending a screenwriter’s workshop in New Hampshire. It turns out her late husband worked with the writer of “On Golden Pond” and had invited her to attend.
She indicated she had never written anything, but since her husband had passed she thought it was a neat idea. She went on to tell me that her husband had passed away last Christmas Eve after 33 years of marriage. She described it as a 33-year love affair.
As tears filled her eyes, she described the retreat as therapeutic and knew her late husband would be pleased because he would have wanted her to continue to live life to the fullest until the day they are reunited.
You may be asking yourself, “Lance, what is your point and what does it have to do with my business?”
It has everything to do with your business. In that short time, I was able to describe our community to her and share with her the many wonderful people who have moved to Calloway County from California and other parts of the country.
I gave her my business card and told her to look up our website and learn more about it. She said it sounded wonderful and that she would like to visit.
Not only did I learn the story of a wonderful woman I may have recruited as a visitor or future resident, but I gained a fan of our community. Hopefully, she will share our Calloway County story with others.  All of this occurred because I chose not to sit by myself, but to engage someone in conversation.
I want you to think about this question. How many interactions in your store, restaurant or organization have been transactional because your focus has been on the exchange of service for money?
What impact would investing even five minutes toward developing a meaningful relationship have on your business?
A focus, however small, on investing in Return on Relationships can yield dividends that far exceed one monetary exchange. It could lead to long-term retention, additional customers through friends and family or even connections with key people that can help your business grow.
My challenge to you is not to wait until the end of the month and look only at Return on Investment, but start tomorrow developing your Return on Relationships. I promise it will be time well spent.