It's complicated

Loving a customer is the whole business' primary mission if building a truly sustainable, long-term brand is concerned.

I used to have a relationship with the Renault brand.

My first car as a student was an old Renault 5, which I loved.

It was fast, even though it didn't really go around corners very well. A lot of happy moments and cool adventures were had thanks to that car.

I then bought a Renault Clio, which I also loved. It was small but drove like a much bigger car. It had personality, was cheap to run and I did more than 250 000 km in that car.

Renault made cars that you loved to drive, the relationship (at least from my side) felt special.

But then I decided to end my relationship with Renault - not because I didn't like the cars anymore; no.

I ended my relationship with the brand because I hated the service that I got from the providers that Renault has appointed as their official representatives in South Africa. I had more than a few run-ins with them over the years and eventually decided to call it quits.

I went on to form a new relationship with another brand, which I'm still loyal to today.

Our modern relationships with brands are surprisingly personal and unique to us.

As individuals, we form a bond with the total experience of a brand; not its advertising image, not the CEO, not just the product itself.

But the feeling, and the dynamics of the relationship, are not mutual.

Renault doesn't know me at all, they've never loved me back, they don't miss me now because I'm gone. How could they have the same relationship with me as I had with them - I'm just one customer in a million.

Their marketing department might have some kind of record that at one point in time I bought a Renault from a dealership in South Africa, but having knowledge of that is not the job of the CEO today.

Having a relationship with a single customer is not the job of the Renault finance department, nobody in HR is hiring a CTO that cares about the relationship with me.

This is a shame because I'm loyal and am due to get a new car soon.

This story put a spotlight on customer relationships - how important they are and largely, still today, how far most businesses still have to go to get it right.

Increasingly the relationship that a business has with its customers determines how successful and profitable it will be in the future. The issue is that this relationship is singular on the side of the customer and departmentalised (usually the responsibility of marketing) on the brand's side.

Customer relationship management is not something that just belongs in the marketing department.

The decision to hire a crappy service provider in South Africa wasn't made by the Renault marketing department; it was probably made by somebody in finance who had no idea that this decision would end a relationship that marketing had been trying to nurture for years.

Loving a customer is the whole business' primary mission if building a truly sustainable, long-term brand is concerned.

The future of better relationships with customers is also a different way of running and managing a business; one where silos don't exist and where everyone is focus and measured on just one goal: building a better relationship with a customer.

It's a challenge and a huge opportunity.