Powered by the Internet, the information age has arrived, and with it has come a relationship revolution in business. Today's companies are interacting with consumers at unprecedented levels and across channels, such as e-mail, text chat, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and multi-functional call centers, just to name a few. And as new technologies continue to drive down the cost of interacting with customers, the information explosion will persist.

So what's the problem? Along with the Internet's opportunity comes information overload, privacy concerns, myriad vendors, and previously unknown levels of anonymity in commercial transactions. Rising above the din and grabbing a customer's attention is never easy -- no matter how innovative the product. But product-centered companies that fail to develop meaningful relationships with their customers will find the task of getting and keeping customers increasingly difficult.

The solution? Sure, keep developing and delivering innovative, excellent products, and service those products with world-class care. But the key to breaking through the information deluge is building meaningful relationships with customers based on trust. Customers rely on relationships with companies to cope with the information and privacy blitz, reserving their attention, and their business, for companies that have demonstrated relevance to them in the past -- and companies they feel they can trust.

The Questions Executives Must Ask Themselves
Some companies have succeeded by becoming what Peppers and Rogers Group calls "Trusted Agents" for their customers, making highly relevant offerings that result in customer retention, increased share of customer, and financial success. A Trusted Agent is a company that views the issue from its customer's perspective, recommending products and services that are in the customer's own interest, based on the company's detailed knowledge of the customer's needs. Trusted Agent companies even make recommendations when the customer's interest and the company's interest are in conflict, at least in the short term. To think in these terms would require a major shift in culture at most firms, but it is by far the most powerful competitive position to occupy. After all, very few customers will tolerate more than a half dozen such relationships, and they are likely to rely on the companies filling these roles for a wide variety of products and services.

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