How To Build Customer Relationships

How To Build Customer Relationships

Now that you’ve seen how powerful relationship marketing can be, it’s time to take a look at the actual techniques and strategies you can use. You have to decide for yourself which ones that suit you and the style of your company, but the more of these you can put into use, the higher your chances are of becoming successful with relationship marketing.

Fundamentals of relationship marketing

There are a few basic ideas that need to be integrated into the core of your business in order to successfully build relationships with customers: start by making sure your customers can relate to you.

The larger the company, the harder this seems to be to get. The truth is no one wants a “relationship” with a faceless corporation. There needs to be a human element and a sense of personality. A great example is Apple, especially while Steve Jobs was still running the show. Now there’s a company with personality!

If you can put yourself in a highly visible position it will be much easier for people to relate to your company, because they’ll see that there is a real human being behind it. Many small businesses make the mistake of trying to act like a big company, instead of using their small size to their advantage by emphasizing the individuals who work there.

On the other end of the spectrum would be companies like the telecom giants – – they often have no personality at all and are very hard to relate to for an average consumer.

Being relatable is especially important when things go wrong. If people can’t relate to you or your company, forgiveness will be hard. Forgiving a person, with flaws all humans can relate to, is much easier. Realize that you aren’t that important to most of your customers (yet).

A very common mistake made by small and large businesses alike is that they overestimate how important they are to their customers. Think about how many companies you buy something from every year. They all compete for your attention in one way or another, but it’s only a few of them that you really care about.

Companies that overestimate how important they are to their customers are often easy to spot. A great example is when a company decides they need to be on social media. Proudly announcing that they’re now on Facebook, they expect their customers to flock to their page and start participating, sharing stories and liking posts. They are, of course, fooling themselves. What’s in it for the customer? Unless there’s already a solid relationship in place or incentives are given, no one is going to care enough to follow them on Facebook.

Realizing this is an important first step, as they can then start focusing on ways to make themselves more important and relevant to their customers. By staying humble, the chance of being successful with relationship marketing is much improved.

Be open and transparent.

Many large corporations are still severely lacking in this department. How many times in your life have heard a company say they do X and then actually do Y? Sometimes it seems that the larger the company, the less they care about telling the truth.

It may have been a viable strategy in the past, before the Internet came along and made it so that anyone who knew the truth could broadcast it to the whole world in seconds. Still, some companies never learn it seems. You can use this to your advantage, separate yourself from your competitors who haven’t realized this, and win over their customers. Transparency is so important because it builds trust. Admitting when you’ve made a mistake makes you and your company more relatable, and in the long term, it will serve to increase their confidence in you.

Improve customer service.

Building mutually beneficial relationships with your customers start with a long, hard look at your customer service. This is the one part of your company that has the ability to turn dissatisfied customers into loyal proponents.

It’s also one area where many go wrong. When profits are down, cutting costs in customer service is often one of the first actions taken. Sometimes by trying to make the processes more streamlined and effective (while sacrificing user-friendliness), sometimes by outsourcing it to cheaper countries. Think about the times you’ve had to contact customer service at a large corporation. Chances are you had to navigate through a maze of cryptic directions, only to be put on hold for hours (or, in the case of email/chat, never even get a response). That is, of course, the opposite of what you should do if you’re taking a relationship marketing approach.

These systems might save a few bucks in the short run, but they will do nothing to improve the reputation of a brand or build relationships with customers. Consider doing the complete opposite: put real people in the front line. Don’t outsource customer service – – hire local people with real training. Educate them in customer relationship building, and make sure they know the fundamentals talked about earlier.

Give the customer service employees more power and responsibility. Tell them to act like themselves, instead of just reading from a script or following instructions blindly. If they act like a human being, customers will (most of the time) treat them like one. They’ll be able to relate to them, and by extension, to your company.

The right way to use social media.

Social media continues to be popular as a way for companies to reach out and talk to their customers, yet very few get it exactly. One of the most common mistakes on sites like Facebook and Twitter is treating it like a one- way conversation. It’s very easy to spot – – a company will push out content and updates at regular intervals, yet rarely respond to comments or discussion.

Encouraging discussion, and taking part in it, is extremely important in order to be successful with social media. Especially when a customer has something negative to say about the company, in which case many just choose to ignore (or even worse, delete) the complaint and hope that nobody sees it. That’s the worst possible thing to do, as it may very well blow up into a huge deal if left unattended to. It’s the Internet after all – – always assume that nothing can really be deleted.

Not every update/post needs to be a discussion piece of course, but the general environment must be one that encourages feedback and lets people know that the company is listening. Treat social media like a dialogue, not like a blog. Don’t be afraid to use a bit of humor either!

Be authentic.

Another important piece of the social media puzzle is being authentic. There are countless examples of typically “boring” companies that all of a sudden start posting funny/cute videos on social media in an attempt to gain favor and cause a buzz among followers. Usually, people will see right through this as it has a distinctly false ring to it. Just because it’s social media doesn’t mean it has to appeal to a mass crowd. It doesn’t always have to be entertaining, or “share-worthy”. It does, however, need to resonate with your customers and serve to increase the strength of your relationship with them.

To come up with a strategy for social media content, start by thinking about how you can make deliver as much value as possible to your followers.

Here are a few good examples:

  • A law firm could offer a weekly “ask the lawyer” service, with free, basic legal advice.
  • An author could share glimpses of their daily life and writing process, and post samples of upcoming books.
  • A plumber could mix up funny real- life stories with useful advice, drawing from his own experiences.
  • A supermarket could post recipes, with beautiful pictures and discounts on the ingredients needed to make them.

All of these businesses could (and should) encourage their followers to participate and discuss. To encourage discussion, even more, there could be small incentives. The author could ask for critique on an upcoming book and reward the most constructive comment with their own character in the book. The supermarket could offer free groceries to the person who puts the best spin on their recipe and submits it to their Facebook page.

No doubt this is an area that requires dedication, and a lot of experimenting, to get just. It’s important to realize that it’s OK to make mistakes. Remember that people prefer a relatable business, and what’s more human and relatable than making mistakes and owning up to them?

The power of free resources and information.

While information, in general, is available in overwhelming abundance these days, finding solid, trustworthy information written by knowledgeable people is not that easy. Well- written, useful resources written by experts will always be highly sought after. This is something a savvy business devoted to relationship marketing can utilize.

Let’s take a look at an example:

Web hosting is one of the most competitive, cutthroat industries in the world. Most companies are prepared to take losses for years on a new customer, hoping that they’ll stick around long enough to eventually generate a profit of a few bucks per year. There are literally thousands of web hosts, most competing against each other with similar offerings, on the same global market. So what do you think, how could a new web hosting business differentiate themselves and get attention from potential customers?

One way would be creating a huge, free repository of tutorials and how-to-guides. Some savvy hosts have already caught on to this, and crank out high-quality guides in a steady stream. They wouldn’t be doing that if it wasn’t profitable in the long term and producing such guides can be quite costly. For this strategy to work well, branding and in-content advertising needs to be kept to a minimum. The feeling must not be that you’re doing this simply as a way of advertising your business. Go into it with the goal of educating and providing value, and you can do very well with it.

This strategy can work for almost any type of business:

  • The plumber could put together a comprehensive guide on how to do routine maintenance yourself.
  • The author could write a guide that teaches people the basics of writing books.
  • The supermarket could assemble a collection of the best tips for finding coupons.
  • The law firm could make a handy little book with useful legal advice for everyday situations.

E- mail

While being one of the oldest technologies of the Internet, email is as powerful today as it ever was. Practically everyone has an email address, and so far it remains the number one way to stay in touch with customers. There are two main ways to use email for relationship marketing:

  1. Newsletters

Most businesses today know the value of sending out a regular newsletter. Just as with social media, this easily turns into the “Hey, remember us? Come buy something!” kind of messages this is not a good strategy. The best newsletters are those that customers look forward to, and open every time they show up in the inbox. Just as with social media, the focus should be on providing value to your customers, whether that comes in the form of a discount coupon or an informative article.

Sending frequency can be (and is) debated back and forth for ages with no clear conclusion, but most experts agree that it’s best to pick a frequency and stick to it. Think you can send out a valuable email every week? Go for it! Don’t just do this for 3 weeks and then give up. To work you have to be consistent. If every week seems too much, perhaps a bi-weekly or monthly newsletter would work better for you? Don’t forget that you could always ask your customers what they prefer!

One of the most powerful techniques of newsletter marketing is encouraging subscribers to hit the reply button and email you back. Very few companies do this, and some even go as far as emailing you from a ‘no-reply’ address to avoid having to talk to you! While true that starting up a dialogue with customers will require some of your time, it’s also one of the easiest ways to connect and establish a real, lasting relationship. Show your email subscribers that there’s a real human behind your emails and you will have much better results than all your competitors, who only send out generic “Come and buy!” messages.

Automated follow-ups (so this is where automation comes in)

Using tracking and analytics, it’s possible to learn a lot about your customers. You can easily tell when someone’s put an item in their cart but never checked out when someone hasn’t visited your store in 30 days, or what sort of offers a person responds to. You can then email them custom one-to-one messages, tailored to their specific wants and needs.

Amazon is probably the company that is best known for using this technique. Somehow, they seem to know exactly what you want and when you want it. A minority may find this kind of tracking/data analysis a bit creepy, but the fact is it works very well and most customers are just happy to get emails that are 100% targeted to them. Just make sure it’s easy to opt out. The more customers and data you have available, the more advanced and effective you can make these systems.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Sending out a coupon on their birthday.
  • Recommending items based on what they have bought previously (or viewed on your site).
  • Avoiding shopping cart abandonment by reminding them, and telling them to email you back for assistance if they require it.
  • Personally thanking them for being loyal customers aJer they’ve bought repeatedly from you.
  • Loyalty programs.

Maximizing customer loyalty is at the center of every relationship marketing effort. A business that can count on loyal customers to buy from them repeatedly over a long period of time is bound to thrive. When used in tandem with the other techniques, a good old- fashioned loyalty program can go a long way towards strengthening the relationship between business and customer.

There are many proven techniques that work well to encourage loyalty and repeat buyers:

  • Offer an “x% off your n: th purchase” deal.
  • Send out a coupon to customers who been with you for > 1 year and bought something from you on at least 2 occasions.
  • Give special rewards to “members only”, and have customers register and opt-in for it.
  • Reward customers who’ve spent > $x with you in the last year (you don’t need to tell them about this beforehand, just surprise them!).
  • Create a VIP program that requires an upfront fee but delivers tremendous value – – like Amazon Prime.
  • Partner with another company to create a unique offering together and promote each other’s businesses.

Keep learning and improving.

It’s very important to realize that relationship marketing is not an event it’s a very long journey. Sometimes it will be very difficult to see the benefits of your efforts, but the only way to get good results from it is to power through those challenges.

The best strategy is implementing one method at a time, starting with great customer service and working your way up from there. Make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you’re just starting your business, it may be tempting to start tweeting, emailing and Facebooking all at once, but chances are you’ll just burn out if you do that. Remember at all times that the focus should be on providing value and being transparent and relatable at all times.

A properly executed relationship marketing effort can undoubtedly establish you as the industry leader over time, especially if your competitors are still using techniques more closely resembling old-school transactional marketing.

Recap on How To Build Customer Relationships

  • Get the fundamentals right first: be relatable, transparent and honest.
  • Give it time before you start demanding results.
  • Try to establish a dialogue in all your communications, avoid a one-to-many relationships when possible.
  • Offer free resources with no strings attached to establish credibility and authority.
  • Focus on bringing as much value as possible to the lives of your customers.
  • Accept that it’s OK to make mistakes, and it may take some experimenting before you get it.
  • Make customer service your # 1 priority and put real humans on the front line.

About the Author Stacey Riska

Stacey Riska, aka “Small Business Stacey” is a serial entrepreneur who is passionate about saving small business and rebuilding Main Street. She helps small and local business owners become a #SmallBizMarketingWiz by teaching them marketing strategies that get MORE: MORE leads, MORE customers/clients, MORE sales, and MORE money.

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