Mention customer relationships to almost anybody—including your favorite search engine—and, whether you like it or not, you probably just found yourself having a conversation about software. There are dozens of apps, programs, websites and other assorted platforms that can help you manage and track your online and offline engagement with your customers.
Some of these are actually quite good, and we have our favorites among them, too. But customer relationship management is more than data and tracking. Long-term success in your business requires moving your customer interaction beyond the stage of being a transaction and create an actual relationship with those your brand serves. And, not unlike the other relationships in your life, that takes a little bit of thought and more than a little bit of effort.
Here’s five things to consider when you’re cultivating customer relationships:
As the foundation of any successful relationship, communication is key to your customer engagement. If you want to move beyond a transactional relationship with your customers, start a conversation.
But do more than just tell them about your products or services. Make it about them. How does your new roofing product enhance the pride they have in their home? Is your dry-cleaning service just faster and more convenient, or does it also help them make it to their date on time and feel better about the way they look? Consider every customer relationship conversation from their perspective.
Your customers’ personal data and contact information often are necessary to complete an initial order or simply to request information. Do not abuse this privilege. Before adding anyone to your regular contact cycle, always ask their permission and which channel they prefer. This not only increases the odds of actually getting their attention with your next email or text notification, it’s also an important step in earning their trust.
And remember: Signing customers up for multiple distribution lists all at once is not a cheat code. They are more likely to remember the hassle of unsubscribing multiple times than they are anything of value you managed to sneak through in your initial contact.
The good news is that technology (and CRM software) has made communicating with your customers by email, text message and phone easier than ever.
The bad news is this can make it too easy to try to goose this week’s revenue at the expense of the customer relationship. To be effective, your communication with your customers must be relevant, useful and reasonable. Sharing some company news or a new product offering—even a limited time offer—is great, so long as it doesn’t become more of an obstacle than an advantage to the customer relationship.
But also include something useful for them, like a tip or an interesting fact about something that interests them. A personal example: I shared my email address with a business about a month ago, opting into their email list for special offers. Over the next eight days I received three daily emails with offers and promotions. Three emails. Every. Single. Day. Needless to say, I’m not inclined to continue that conversation. Or relationship.
Don’t Burn Out the Channel
Another way to build a customer relationship that’s similar to your real-life relationships is to have shared interests and hang out in the same places. In the digital world, that means social platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, et al.
Using these platforms comes with its own considerations, most immediately, deciding which are appropriate for your audience. There may be 300 million users on Snapchat, but chances are far fewer of them are business decision-makers or homeowners in your service area. You also need to consider your content needs and capabilities. An image platform like Instagram requires visual assets. Can you consistently serve up new and interesting pictures to capture people’s attention? Is your messaging appropriate for a Twitter audience? And if so, is it succinct enough?
As with email and the other channels we discussed above, avoid burning out the channel—and your customers’ attention spans—with messages that are simply promotional. A good rule of thumb is your social content should serve your audience 80% of the time (think content that’s informative, enjoyable, entertaining, etc.) while promoting your products or services no more than 20% of the time.
We all remember the guy at the party who only talks about himself, but we don’t necessarily want to sit next to him. Social media is a conversation, so leave room for others to participate. Ask questions, invite suggestions and respond to the comments and questions your audience shares.
Make It About Them
You know what’s at stake for your brand and your business in a customer relationship. So do they. Whatever channels, platforms and technology you use to plan, distribute and track your customer contacts, content and context will always be fundamental to maintaining and growing your customer relationships. Reaching your customers where they are depends on your message being interesting and relevant—even useful—to their lives before and between transactions.