How to build customer relationships that earn trust, loyalty, and sales
Good brands have always built strong relationships with their customer bases to encourage client retention, expand sales portfolios, inspire repeat business, and turn customers into fans and brand advocates.
However, in an economy increasingly dominated by ecommerce, building meaningful customer relationships has gotten harder. While most brands have seen the size of their audience dramatically increase thanks to online shopping and digital marketing, scaling the personalization required for trust and transparency is complicated.
Strong customer relationships are as crucial as ever, so this post will share eight best practices for building them.
- Provide great customer service
- Understand your customers
- Personalize your communication
- Create value
- Reward customer loyalty
- Exceed expectations
- Communicate consistently and build trust
- Get customer feedback
Why building customer relationships is important
Strong customer relationships endear audiences to your company and keep them in your ecosystem. With so much competition only a click away, it’s hard to overstate the importance of building a rapport with prospects, customers, and advocates.
- Improve customer loyalty. When audiences know a brand is loyal to them — remembering birthdays, responding quickly to customer service needs, and more — they return that loyalty in a variety of ways. They may consistently choose you over the competition, and they’re also more likely to become brand advocates in the long run.
- Reduce customer churn. It’s more cost effective to keep an existing customer than it is to source and convert a new one. Strong customer relationships maximize your overall ROI by keeping marketing costs down.
- Increase customer lifetime value (CLV). Greater brand loyalty means additional and larger sales. Customers are willing to pay more for great service and will continue to return to your brand if you can build trust.
How to build strong customer relationships
There are as many ways to build customer relationships as there are brands and audiences. Below are some general strategies and best practices to get you started, but be sure to test and experiment with each one to make sure you’re creating the best value for your specific audiences.
1. Provide great customer service
The best way to build strong customer relationships is to provide quick, genuine customer service. A good customer service experience makes your brand stand out from the competition and endears loyalty in customers.
Great customer service is:
- Fast. Make sure your customer service team is always available or at least responds quickly to every request. Prospects who have to wait for an answer shop around, and angry customers who have to wait for help get more frustrated by the minute.
- Accessible. Customer service needs to be available through the website, phone, email, and every social media channel where your brand has a presence. Some customers will go to a web form to get in touch, but others will simply tag your brand in a tweet.
- Genuine. The best customer service experiences happen when reps and brands sympathize with difficulties and treat customer concerns like their own. Incentivize representatives to go above and beyond to help your users.
2. Understand your customers
To build a relationship with your customers, you have to get to know them. Understanding what they like and what motivates them is crucial to meeting their needs.
Buyer personas are a good place to start. Building out audience personas helps you pinpoint why and how customers are coming to your business. It takes research, but the reward is that you will truly understand your ideal customers. Good personas will help you:
- Define customers’ basic traits. Segment customers by job title, age, gender, geographical location, education, income, and shopping habits. Identifying these patterns is the first step to understanding and serving your audience.
- Describe customers’ state of mind. Think about your customers from an emotional standpoint, not just an analytical one. Interviews and surveys can deepen customer personas so you begin to understand what motivates them.
Once you establish who your customers are by using buyer personas, you can then map their customer journey. Notice all the different places your customers interact with your brand — before, during, and after they make a purchase — and use these touchpoints as key moments to improve your relationship.
The final step to understanding your customers is to move beyond personas to customer profiles. Individual profiles are the key to treating each customer as a unique person and building meaningful relationships.
3. Personalize your communication
Personalization is no longer optional. According to Insider Intelligence, 53% of buyers expect a unique and personalized experience no matter what the medium. The data and technology are available and enough brands have embraced personalization that audiences expect it.
- Offer personalized recommendations. Use customer data to pinpoint purchase habits and make personal recommendations. Highlight related products on a product detail page or a shopping cart page. Once they’ve left your site, send them retargeting ads on social media or a personalized email regarding an abandoned item in their shopping cart.
- Be personal. When someone fills out your contact form, reply with a personal email. If someone calls your business line, answer your phone. It’s also best practice to have a live-chat widget on your website where customers can talk to a real person who calls them by their name.
- Send anniversary emails and personalized incentives. Personalized emails sent on birthdays, membership anniversaries, and other important dates are simple ways to create hyper-personalized communications with each member of your audience. Include a discount or other gift as well. In an Adobe study, 67% of buyers said they want personalized promotions and 61% said personalized offers make them more likely to buy.
4. Create value
Customers come to you to make a purchase, but you build a stronger relationship if you can create additional value for them.
There are many ways to add value for a customer, but before you start developing these strategies, clarify your value proposition. Any additional value should be rooted in what sets your business apart from the competition. Trying to add value with offerings or services that don’t closely relate to your business ends up diluting your brand.
With that guidepost in place, here are a few strategies for creating additional value.
- Be a subject matter expert. Produce a blog or YouTube channel where you educate audiences about the field you serve. You can also host a forum to answer common user concerns or reply to questions on other forums, like Quora. If customers recognize you as an established authority, they’ll be more likely to seek out your services when they need you.
- Build a community. Customer relationships can be reciprocal. Find people whose passions align with your products and work together. Sponsor a Facebook group based on your solutions. Consider partnering with video influencers to promote your brand on Instagram or TikTok.
- Support a cause. If your brand sells sustainable products, partner with an environmentally conscious nonprofit and support their work. If your company has an inspiring founding story, work with a group that supports other unlikely entrepreneurs. Build relationships in existing communities of like-minded audiences.
5. Reward customer loyalty
People love rewards, and they also love feeling like their purchases are going toward a larger goal. Rewarding loyal customers breeds good will and increased loyalty. A well-conceived rewards program can also convert more casual shoppers into long-term fans.
An effective loyalty program might include:
- Incentives. Offer points or cash rewards the more customers buy. For example, Thriftbooks.com gives users points toward a free book with every purchase.
- Tiered memberships. Clients unlock new rewards tiers at higher spending levels. For example, Sephora’s Beauty Insider program has three tiers — Insider, VIB, and Rouge. Higher tiers get earlier or exclusive access to discounts, events, and more.
- Premium memberships. Customers pay monthly fees in exchange for premium benefits. Amazon Prime members pay an annual fee and get access to fast, free shipping in return.
Apart from any specific program, always look for novel ways to say thank you. Surprise your most loyal customers with a personal card or gift and it will go far to strengthen an already good relationship.
Sephora’s Beauty Insider loyalty program displays clear tiers of membership and the benefits each one enjoys.
6. Exceed expectations
Depending on your industry, customers will have expectations for the type of experience they’re in for. Exceeding those expectations and surprising the customer creates a great experience and builds rapport.
Prioritize the customer experience and go above and beyond wherever possible.
- Anticipate needs. Review your customer feedback and see where you can improve. Then read through some competitor reviews and make an extra effort to succeed where they failed.
- Underpromise and overdeliver. Customers need to trust you can do what you say. Evaluate what you’re actually capable of doing and give yourself some wiggle room. Then make your best effort to do more than you said you would.
- Teach your staff good manners. Write scripts and hold training sessions so staff are equipped to embody your brand voice and exceed customer expectations. For instance, you might want to teach them to affirm and sympathize with a customer’s frustration first, or demonstrate how they can take extra steps to solve a problem.
- Say you’re sorry. Failure is sometimes inevitable. When it happens, offer a sincere, personal apology and tangible recompense. For instance, if you failed to ship on time, refund the shipping cost.
Customer expectations in many industries are fairly low. You can stand out by being thoughtful, thorough, and genuine.
7. Communicate consistently and build trust
Depending on your industry, it usually takes anywhere from three to nine touchpoints — in the form of a website visit, email, live conversation, or social media engagement — to make a sale. A consistent brand voice and message across all your channels communicates well and builds trust.
- Inbound marketing. A buyer will likely find your brand online before you ever hear from them. The marketing materials on your website and social media channels should be unified and consistent.
- Outbound cadence. Once a buyer is engaged and you start to reach out or follow up, be sure not to communicate too much. Excessive sales and marketing messaging can be annoying. Find a good cadence that doesn’t overwhelm the customer while also making sure they don’t forget about you. A Databox survey found that 33% of marketers send weekly emails. Just watch your subscriptions, open rates, and click-through rates. If you notice a sudden dip, you might need to slow down.
With inbound or outbound messaging, always be honest and transparent. For example, if it’s doubtful you’ll have a product in stock before the new year but your customer wants it this fall, just tell them upfront. Building trust with customers is essential to a strong relationship.
8. Gather customer feedback
Allow customers to easily submit feedback so they feel more involved in your brand. Make sure to act on that feedback to build trust with your audiences.
There are several easy ways to gather useful feedback.
- Reviews. Many customers will naturally leave reviews and feedback on your website and social media accounts, but you can request a review as well. Make sure your website includes a tool for customers to leave feedback and encourage them to use it.
- Surveys. You can solicit client feedback with email and text surveys. Short, simple forms can aggregate votes and feedback into strategic insights.
- Focus groups and user testing. If you need more details, spend a little more time and money on focus groups and user testing. These also generally produce more accurate results, because people don’t always behave the way they say they do when answering survey questions.
Getting started building customer relationships
Every interaction you have with a customer is a chance to impress them and win their trust. Strong customer relationships deepen CLT, encourage additional sales, and turn shoppers into advocates.
When you’re ready to prioritize customer relationships, start with your customer service representatives. Then, make sure you really understand your audiences and that you have the tools you need to maintain all the data and insights you need.
Adobe Audience Manager helps turn insights into action. As a data management solution, Audience Manager collects and merges information from practically any source, building intelligent audience segments that give you a complete view of your customers. With attribute-based audiences, lookalike modeling, and more, Audience Manager helps you take charge of your customer experiences and extend your reach further than before.