- Connect with customers through customized interactions and active responses.
- You should be reaching customers where they are (e.g., face to face, phone, social media).
- Show customers that you appreciate them, and elicit feedback through customer surveys.
- This article is for small business owners who want to find ways to better connect with their customers.
Your customers drive your business, which is why it's so important to note how they interact with your brand. Don't just reach out to them when you want their business; find ways to continuously show them you care.
Jessica Alba, founder and CEO of The Honest Company, believes brands can learn a lot by staying connected and listening to their customers.
"I think it's important for brands, especially brands [that] are really consumer-centric, to stay connected," Alba shared at the American Express OPEN Success Makers Summit for Business Platinum Card Members. "Customers tell you so much from their behavior and how they shop with you."
Here are 10 effective ways to connect with your customers and build lasting relationships that can keep them loyal to your brand.
1. Don't use a one-size-fits-all approach.
You want your customers to feel special, and you can achieve this by approaching each one as an individual rather than just another customer. Grouping all your consumers together will only express inauthenticity.
"In our messaging, we will treat a heavy user of our app differently than a light user," said Jon Ziglar, CEO of ParkMobile. "We treat a new user differently than a veteran user. We try to make the messages as relevant as possible to that specific person."
Key takeaway: Customizing your user interactions improves relevance and authenticity.
2. Respond to concerns.
Don't just be available when your business is doing well or your customers are satisfied. If you want customers to trust and respect you, you need to earn it by proving your dedication to making them happy.
For example, ParkMobile received a one-star review from a man who complained that the app was inconvenient and took time away from his date. Instead of ignoring the comment or making excuses, Ziglar said, they contacted the reviewer directly to express their remorse and offered a gift card to the exact restaurant where he had been that day.
"He really appreciated the gesture, and we turned a 'hater' into a huge ParkMobile advocate," said Ziglar. "He even let us feature his story in a social media campaign.
Key takeaway: Responding to customer concerns builds trust.
3. Go above and beyond.
Ziglar's story about his interaction with the unhappy-patron-turned-advocate leads us to our next tip: Go above and beyond for your customers. As a small business owner, you will likely have a close connection to your customers, and you can use this to your advantage. Offer special discounts for customer loyalty, recommend specific products based on what you know about a customer's interests, and always remedy an unpleasant experience.
Some customers will have a negative experience with your brand. However, it is your job to make sure your customer or client's experience ends well. Exceptional customer support will keep them coming back for more.
"Sometimes, you have to go above and beyond to build raving fans of your business," Ziglar said.
Key takeaway: Going above and beyond for customers can increase their perception and loyalty to your business.
4. Follow up.
Following up is an easy way to earn customers' appreciation. No one likes to file a complaint or ask a question, only to hear radio silence. Respond to customers throughout their buying journey so they build a connection with you. This is also a great way to keep your business top of mind for your customers.
If an existing customer purchases a new or unique product, follow up with them to make sure they enjoyed it. Thank customers for doing business with you. Everyone likes to feel acknowledged. Follow-up is also a great way to identify unhappy customers before their unsatisfactory experience ends with a negative review online.
Key takeaway: Following up with customers communicates to them that they matter, and it helps you identify poor customer experiences.
5. Keep it personal, not transactional.
Peelu Shivaraju, the owner and operator of a Money Mailer franchise in Michigan, says being more personal with customers strengthens your bonds with them.
Rather than being aggressive when selling, try to be more consultative and conversational so clients understand your intentions are pure, Shivaraju recommended.
"Nobody likes a salesperson," he said. "Don't go in talking about your product; go in and ask them questions about their business."
Key takeaway: Speaking to your customers in a conversational and personal tone can improve their perception of your brand.
6. Focus on face-to-face interactions.
It's common to experience miscommunications when using technology as the primary source of contact. While emails and telephone calls are convenient, nothing beats face-to-face contact.
You can understand your customers better in person than over the phone or through a screen. Shivaraju makes it a point to drop in on clients to introduce himself and establish both a professional and personal relationship with them.
"I like to get to know my clients, what their businesses are all about," he said. "I do a lot of research about their business and ask them lots of questions to genuinely show interest. I want to learn everything I possibly can so that I know how best to help their business."
It's easier to learn about a client by talking to them in person. However, some people feel more comfortable speaking to you from a distance. Shivaraju advised asking your clients what their preferred method of communication is and sticking with that.
Key takeaway: Use a customer's preferred method of communication to maintain a positive relationship.
7. Be active on social media.
Companies benefit from having social media accounts; however, simply having a social media account is not enough – you need to be actively engaged. A recent survey shows that 40% of users expect a brand to respond to them within the first hour of connecting, and nearly 80% expect a response within the first 24 hours.
Many shoppers see whether a company has an online presence before they will do business with them. Customers are already using social media platforms to browse new products, leave reviews and share favorite items with their friends, and you should meet them where they are. Interacting on social media can help your company's brand shine, and it is a great way to stay on your customers' minds and feed.
Customers are constantly reviewing and talking about brands on social media, and there is a good chance your company will be the topic of discussion at one point or another. Actively engaging customers on social media and responding to social media comments are great ways to direct the narrative about what is being said about your brand. It can also allow you to resolve negative comments as soon as they arise. [Read related article: Social Media for Business: A Marketer's Guide]
The specific platforms you use will depend on your specific brand and following (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest).
Key takeaway: Create social media accounts on the platforms where your customers are. Respond quickly to questions and concerns that come in from customers through these channels.
8. Grow with your current clients in mind.
If your customers are happy, your business will continue to develop. Shivaraju said not to get too caught up in quick growth, especially if it means giving less attention to clients and jeopardizing your customer service.
"I understand that business owners are always busy, so I always try to work around their schedules," he said. "All new clients get a follow-up visit after the first mailing goes out, as well as another in a few months to see how it's going. As long as [clients] give me a reasonable window of time, I'll always make myself available at a time and place of their choosing. My clients always come first."
Key takeaway: Prioritizing your existing customers over the acquisition of potential customers is a great way to build long-term loyalty.
9. Show your appreciation.
Just as you would with supportive friends and family, make sure your customers know you recognize their importance.
Shivaraju shows his appreciation to two important groups of people: "The first is to my clients. They pay me money, so it's my responsibility to create the best possible ad I can for their business and get them high-quality new leads. The second is to the consumers of my product. I need to have my envelopes filled with quality hyperlocal content, filled with businesses that me and my family are comfortable doing business with so that they get opened and used."
Shivaraju mails out envelopes to his consumers, thanking them for purchasing local goods and services. He also recommended sending holiday cards and discounts to show gratitude.
Key takeaway: Showing customers that you appreciate them can improve their connection to your brand.
10. Survey your customers.
A great way to stay informed about your customers' wants and needs is by sending out surveys. For example, your business can send out occasional customer surveys to elicit customer feedback on what products they like best, what changes should be made to existing products and what products should be added to your line. When your customers feel like they have input on what you are providing, it can help build loyalty.
Additionally, surveying your customers can help improve your overall product or service offering and cater to what your customers want. This can result in higher sales, which means more money in your pocket.
Key takeaway: Use customer surveys to gain customer insight and improve your offerings.
Additional reporting by Skye Schooley. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.