Businesses often struggle with building or maintaining customer satisfaction and loyalty. Whether it’s building the confidence of a new customer, establishing a better rapport with existing customers, or resolving complaints of those who have had negative experiences, few things are as important for any business than how their clientele perceives them. This guide can help your business improve customer relations and ensure your entire team effectively communicates with the customers that keep your business profitable.
Customer communication is important because brands with a positive reputation benefit from repeat business and word-of-mouth advertising. The way your team communicates with customers can make them feel valued and leave them with a positive recollection of their experience. Alternatively, it can make them feel ignored and disgruntled, guaranteeing they will take their future business to your competitors (and likely spread the word about their negative feelings, too).
When thinking about customer communication, it’s important to bear in mind that consumer-brand relationships are similar to those between friends. If you explain to your friend that their recent behavior has disappointed you and they respond in a curt, uncaring manner, your relationship will suffer. However, if your friend earnestly hears you out, resolves the issue and changes their behavior moving forward, you’re likely to respect them all the more for it.
The same is true for brands and the way they engage with customers. Everything matters, whether it’s the tone of voice on a customer support call to the consistency of marketing messages across platforms. Customers should feel like they’re getting to know a brand, and that the business values them. Every relationship is a two-way street.
Brand and customers have relationships that feel personal, so it’s important to nurture them in the same way you would a friendship. Making your customers feel valued and considered is the first step toward establishing brand loyalty.
Sometimes, brands need to repair their relationships. This may stem from long-term difficulties in communicating with customers. Luckily, even brands that haven’t always done the best job at customer engagement can improve the way they communicate with their audience.
We spoke with Peter Muhlmann, founder and CEO of Trustpilot, who offered four ways to improve consumer communication. Implement these tactics to achieve a better relationship with your customers.
While you might be tempted to ignore rude comments or nasty reviews, doing so only harms your reputation. Don’t avoid the problem; approach it with genuine concern and an open mind.
“Consumers are people and want to be treated as such,” Muhlmann said. “Answer their questions and resolve their issues as if you were trying to help out your mom. Be personable, and take a genuine interest in their concerns.”
According to a study from Zendesk on customer experience trends, 74 percent of customers say they are willing to forgive a company’s mistake after receiving outstanding customer service to resolve the problem. That means retaining customers is worth a few minutes of your time. You can learn a lot about top-tier customer service from luxury brands, which have perfected the art of catering to an exacting clientele.
Sometimes answering comments and concerns isn’t enough. Do your best to respond within 24 hours, proving to the customer that their concerns are important to you. The best way to show your customers that you care is to set up a system that focuses solely on customer service.
“If you’re taking a proactive approach, you’re already halfway there,” Muhlmann said. “The key to staying on top of customer reviews is to actively seek them out and have a strategy and process in place ahead of time. Like many crucial business operations, preparation and planning go a long way.”
Outsourcing customer service to a top call center or a virtual answering service is one way to ensure that customer concerns are addressed as quickly as possible.
Use social media platforms to facilitate a dialogue between you and your customers. For example, on Twitter, ensure consumers can tweet their concerns to you and receive a reply in the same thread. Facebook Messenger offers a personalized way to discuss questions or concerns. A Facebook Live Q&A is another way to effectively engage your customers in a dialogue that makes them feel heard.
“Social media and third-party online review platforms provide the perfect space for open and consistent two-way communication between companies and their customers,” Muhlmann said.
Additionally, this communication method creates valuable data sets to help you reach consumers in the future. As Muhlmann said, “Keyword tagging and natural language processing tools can help you spot trends and patterns in consumer behavior, all of which can help you improve and grow your business.”
Merely having an online presence is not enough. To retain followers and customer engagement on social media platforms, use those platforms strategically. Follow the 5:3:2 rule for posting on social media to get the most out of your online presence.
If you encourage open communication on online platforms, approach public concerns and reviews the same way you would private emails and phone calls. One bad comment can blow up, spreading the word that your business is unprofessional.
“You want to be sure that your brand is responding from a place of empathy as well as showing the brand’s ability to admit fault by issuing an apology when appropriate,” Muhlmann said. “Nobody is perfect, after all, and that includes businesses — even some of the most successful ones across the globe. If you made a mistake, that’s OK. Take responsibility, and propose a solution.”
Over the past decade, new channels for communicating with customers have arisen. In addition to in-person and phone interactions, most brands also connect with customers via social media, text message marketing, web-based live chat, email marketing and even direct mail.
While these channels encourage more open communication with customers, they also present the challenge of managing multiple communication channels. If used correctly, however, these platforms can improve customer communication.
One key to successful communication is setting expectations for response times. For example, if you have a phone number, provide the hours of operation for that number, and make sure someone can answer the phone during those hours. If you use email, send an automated response letting your customers know when to expect a response. If you say you’ll respond within 24 hours, do so. The initial response lets customers know you received the message and sets expectations. You must deliver on those expectations or risk losing a customer.
In addition, allow customers to provide feedback, and be responsive to it. Even if they complain about something you cannot (or are unwilling to) fix, let your customers know you care. Third-party online review platforms provide a great way for your customers to give you feedback, and many allow you to address their concerns.
Too much pride and an inability to admit your faults are surefire ways to turn off consumers. However, acknowledging and solving issues on a public platform shows your audience that you are sincere and willing to work with your customers.
Managing numerous social media channels can be a challenge. Social media monitoring tools can help you keep up with your customers and respond to them faster.
As trust in business declines, improving customer communication is crucial to your business’s success. Rather than brushing customer complaints aside or sweeping your mistakes under the rug, confront them head-on with a constructive attitude.
Respond to unhappy customers and make sure they feel heard. Offer tangible solutions wherever possible so that customers feel assured that you are taking action to address their concerns.
When you respond to customers, do so promptly. If you cannot respond quickly to customers within your organization, choose a customer service call center or virtual answering service to do it for you. Ensure that you have a two-way communication channel to engage in dialogue with your customers.
Social media channels present a great opportunity to do this while gathering valuable data about customers that may help you communicate with them. If you are present on online platforms, use them to address customer complaints and concerns online, be willing to admit your faults publicly, and offer solutions.
Put yourself in the customer’s position to respond from a place of empathy. If you implement these practices, your business can improve customer communication, trust and retention.
The way you and your team communicate with customers and respond to their needs determines whether or not your customers will be satisfied. If you consistently provide a satisfying customer experience, you’ll build brand loyalty and repeat business. It is crucial your entire organization understands how to speak with customers, whether on a sales call or while dealing with complaints. Train your employees to provide a first-class customer experience and it will pay off in spades.
Tejas Vemparala contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.