7 Ways to Make Customer Relationships a Powerful Marketing Tool

One recent industry survey showed that nine out of 10 people prefer to rely on the opinions of friends and family when evaluating companies and products. But almost half of consumers surveyed indicated far less trust in traditional advertising methods. Studies of the levels of public trust in various institutions have revealed that people tend to trust businesses, thought leaders, and people in their social and professional circles more than they do governments and the media. And yet another recent study found that more than two-thirds of business-to-consumer companies put significant efforts into turning their customers into spokespeople.

All of this translates into the fact that entrepreneurs seeking to build their business need to value customers as a strategic marketing tool. Here are just a few ways in which building strong relationships with customers can increase a company’s profitability and long-term success:

1. Put customer service first.

Experts recommend providing stellar customer service as the quickest and easiest way to build strong bonds with customers. When customers like your company, they seldom need encouragement to tell their friends.

Image courtesy Social TradersFlickr

Every staff member who interacts with the public should be trained to empathize with customers and to listen, communicate, and problem solve. Simple best practices such as answering the phone promptly and courteously and making sure that every interaction is focused on the needs of the customer can go far toward showing your customers their importance to you. Teach staff to under-promise but over-perform. It is wise to use an electronic means of keeping track of customer interactions from start to finish, so your employees won’t have to request that the customer repeat the same question ad nauseam.

When speaking with customers, an employee’s automatic response should never be, “No, we can’t do that,” but rather, “Let’s figure out how we can help you.” When companies provide rich experiences for their customers and make sure customers know their opinions and input are valuable, they are well on the way to creating a loyal base of customers.

Even if your company’s primary contact with customers is through online retailing, make sure to include individualized touches, which show them they are valued. Customers who spend a large volume of cash with your company can receive more expensive gestures of appreciation, but most customers will appreciate a personalized note included in a package, or even a sincere “thank you” e-mail.

2. Build trust and credibility.

As an entrepreneur with an emerging business, trust may be your most valuable resource. Experts say companies that admit an error or oversight and do everything in their power to make it right can actually increase the trust their customers have in them.

3. Offer valuable content.

Give your customers plenty of usable and meaningful content. Make sure to maintain a strong social media presence on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Remember that meaningful content isn’t necessarily directly tied to your particular product. In fact, many experts advise that it shouldn’t be. For example, an automotive manufacturer could post interesting and informative articles about car safety, tips on taking a summer vacation by car, or the basics of how to maintain a vehicle in optimum working condition. These kinds of pieces make readily shareable content on social media and can therefore draw increased attention to your company.

4. Maintain contact with your customers.

Make sure to connect with your customers on an appropriate basis. Don’t ask your staff to spam inboxes, but you can choose to send a regularly published newsletter via e-mail or create other meaningful ways to remind your customers that you are there for them. It is also important to retain your customers’ trust by respecting their opt-out preferences.

Image courtesy Royce BairFlickr

5. Encourage participation.

Engage your customers through social media by offering games and other participatory opportunities. You may want to hold a contest to name a new product, or ask customers to post pictures and videos of themselves using and enjoying your product. With their permission, you can then use these images and testimonials in your marketing efforts. The customers whose opinions you repost and share are also likely to share their newfound fame through their own social media platforms.

6. Find out who your champions are.

Use social media metrics to discover who your most loyal customers are, and ask them explicitly to help you celebrate your company’s achievements. Share recent positive press about your company with these users and ask them to repost that content.

By drawing your customers into your successes in this way, you make them a part of your corporate family. And don’t only post content that requests a response; also work to engage your customers in repeated positive social media interactions with your company.

You can even ask frequent customers if they would agree to participate in business case studies involving your products or services. Seeing their opinions broadcast in the media can make them feel an enhanced connection to your company along with an increased desire to discuss its positive role in making their lives better.

7. Study the data.

Your company doesn’t have to be Amazon or Apple in order to understand what your customers want. Use the best tools at your disposal to measure the popularity of your products, as well as your customers’ responses and the needs they express.

Some experts say that the best tool for accomplishing this is to conduct short interviews of half an hour or less with regular customers. Ask them how they use your products, how they interact with your company, and how your products work — or don’t work — for them in real time. This may be the most valuable data you can ever assemble. Companies that skip this important step are missing out on an opportunity to understand how their market thinks, by listening directly to that market.