Building Customer Relationships (6 tactics)

Building customer relationships is one of the nine customer retention strategies you can use to improve customer service and reduce customer churn.

Sam Walton, founder of Walmart was famously quoted as saying,

“The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but LEGENDARY.” – Sam Walton

Those words couldn’t be closer to the truth in today’s competitive business world and it is now more important than ever to build customer relationships that add-value to the overall customer experience.

A study by White House Office of Consumer Affairs found that 80% of U.S. consumers say they would pay more to ensure a superior customer experience.

Unfortunately for most businesses, they are making lots of customer retention mistakes. They don’t know how to create a customer experience that improves customer service and increases satisfaction.

In fact, in our 2013 Customer Satisfaction Industry Report that surveyed over 200+ IT Companies, Client Heartbeat found that one in six clients were ‘at risk’ of leaving or cancelling their contracts.

One of the fastest ways to improve customer service and reduce customer churn is through building customer relationships that are strong and ‘sticky’.

Related: 11 Customer Retention Tactics with Real-World Examples

Here are six tactics to assist you in building customer relationships:


1. Communicate like a human-being

Sometimes, when I’m speaking to a glassy-eyed, toneless customer service representative, I can’t believe the Japanese have finally succeeded at making robots look so human.

What’s funny is many businesses make the mistake of training employees to memorize greetings, sales pitches and apologies, when all customers really want to do is communicate with you. When speaking with your customers, try to get face-to-face, make sure you use their names, make jokes and be polite but conversational. Avoid looking like a zombie and actually empathize and emote with customers.

When using multiple communication channels, make sure the channels are organized and reliable.  A study by Aspect Software found 77% of US consumers believe companies that offer multiple channels as part of their customer service are easier to do business with and 74% say they provide better service. So what are you waiting for?

Every interaction with a customer is a great opportunity to focus on building customer relationships.

Think about it from your own personal experiences for a second.

When you start engaging with a company more than 10 times, you naturally start building a loyal relationship with them.

It’s like anything in life. You build connections with people you spend a lot of time around, whether that is your friends, work buddies or family.

Same applies when building customer relationships, it takes multiple interactions.

Always make communication as seamless as possible, acknowledging, acting on and following up feedback where necessary. Today’s customers are no longer passive and they want to be listened to. Exceptional communication will improve customer service and give you that point of difference from your competitors.

When it comes to using a human element to build customer relationships, Jason W. Roulston from Just Digital People knows exactly how to do it the right way. He does a really good job at communicating with his customers and relationships on a personal level via his Web Recruiter Blog, Twitter and Facebook.

I asked him for some thoughts on the topic.

2. Learn about your customer

Building customer relationships is much like building rapport as a salesperson.  Just like a good salesperson, you need to know your customer. You must remember the client’s name, their needs and wants, what kind of dog they own and so forth.

The key to learning about your customer is to continue the conversation after the transaction. After the sale, do a little research on them. Connect on LinkedIn, find commonalities within your industries, connections, job roles and more. Start thinking about ways you can add value to them, whether that be through referrals, forwarding blog posts or offering training sessions.

In today’s world the easiest way to differentiate your business is by the customer experience you deliver, not the products you sell. Continuously learning about your customer every time you meet will extend your customer relationship beyond ‘hi, how is your dog’, and will go a long way to improving customer service.


3. Live for customer complaints

Negative feedback and customer complaints give you the opportunity to hear what your customers really think about your service. Complaints help you improve your service, give you a chance to redeem yourself and, keep potentially toxic reviews from hitting social media.

That’s provided your know how to handle and monitor customer complaints.

I actually like to look at customer complaints in a positive sense. You want customers letting you know that you stuffed up. The last thing any business owner wants is a customer keeping all their problems inside, telling a bunch of people and generally being a nuisance.

You want the opportunity to fix your customers’ problems. If they want to share their painful experience with you, it’s your job to listen respectfully and pick out what you need to know about the issue, and fix it quickly.

According to Eastbridge Consulting Group, 70% of complaining customers will do business with you again if you resolve the complaint in their favor. When rectifying the situation, offer a heartfelt apology, thank the customer for bringing the issue to your attention, and promise only as much as you can deliver.

Be realistic about the solution to avoid disappointing your customer again, and then work quickly to repair the problem. Building customer relationships is a two-way street, and working through the problem areas together will make your bond stronger than it was before the complaint began.

See also: How to set and meet customer expectations


4. Stay in regular contact with customers

The key to building customer relationships is to keep your eye on the ball. Every interaction with a customer should be treated as an opportunity to monitor and build that relationship.

I tell all my employees to treat every customer engagement as if you are going to ask for a referral afterwards. It puts customer service in perspective and goes a long way to delivering a superior service. – Gordon Tan, Director at  Client Heartbeat, R&G Technologies

By keeping in regular contact, you can track customer sentiments towards your business, and rectify problem areas identified through your regular communication. It’s a frustrating truth that 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain when they’re unhappy, and 91% will simply leave and never return.

Tracking customer satisfaction can be hard, try using Client Heartbeat. It is a simple customer feedback tool that surveys your customers, measures satisfaction and identifies customers that need immediate attention.

Here are some ways you can stay in regular contact with customers:

  • Follow up with customers after meetings by phone, email, or even social media
  • Send customers friendly reminders to show that you are
  • Forward through blog posts and videos that would be valuable to your customers
  • Send customers a monthly email to keep them up to date with what’s going on at your company. Include product news, company news and links to interesting content


5. Build trust with customers

Whether you have a committed, rewarding relationship with your wife, girlfriend, dog or hamster, by now you’ve had loads of practice at building trust. A customer’s trust and commitment is built in the same manner.

Commitment is as an essential ingredient for successful long-term relationships. Developing a customer’s commitment in business relationships does pay off in increased profits, customer retention, willingness to refer and recommend. Relationship marketing literature suggests customer satisfaction and trust as major determinants of commitment.
The Impact of Satisfaction, Trust, and Relationship Value on Commitment

Here are three  tips to build trust in your customer relationships:

  • Show compassion in your actions affecting the relationship
  • Be honest, credible and keep your integrity (if you say something, make sure you do it, on time!)
  • Show you have the competence to act for the mutual benefit of your relationship

It’s essential to exhibit these characteristics, because trust diminishes the perceived risk and vulnerability in a partnership, leading to increased customer satisfaction and reduced churn. If you don’t act in your customer’s best interests, lie to hide your flaws and make heaps of dumb mistakes, your customer will realize you can’t be trusted, and abandon your business relationship.


6. Practice inbound marketing

Traditional ‘Outbound Marketing’ has focused on going to where customers live and interrupting their day to show them your products and services (i.e. TV ads, blanket emails).  When you practice Inbound Marketing, customers come to you. It’s commonly known as ‘pull-marketing’ as opposed to ‘push-marketing’ and is a great tactic to help with building customer relationships.

This can be achieved by creating really valuable content that solves your customers real-world problems. Use mediums like blog posts, videos, eBooks and whitepapers. Share your content on the web through social media and by engaging in relevant online communities. Inbound marketing costs 62% less per lead than outbound marketing and is a generally considered a lead generation tool. I believe it can actually help you build stronger customer relationships. It keeps the conversation going by feeding customers useful content.


Building customer relationships improves customer service

Can you afford to lose a customer due to poor customer relationships?

By focusing on these six tactics, you can start building strong  relationships with your customers that extend beyond the bare product or service. You can improve customer service that builds ‘sticky’ customer loyalty and reduces customer churn.

Other recommended reading:

Gordon Tan

Gordon Tan is an entrepreneur based in Australia who has started and sold multiple technology companies with a combined value of $150m. This included a client satisfaction benchmarking platform which gave him first hand insight into the best practices of over 6,000 businesses. After retiring at 35 he is now a recognised thought leader on winning and retaining clients - His two passions: making clients the heartbeat of a business no matter what the product or service and this blog.

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