In 2003, Zappos was a small 90-person company short on cash and struggling with hard fought growth. Today, this same business houses over 1,800 employees and generates over a billion dollars in merchandise sales, becoming one of the premier ecommerce businesses of the day. But how? How did this simple online shoe store happen to fetch a $1.2 billion price tag from mega-giant Amazon and reach super star status within the business world? Simply put, it did so by focusing on how to build customer relationships and by, most importantly, putting the customer back into the heart of everything they do. Customer service has for a long time taken a back seat in many businesses. However, to reference John Pine and James Gilmore, we are in the brink of an experiential economy, an environment in which customers are now demanding more than simply goods or services but also craving experiences and relationships. Consumers are no longer passive subjects but rather active participants. In such an environment, as Jeneanne Rae predicts, winners will be determined not solely based on products, but by which business can best incorporate valuable customer experiences and best nurture long-term relationships with their customers. Today, more tools stand available than we ever thought possible, but “no amount of technologycan really improve the situation as long as companies are set up to market products rather than cultivate customers.” Thus, to help you, here are 5 proven ways in which you can creatively build customer relationships and in turn build greater loyalty for your small business.
How to Creatively Build Customer Relationships
WOW Through Service
You might have heard stories of Zappos habitually upgrading customers to free overnight shipping, attaching little notes inside packages or even sending flowers to unexpecting customers (particularly in one case where the call rep learned that a customer had forgotten to send back a pair of shoes she planned to return, due to a death in the family). These little personalized touches have helped create extremely loyal customers for the company. Going over and beyond the call of duty has the potential to create a lasting impact in the mind of the consumer. Just think of the last time someone did something nice for you when you didn’t expect it. Chances are it made you feel pretty darn good. Treating customers as people you care about and appreciate is one of the best ways to build customer relationships. How better to show they care than by giving you their business?
Treat Customer Service as a Profitability Center
In terms of CRM, Zappos has truly hit the nail on the head when it comes to using every interaction as an opportunity to build a relationship. As their CEO, Tony Hsieh, explains, “We receive thousands of phone calls and e-mails every day, and we view each one as an opportunity to build the Zappos brand into being about the very best customer service. Our philosophy has been that most of the money we might ordinarily have spent on advertising should be invested in customer service, so that our customers will do the marketing for us through word of mouth.” As such, their call center reps don’t use scripts; they never try to upsell and they are encouraged to let their true personalities come through in every single phone call. In this way, they have transformed a call center, a place that most customers dread interacting with, into a branding arena—a place that they can build positive personal relationships with every individual customer. Most importantly though, you can do these things as well, even without a hefty Zappos-sized budget. By simply treating every interaction you have with your customer—whether it’s in person, through email, or over the phone— as a way to further build customer relationships, you can enhance brand loyalty and even create a memorable experience. Be friendly, go beyond the call of duty, act genuine and maintain all of your promises. If you treat customer service as a place to generate long term profits, rather than simply another expense, you will be rewarded in turn. Remember, one of the most powerful forms of marketing is word of mouth, and if you truly create the positive experiences that customers crave, they will reward you with just that. They will become walking advertisements that continually introduce people to your brand.
Deal with Dissatisfaction
To build lasting relationships requires building lasting conversations. It requires creating memories that last and interactions that stamp themselves on the client’s brain. To ensure positive customer experiences (and build those customer relationships), you have to be willing to continue a conversation way after the initial transaction. A sale is not, as we would say, a goodbye, but rather a hello. It is the start of a budding romance that must be consistently nurtured and that involves dealing with uncomfortable situations. While obviously no business likes admitting fault or having to deal with a poor situation, it has been shown that rectifying a mistake quickly and professionally can actually have a greater impact on building customer loyalty, according to McKinsey’s 2010 loyalty report. Going to great lengths to personally fix a problem for a customer is a stellar way to build customer relationships.
Sometimes knowing your customers’ needs, even before they do, has the potential to creatively build customer relationships. As the Wall Street Journal reports, consumers who buy diapers at Tesco stores are also given coupons for not only baby wipes, but also beer, after seeing that new fathers tend to spend more on alcohol due to being able to spend less time at the bar. While you probably don’t have access to hoards of analytical data to track every detail of each customer’s buying habits, simply working to understand your individual customers can be a powerful tool to personalize services. By realizing what a particular customer liked or didn’t like during their last experience will enable you to cater future experiences accordingly. It also never hurts to ask, to find out first hand what you can do to help their entire experience. Simply working to know your customers and predict their evolving needs can have huge payoffs in the long run and help build customer relationships.
Make Their Issues Your Issues
While being charitable is always a good thing, it can also be a good tool to build customer relationships and enhance loyalty. By utilizing Michael Porter’s concept of “Shared Value” you can emotively bind consumer to your brand through attaching to pressing social issues of the day. As a McKinsey Study has found, in all industries, except banking, emotive customers “award a higher share of the wallet and spend more than deliberatives.” Emotion is needed in any relationship, including the one you have with your customers. So go ahead, spark the fire, add some emotion and start on the path to insanely loyal customers.
This post was written by Arie Hefter.