Without customers, there can be no business – it really is that simple. If you’re not willing to take our word for it, how about the world’s richest man? Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon put it quite eloquently when he said:
“The most important single thing is to focus obsessively on the customer. Our goal is to be earth’s most customer-centric company.”
Let’s be honest – his is a success story we’d all like to emulate.
But what’s often overlooked is the importance of strategic customer relations management for all businesses. Irrespective of the size and nature of the business, customer relations is the linchpin that holds the whole thing together.
What is Customer Relations?
Roughly defined, customer relations refers to the strategic process of cultivating positive and ideally long-term relationships with its customers. Customer relations incorporates a variety of components such as customer service, PR management, reputation management and all aspects of marketing.
In a nutshell, the goal of customer relations is to ensure every customer is delighted with their experience and happy to return. And where possible, bring others along for the ride.
Contrary to popular belief, customer relations and customer service are not the same. The customer service you provide can contribute to a customer relations strategy, but is nonetheless just one contributory element in the wider CR framework.
Why Does Customer Relations Matter So Much?
Even today, there are millions of businesses that continue to focus on attracting one-off clients. Just as long as they make a sale, they really don’t give a damn what happens afterwards. Perhaps, oblivious to the fact that customer relations holds the key to long-term performance and prosperity.
There are three main reasons why customer relations should be taken seriously by businesses at all levels:
- Word of mouth. There’s very little more powerful or influential than word of mouth, with more than 90% of all consumers trusting what they hear directly from friends, family and colleagues. When there’s something good or bad to be said about your business, you’d better believe it will be spread far and wide.
- Customer retention. It’s a statistic that far too many businesses continue to ignore – acquiring new customers costs at least 10X more than retaining existing customers. Not only this, but regular customers also spend on average more than 65% more than first-time customers.
- Positive PR. When you truly nail it with quality customer relations, the world embarks on a positive PR campaign on your behalf. Rather than having to go for the hard sell land convince people to do business with you, the image and reputation you’ve established sells itself.
Anyone can sell products or services like a glorified online vending machine. Nevertheless, not all businesses know how to capitalise on the limitless power and influence of an effective customer relations strategy.
Five Tried and Trusted Tips for Improving Customer Relationships
So it’s obvious how positive customer relations can help your business, but how to put good intentions to action?
Of the thousands of procedural tweaks you could make to the way you run your business, the following five have typically proved most effective of all:
1. Ensure You Have Happy Employees
Whether you have a workforce of 5 or 500, positive PR starts from within. You need to remember that those who operate on the frontline of your business represent everything your brand stands for. They’re all also responsible for delivering that all-important first impression.
Think about it – when did you last encounter a grumpy employee and didn’t instantly make assumptions about his or her employer? When workers are happy, content and passionate about what they do, they naturally inspire the customers they encounter. They paint a positive picture of your business and drive your PR strategy in the right direction.
Richard Branson himself once stated that “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients.” He’s always believed that employees should be prioritised over and above customers – again, a success story we’d all like to emulate.
Ensure your employees are passionate and motivated enough to get the job done properly. And if they’re not, find out why and do something about it.
2. Become Customer-Obsessed
Most businesses would say they have an interest in their target audience. Nevertheless, the key to success lies in obsessing over every single customer across the board. Rather than simply assuming you understand your customers, there’s always something you can do to get to know them at a deeper level.
Customer obsession basically means carrying out the most intensive and extensive research imaginable to learn about your customers’ desires and needs. It means learning how they behave when going about their business, the qualities in which they hold greatest value and what they expect from the brands they do business with.
Think of it this way – even the biggest and most successful businesses in the world still continuously conduct a frantic audience research. There’s not a single major brand that isn’t constantly monitoring national and international markets to gain deeper insights into its customers.
Always remember that just because you’ve got a good grip on your audience’s preferences and objectives today doesn’t mean they’ll carry through to tomorrow.
3. Favour Communication Over Contact
Contacting a customer is easy – you simply reply to their email and job-done. Likewise, providing bog-standard answers to the questions they ask via telephone and online chats isn’t difficult. The problem being that neither of these everyday approaches to customer contact qualifies as engaging communication.
These days, customers expect and demand more intimate connections and relationships with the brands they do business with. The formal and stuffy communication channels of yesteryear have been replaced with far more interactive social platforms, enabling parties on both sides to join the conversation.
The key to successful communication as part of a customer relations strategy lies in proactivity. Rather than expecting your customers to come to you with their questions and concerns, why not take the initiative and reach out to them?
Social networks provide the perfect opportunity to ask questions, invite feedback and generally spark meaningful conversation. You maintain an active presence, you demonstrate you’re always listening and you encourage them to take an interest in you. More importantly, you inspire trust and loyalty.
4. Always Exceed Expectations
There’s no one specific way of exceeding the expectations of every customer. The reason being that customer expectations differ enormously from one market and individual to the next. If the products or services you sell appeal to both 18-year-olds and 68-year-olds, they’re likely to be blown away in very different ways.
The classic strategy of ‘under-promising and over-delivering’ can be effective – just as long as you don’t take the former too far. Don’t make the mistake of underselling your brand, but try to avoid promising too much at the same time.
In any case, exceeding expectations begins with the process of getting to know your customer at the deepest possible level. Once you understand what they expect of you, it’s pretty easy to implement measures to ensure they’re satisfied. After which, you need to consider anything and everything else you can do to exceed expectations.
Not just on a one-off basis, but for every customer with every purchase and/or interaction.
Free gifts, discount vouchers, personal emails simply to say thank you and so on – all great ways of giving the customer more than they expected. Not to mention, all the reason in the world to come back for more.
5. Provide Flawless Customer Service
Last but not least, the general customer service you provide will perhaps play the most important role of all in your wider marketing strategy. These days, it’s impossible to get ahead if you don’t (or can’t) provide the dedicated customer support your clients expect.
Even today, businesses of all sizes continue to underspend on customer support provision, having assumed that simply ticking the basic boxes is enough. It isn’t. It’s worth remembering that over 70% of customers will immediately and permanently take their business elsewhere, if they’re even slightly dissatisfied with the support provided.
And let’s not forget the potential power and influence of word of mouth. It’s no secret that a dissatisfied customer is exponentially more likely to spread the word than a happy customer. Even if your products and services in general are outstanding, the slightest customer support discrepancy could be all that’s remembered.
Long story short – there’s no such thing as overinvesting in quality customer service.