Your business has a lot of assets, but your customer relationships are among the most important.
Strong customer relationships are predictive of a business that not only survives, but thrives. Your satisfied customers have the potential to be your most powerful advocates in the market.
That’s especially true in the B2B world, where decision makers have a huge amount of options, limited time to conduct product research, and a willingness to listen to peers they already trust.
Luckily, the power of inbound marketing gives you a clear pathway to cultivating strong, long-lasting customer relationships. With inbound, you start building trust from the start.
Of course, customer relationships can’t happen by accident.
Even with the best products and services, you need to deliver a consistent customer experience – before the purchase, during implementation, and afterward – to win long-lasting brand loyalty.
What Is Customer Relations?
Customer relations is how your company approaches engaging customers and improving customer experience. As a business, your relationship with your customers is meant to be mutually advantageous, and that includes long after the initial purchase is made.
Providing solutions for both small and large issues aimed toward customer success and satisfaction is the main goal of customer relations.
Tackling customer obstacles and roadblocks should be both reactive and proactive:
- Reactive: addressing issues reported by customers
- Proactive: planning ahead to foster a higher rate of satisfaction and success
When you prioritize your relationships with your customers, you establish a foundation of trust and loyalty that will benefit both you and your customers for a long time.
Customer Service vs. Customer Relations
They may sound as if they serve the same purpose, but there is one defining difference between the two.
While customer service is typically offered in response to a customer raising their hand, relations is both reactionary and works to optimize a business' customer experience to avoid future instances as well.
Customer relations is the proactive, inbound approach to attending to a customer's needs. It encompasses all of the functionality of customer service while also working to improve customer interactions before and after a complaint is made.
Benefits of Strong Customer Relationships
Besides being the best you can be for your customers simply because providing value is the goal, there's plenty of benefits to building strong customer relationships.
You'll Retain More Customers.
The logic here seems pretty simple, right? If you treat your customers right and make them feel appreciated and heard, then they'll stick around.
It's often easier to retain customers than it is to bring in new ones, and that alone has its perks. These are consumers who are already familiar with your brand, service, and are loyal. A loyal, happy customer makes for a great ambassador.
You'll Save Money.
Along the same vein, it's also less expensive to retain an existing customer than it is to attract a new one.
Winning over a new customer can be seven times more costly than getting an existing one to repurchase or performing an upsell. If you're interested in generating a profit, then you'll want to decrease the amount of customer churn you have.
You'll Build Brand Loyalty.
People have a tendency to build a sense of loyalty and respect toward those that they have strong, positive relationships with. If your customers feel that they can trust you to meet their needs and support them, why would they ever feel the need to look somewhere else?
You can even take it a step further by rewarding them for their allegiance with a loyalty program. This reinforces the relationship and keeps them coming to your business routinely for their discounts, coupons, and promotions.
You'll Stand Out From Your Competitors.
Who is more likely to get more clout: the company who only believes in generating revenue and dismissing their customers as soon as they get their money or the brand that has a huge "fan base" of happy customers that sing their praises?
If you're able to build and maintain stronger customer relationships than your competitors, word will get around that you're different from the rest. This can lead to your business drawing in leads and customers from your rivals.
5 Ways to Build Strong Customer Relationships
Ideal customer relationships leave others genuinely excited about what you do. How can you achieve that? If it goes beyond good service, what’s the secret ingredient?
Here’s our systematic, five-step process for the thriving customer relationships you want:
1. Start With a Genuine Interest in Your Audience.
Sales and marketing don’t begin with your customer, exactly. They begin with your defined idea of who your ideal customer is and what your customers expect from you. This is expressed in the form of detailed, written buyer personas.
As your business develops, your buyer personas will change in two key ways:
- Marketers will clarify large-scale trends affecting customers, mainly using data analytics.
- Sales pros will detect looming shifts in customer sentiment through direct conversations.
Only marketers, armed with the right data, can uncover the big picture that influences all of your customers. On the other hand, sales pros have the chance to recognize objections and other changes in individual client thinking that will make a big difference later on.
When you truly care about your customers, their thoughts, and how to make their lives better, you’ll consistently improve. That makes a cumulative difference in every customer touchpoint.
2. Build a Base of Helpful and Informative Content.
Old-fashioned outbound marketing is about grabbing others’ attention, whether they want you to or not. It doesn’t rely on an understanding of prospects and their needs, which means a huge volume of low quality contacts with people who might not even want your product.
Inbound marketing means attracting qualified buyers from the get-go in a responsive, respectful way, starting with providing web content they can use right away. When your content speaks to the problems and burning questions prospects have, it fosters rapport you can trade on.
The first few months of any website’s life should be focused on generating the evergreen content that will be useful to most visitors and rarely go out of date. Once that’s taken care of, you can build out your content library by looking at other use cases and steps in the buyer journey.
3. Close Your Sales With a “Win-Win” Mentality.
If your content, website, and social media are doing their work, qualified leads will go to sales.
When that happens, it’s time to take the inbound mentality a step further and make sure it’s fully reflected in the sales process. That means treating each discovery session as a mutual partnership.
The biggest difference between outbound and inbound sales is that inbound sales techniques aren’t afraid to recognize that not everyone is a potential customer. Outbound sales chase after buyers until they’re exhausted. With inbound sales, your first goal is to learn.
In the context of the discovery session, that means giving prospects plenty of opportunities to share their thoughts and concerns. Open-ended questions and active listening are the order of the day. They give decision makers permission to drop their guard and really work with you.
4. Exceed Expectations During and After the Sale.
Between people, a relationship is a give-and-take that continues even when one party doesn’t “need” anything from the other. Between businesses, the rules for making contact and using time are different, of course, but you should always be thinking about each customer’s best interests.
This could take the form of a sales rep checking in a week or two after implementation, even long after handing off the matter to the tech team. It could mean sending a handwritten note on customer anniversaries. It always means making customer complaints a top priority.
Remember: Taking action to solve a problem in a way that truly satisfies your customer is sometimes even better than never having a problem in the first place.
It shows you’re able to recognize an issue, respond to it professionally, and learn from the experience.
5. Keep Adding Value Long After the First Sale.
How can you continue adding value as a customer crosses the six-month or year mark?
First, make sure your marketing and post-sales plans include clear, structured communication with your existing customers. For many brands, that will take the form of ongoing email campaigns.
Email is a very effective way to keep customer relationships going, but there’s a caveat. It’s vital to segment your lists according to a customer’s purchase history and other activities so they’ll consistently get relevant content. One off-key email could lead to an unsubscribe.
Two important sales activities can continue to cultivate your customers for years to come:
- Upselling focuses on improving or expanding on a product a customer already uses.
- Cross-selling focuses on introducing separate offerings that complement existing ones.
You might think at first that sales activities don’t sound very friendly or helpful. If you make targeted approaches to existing customers based on a deep knowledge of their needs, though, you can make a tremendous difference for them.
What to Do With Strong Relationships
Building these positive connections yields a lot of benefits for both you and the customer, but what can you actually do with it? Are there any actionable takeaways for a business to do on their end?
The answer is yes.
Encourage Customer Reviews.
Reviews are one of your best pillars of support for drawing in prospects who take the time to do research before making a purchase (aka most of them).
It's actually pretty common for customers to leave reviews of their own accord. In an era of social sharing and social proof, user-generated content and online reviews come with the territory. But it never hurts to offer a friendly reminder of how important their feedback is.
Ask For a Referral.
There's always a hope that a customer can somehow evolve into more customers. On paper, that sounds absurd. But with referrals, it's entirely possible.
With a solid referral program and the right incentives, you can request an endorsement from your existing customers that they'd be willing to share with a friend or family member. Because of the power of word of mouth, those they refer are more likely to become customers simply because their friend told them about it.
Learn More About Your Customer Experience.
Any and all data that can be used to improve your business should be seen as valuable.
As customers provide you feedback on their experiences, your products, and their satisfaction, you should turn it into actionable items used to optimize your marketing, sales, and service processes.
Transform negative feedback into improving the customer experience and use positive feedback to refine and reinforce your successful strategies.
Remember: The Inbound Way Puts Customers – And Relationships – First
One step, one sale, one contact at a time, you can forge customer relationships that aren’t just profitable: they’re also meaningful.
It’s those relationships, founded on demonstrated efforts to do the best by customers in their individual situations, that help companies reach their full potential.