Now, more than ever, customers have a wealth of information and options at their fingertips. Gone are the days where businesses can simply take out an ad in a magazine and call it a day. People expect more from the brands they do business with. They want to feel valued, and rightfully so. With so many companies and entrepreneurs competing for the same dollars, it is monumentally important that you make meaningful connections with your customers, and nurture that relationship.
This is where relationship marketing comes in. Unlike other forms of marketing, this relies heavily on a long term, emotional kinship with your customers. This is not about eyeballs on a webpage, or bodies in a sales space. This is about customer retention, organic, word of mouth marketing, and tremendous repeat business. We will outline an overview of what relationship marketing can mean for you and your customers, and give you some tips to start implementing these practices today.
What Makes Relationship Marketing So Different?
Classically, marketing meant attracting new customers, and leading them towards transactions. End of story. There was little weight placed on repeat business or even the overall customer experience, just so long as they made purchases. Certainly, purchases are still a very desirable end result, but doesn’t it seem like a wasted opportunity to let that paying customer walk out the door forever? What would be more valuable – 10 customers who purchase one tee shirt each, or 5 customers who return every season to update the tee shirts they purchased last time? There are ways to encourage the latter type of behavior, and it doesn’t have to be difficult.
Customer service always has been, and always will be a cornerstone of any successful business. When your customers deal with you, the only thing on their mind should be “I am happy to be doing business here”. Whether that manifests as someone joyfully awaiting a mail order delivery, or walking away after voicing a problem, and feeling respected and cared for all depends on the situation. The point is to always look at each transaction as an opportunity for repeat business.
I can give you a quick example. About a year ago, the local grocery store suddenly replaced their traditional plastic bags with a thinner, flimsier version of the same. They ripped, they split, they spilled cans of soup all over the place. It was obvious to anyone shopping there that this was some kind of money saving measure that had been foisted off on the customers. It was a tacit but clear message: “You don’t deserve our consideration”. Within two months, they course corrected. There were signs up in every checkout lane saying “You asked, we listened. The good bags are back!” I share this example to illustrate that sometimes what you don’t do for your customers can be every bit as impactful as what you do for them, but that customers are forgiving, if you show them you care.
What Sort of Content Should I Offer?
Imagine that you are walking through a shopping mall. On your way, you pass by several establishments. The first is a kiosk where a pushy sales person tries to coerce you into a conversation you don’t want to have. The second is a store advertising 50% off of some vague item not clearly labeled or displayed. The third is a relaxing looking store offering no-pressure samples and has lots of engaging signage explaining where their products come from, and why they think that’s important for you to know. Which store is more interesting to you?
With a few exceptions, customers are going to gravitate towards the third option, because it appears to be the only one treating them like adults. Every customer has been sold, sold, sold to all their lives, and the practice has become meaningless, if not outright annoying. The company which takes the opportunity to invite customers in, and then immediately lets them see behind the curtain is a new, refreshing and genuine approach. People remember an experience like that.
If customers feel confident that help is easily accessible, plainly spoken, and not behind a five minute phone menu, they feel validated. Freely share information and resources whenever you can. This can come in the form of the aforementioned samples, blog posts, instructional videos, or whatever else might benefit your clients. If this material is motivational, enjoyable, understandable and (this is important) functional, it can absolutely be considered effective marketing.
How Should I Communicate With My Customers?
So you are pretty sure you have the concept of relationship marketing down cold now, but how should you begin the conversation with your customers? Consider starting with email. There is a reason so many businesses and websites ask for email addresses. It’s because it is still a very effective means of engaging with a customer. A well designed email can have everything from links to helpful information, to feel-good messages from the company, to discount codes, to upcoming events can all be displayed. Email communication goes directly to the established customer, and it is distraction free.
Another way to stay in touch is social media. Whatever you do with your business, do not write off the importance of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instargram, etc. These can act as a powerful solution to the age old problem of retaining repeat customers. While social media should absolutely be an extension of your professional brand, this is one situation where you can afford to get a little informal and jovial. A funny or especially moving tweet from your company might be re-tweeted thousands of times, and that leads to more followers. Followers mean opportunities for committed customers. Meanwhile, the followers you already had feel justified. “These guys have really funny/helpful/thoughtful tweets. I knew I followed them for a reason.”
Respond to comments as often as you can. This helps your customers feel like they are being listened to. You do not have to engage deeply, or answer questions you don’t feel comfortable with. A simple acknowledgement of their comment can go a very long way.
How Can I Increase Customer Loyalty?
You can start a loyalty program. It’s right there in the name. These can sometimes be a little troublesome to implement, and there may be some growing pains when you first begin, but if they are executed properly, the rewards can be massive. Think about your brand or product, and consider which type of loyalty program might be right for you.
For instance, a jewelry store aimed primarily at teens might have a program running involving Instagram. Every time a customer posts a picture of themselves outside a store location with the name visible in the shot, they earn points toward free merchandise. Now certainly, that program would not work at all if you were running a hardware store, and 90% of your customers are contractors. For them, you could consider something as simple as dollars spent = quarterly gift cards. Free stuff works well, no matter who you are marketing to, but the program you build around it has to be the right fit for the customer.
Choosing to get started with relationship marketing is easy and so beneficial. You could begin building these important relationships today. If you are interested in more information on marketing strategy, check out these Udemy.com courses: