Treating Customers Like Friends

“Loyalty” is a word that is synonymous with the concept of relationship building in the business world.

When we think of the word, “loyalty,” we think of things such as friendship, trust, or sticking to something no matter what. But what does loyalty mean in a business sense? Usually, we think of concepts such as “keeping the customer happy” or “retaining customers,” right? And while all of these things are valid, it is less likely that we take the former concepts and add it to the latter.

So how do we keep our customers happy? Well, the easiest way is to treat them like friends. At this point, you’re probably thinking this doesn’t make a lot of sense, but let’s unpack it a little bit. Think about how you, yourself have made friends in the past. You start with an introduction, a little small talk, then gradually, through open communication, you learn more and more about them, and you find it easier to ask for advice and take feedback from them. And, realistically, this is how you should treat your customers and build relationships with them.

It seems intuitive that we would introduce ourselves and make small talk with new customers, but converting them into loyal customers takes a bit of work and a lot of communication, just like any meaningful friendship. In the age of automation, the communication bit becomes harder and harder, but also becomes more and more valuable, so it is important that you make it easier for customers to reach you. Have you ever heard of anyone who actually enjoyed those telephone menus? Probably not, so be sure to make direct lines of communication with you and respond to e-mail, phone, and social media messages promptly. If you can’t, be sure your customers know why. This can be done with automatic responses during busy times, or explaining the cause of a delayed response.

Now, another key part of open communication and relationship building is to personalize interactions as much as possible. For example, in one of my lines of work, I am the direct contact to schedule services for our customers. So if I have just gotten off the phone with a customer and then need to send them an e-mail confirmation, I always open by saying something like “It was nice speaking to you on the phone earlier” or “I am glad we were able to find a solution...” This way, the customer doesn’t feel like just another customer because you’re sending the same standard information all other customers receive. And, as you get to know the customer a bit better, you can refer to other topics you had discussed before. Things such as their child’s birthday or empathizing with their current needs work just fine.

The last part of this communication piece is to listen and act. If a customer is unhappy with a product or service, don’t be afraid to ask why. Their feedback will not only help you improve your business, but also may attract new customers, too! Of course, you’ll have to make sure you act on the feedback if it’s feasible to gain a good reaction from your customers. On the flip side, it’s also important for you to proactively ask customers how you’re doing. By doing so, you’ll be able to get feedback from customers that wouldn’t normally provide feedback, and it’s a great way to show you care and your customers can trust you.

Going Above and Beyond

Even though communication is one of the most important parts of building those relationships and gaining loyal customers, there are other things you can do to keep your customers happy. One of those things is trying to go above and beyond for your customers. This could be things such as providing trial periods or warranties for your products, or customizing services according to your customers’ needs. However, keep in mind the concept of friendship and understand that it is a give-and-take relationship. By no means should you use up all your resources to accommodate a single customer. But you knew that already, right?

Rewards are another great way to build a loyal customer base, as well and we see it in almost all business models. Think about how many stamp cards you have, or how many stores provide you with a free gift or service on your birthday. Rewards are a great way to keep customers thinking about your company and give them a reason to do business with you in the future. The other great thing about rewards is it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg to provide!

At the end of the day, customers know their value and the power they have as consumers. This is why treating customers as friends is a concept that should be at the forefront of our businesses. Also, recognizing the power of word-of-mouth can help motivate us to maintain a high reputation within our industries. One bad review can cost a company billions of dollars; remember when that airline broke that guy’s guitar? So if you keep open communication, personalized interactions, services, and/or products, as well as be open to feedback and provide rewards, you’ll be on the right path to keeping your customers happy and ensuring they come back time and time again.

Joy Marlinga is the Operations coordinator for Oculus Training, a British Columbia-based corporate training and mystery shopping company offering sales management, reservations, sensitivity, and customer service training programs for a variety of service-based industries throughout Canada, the U.S., and the world. For more information, call 888.OCULUS4 or visit www.oculustraining.com. You also can connect with Oculus on Twitter @oculustraining, via e-mail at peoplecare@oculustraining.com or visit it on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube.

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