It’s the age of the customer. They’re more empowered now more than ever. And they’re developing exacting standards, partly because of the sheer amount of information and choices available to them through the internet and digital technology. They’re quick to change their minds and bring their business elsewhere if a product or service fails their expectations.
As such, it’s no surprise that by 2020, customer experience will matter even more when it comes to B2B buying decisions, says a Walker Information study on customer experience, and forward-thinking companies with a focus on providing the experience customers value are poised to reap the benefits.
As companies are forced to adapt to this dynamic to survive, one thing remains constant: A great relationship between buyer and seller starts with building trust.
Customers generally won’t buy a product or service if they don’t trust the provider. In fact, a Bain customer loyalty study shows that even long-time customers have little tolerance for poor service, and are more likely to defect to the competitor than those who are unhappy with prices.
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How to build stronger customer relationships
#1. Keep communication lines open.
A Forbes.com article cited Dr. Jon Lund, an expert in relationships and communication, as saying that when someone communicates with another, the way his message is interpreted is based on three things: 55% facial expression and body language, 37% tone of their voice, and 8% based on the words they say.
While most companies say that they value open communication, only a few of them truly walk the talk. Not only should you have open communication, it should also be a healthy one. Reaching out to your customers should be a regular thing, and not only to resolve disputes.
Open communication begins with having a real dialogue. Because every customer is unique, listening to their concerns helps you ask the right questions and determine specifically how you can assist them. Ask your customers how they feel about the products and service you’re providing, which can be done through surveys.
When you put a phone number on your website, make sure it is working. There’s nothing more frustrating for someone in need than a phone line that just keeps on ringing. Indicate the hours when it can be contacted, if it’s not available 24/7.
If there is a dispute, do not wait for the customer to get angry before taking action. Be as responsive as possible even before the situation escalates to that level. Doing so lets your customer know they’re valued.
#2. Nurture existing relationships.
Like any other relationship, a business relationship strengthens with continuous development and nurturing. Not to mention, it can lower operating costs, too.
Bain & Company’s Prescription for Cutting Costs says that while not every customer has the potential to be loyal and profitable, even a measly 5% increase in customer retention increases profit by over 25%. The study also says that, over time, return customers tend to buy more from a company, which causes a decline in operating expenses. Return customers also refer your company to other people and often will pay a premium to continue to do business with you rather than switch to a competitor they’re not familiar or comfortable with.
Building trusting relationships with employees fosters loyalty, too. Taking care of your staff makes them feel valued, and they channel that to clients by nurturing them, too.
#3. Personalize the experience.
Nick Ingelbrecht, Gartner’s Research Director, says that customer experience goes beyond customer satisfaction. The whole point of personalizing the experience is to give your existing customers more reasons to keep coming back to you and to drive word-of-mouth recommendations.
Each buyer is unique. It’s not just about knowing their preferences, but replicating the human-to-human interaction customers enjoy when buying in-store or over the phone. It can be complex if you don’t know what customer data to look for and where to look for it. You can start with looking at their personal shopping records, what they usually shop for, how frequent they purchase a particular item, and how they got to your site in the first place.
Enabling single sign-on using their social media account IDs also help you obtain more accurate customer information like location, educational background, gender, relationship status, age, interests, professional affiliations, and check-ins. When you have quality data in your hands, you can wield it to tailor-fit customer engagements according to their preferences.
Netflix, for example, has its global recommendation system, which uses thousands of different signals to suggest movies and TV shows based on the user’s personal tastes and preferences. Say, a member typically watches anime. What Netflix does is it finds the most relevant community that enjoys watching specific types of anime. It then shows recommendations to the user based on similar shows that others have watched, regardless of where they live.
#4. Offer rewards.
Maintaining a rewards system has become a necessity for businesses to stay competitive. That’s not to say rewards are enough to retain customers. It takes effective research and execution to reap the rewards of customer loyalty programs.
Airlines, hotels, restaurants and retail stores, and even credit cards typically offer discounts and use a points system equivalent to the purchase amount. If you’re in tech and telecommunications, consider giving free service, upgrades, or discounts to your loyal customers. Let the buyers know you’re thinking of them by giving them something as a “thank you” for their purchase. When customers feel valued, they’re likely to spend more.
Customer experience is a huge business differentiator. Therefore, ensure that your customer service initiatives target the issues that are most likely to cause problems, and where your business gets the greatest benefits. Invest in measuring customer satisfaction, work consistently with your staff and customers to deliver better service. Treat your customers well, and they will reward you with more business.