When it comes to customers, every businessperson has their favorite. We’re talking about the loyal few – who come back time after time – and do more than just buy your products and services. In addition to spending their money, these customers generate business for you through referrals and reviews in both public and private settings. This happens, not because the customer is being paid, but because they genuinely value the relationship they have with your company. These relationships deliver higher than average customer lifetime value and should be prioritized by everyone within your organization. So how exactly do you develop and nurture these precious relationships?
Here are three easy but significant ways:
1. Identify your most valuable customers
It’s important to remember that “most valuable” does not necessarily mean those paying the most. While valuable customers should always add to your bottom line, there are many ways they can help your business outside of timely payments and frequent purchases. A small bakery that sells a variety of goods — from muffins and pastries to high-end wedding cakes — might provide an ideal example. A loyal customer, who happens to be an event planner, routinely recommends this bakery to all of her clients. She also actively features their baked goods on her social media pages where she posts photos and videos of her catered events.
So, what could this bakery do to reward this outstanding customer? An obvious answer is to offer referral discounts. In the case of the event planner, the bakery could offer a frequent-buyer discount or a corporate account that would allow her to pass savings onto her customers (which in turn helps the event planner offer more competitive prices to her market). The bakery also wins because the event planner gets their products in front of a wider audience providing an exponential return to the business.
2. Humanize the customer experience
Your best customers probably love your business for your people in addition to your products. According to a report by PWC, nearly 80% of American consumers say that speed, convenience, and friendly and knowledgeable customer service, are the most important factors in their company interactions.
In an era that prizes contactless transactions, humanizing the customer experience is more important than ever. But how can you do that when so much of the buying experience is now digital and impersonal?
Since the advent of the pandemic, technology has helped us to personalize the customer experience in important and innovative ways. Businesses of all sizes can use automated customer relationship management (CRM) solutions that leverage insights across the customer journey to unearth meaningful touchpoints. This can help business owners anticipate when to follow up after a purchase, re-establish contact with old customers, and empower employees to provide (and even automate) customer service outreach.
However, it is important to note that even the best-run and most efficient business can sometimes disappoint customers. That’s why it’s important to identify, admit and prioritize making things right after any mistake that impacts a customer. Business owners should give employees leeway to make adjustments, such as instantly replacing or refunding damaged items on the spot without needing a manager’s approval. Or, if an online order contains the wrong items, an employee might not only ship the corrected order free of charge, but also offer free shipping on any future order to re-establish that customer’s goodwill. When things go wrong – and they will – this is how companies can earn a customer’s forgiveness and trust, which can foster stronger relationships over time.
3. Establish trust as the basis of long-term customer relationships
The unprecedented global disruption of the last few years has forever changed the way most people live, and many of their priorities. Customers are facing unique challenges, fueled by inflation and the lingering pandemic. Companies that respond and adapt to the changing needs of their customers don’t just benefit from increased sales and exposure, they also earn greater trust from their customers.
For example, when hand sanitizer shortages became critical in the early stages of the pandemic, many alcohol distilleries rapidly shifted from producing spirits to manufacturing hand sanitizer. Not only did they start producing mass quantities within days, but they also sold them at fair prices, delivered them for free, and prioritized distribution to healthcare facilities and other critical providers. With this small change, these companies not only provided an essential product and service, they brought hope and good news to customers during an extremely challenging time, enhancing perceptions of their brand.
Key takeaway: Create experiences.
In times of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever for customers to feel like they can trust the companies they work with. Many customers are also looking beyond products and services, and searching for companies whose values closely align with their own. Whether you sell food, furniture, or footwear, the quality of the customer experience is as important to your brand as any product you might design or deliver. Embed customer service excellence into your company culture, recognize and elevate those who go above and beyond, and you too can earn outsized rewards and lasting customer relationships.