Your customers are looking for a relationship. But they’re not on Tinder or Bumble or eHarmony scoping out potential beaus. They’re looking to build these relationships with brands and businesses.

A recent Gartner report (available to clients) says that one of the five distinguishing factors of the next generation customer is the need for a reciprocal relationship. For the customer, this means regular engagement, being heard, and dealing with organizations that support the causes they care about.

Businesses that don’t put in the effort to build customer relationships struggle to maintain customers. According to a survey from Wantedness, 79 percent of customers in the United States will consider only brands that show interest and understanding in them.

Recruiting new customers is five times as expensive as retaining current ones. Businesses need to invest more time in building relationships with existing customers to avoid the excessive cost of customer churn.

I’ll go through 5 ways to help build relationships with existing customers, including:


 

Build a rewards programs

There’s a reason rewards programs are often referred to as “loyalty” programs: They encourage customers to come back. According to a 2017 collaborative report between Bond Brand Loyalty and Visa, 81 percent of consumers say that loyalty programs make them more likely to do repeat business with a brand.

Beauty brand Sephora is doing rewards the right way. With its Beauty Insiders Card, customers earn points for every dollar spent that can be redeemed for products during checkout. Other benefits include birthday gifts, free samples, beauty classes, and exclusive events.

Sephora Beauty Insider Rewards

Sephora’s tiered benefits for it’s Beauty Insider rewards campaign (Source)


 
Using a tiered system, customers get more rewards depending on how much they spend annually in stores. Spending over $350 earns customers 1.25 points for every dollar spent, while spending over $1000 is 1.5 points and free 2-day shipping.

 WHY IT WORKS: 

What Sephora does particularly well is aligning its rewards program with its brand image. As a brand that positions itself as prestigious and exclusive, its rewards aim to make customers feel as if they’re in on something special by participating in the program. Events, product rewards, and beauty classes all align with that feeling of exclusivity and passion about the brand.

 DO IT YOURSELF: 

Don’t settle for discount codes or coupons. Develop your loyalty program to include rewards that can extend your brand’s value and positioning so that customers have the same passion about collecting rewards as they do about your brand.

Reuse customer content

Who doesn’t want their 15 seconds of fame? The age of shameless selfies and social influencers proves that just about everyone and their dogs (I’ll get to that in a minute) will jump at the chance for a little bit of notoriety.

Using user-generated content (or UGC) is one way to stroke that ego. It helps build trust and customer relationships by taking advantage of content already being produced by your customers. One study by Offerpop shows that websites that use UGC see a 20 percent increase in repeat visitors.

Georgia’s official tourism website, called Explore Georgia, tapped into people’s love of dogs in a UGC campaign to help drive traffic to its website. Wanting to target a previously untapped millennial demographic, Explore Georgia encouraged people to share photos of their pups traveling around Georgia on Instagram with the hashtag #exploregeorgiapup.

The aim was to showcase Georgia as a pet-friendly state for people (especially millennials) that travel with their pets. It created pet-friendly city guides as well as distributing frisbee-shaped brochures and plastic water bowls in the state’s visitor centers.


 
The result was an increase in traffic to the website by 14,000 visitors (and a cuteness overload on Instagram)!

 WHY IT WORKS: 

Explore Georgia found the perfect platform to target millennials: social media. Combining the demographic’s preferred platform with two passions (dogs and travel), it was able to successfully target a niche but socially active audience.

Also, let’s be real: Puppy pictures almost never fail to drive people to action.

 DO IT YOURSELF: 

Consider your target demographic and which platforms they’re most likely to be on. Don’t be afraid to go niche. If you have a specific audience in mind, tap into what appeals to them and use that to help guide your UGC campaigns.

Throw an event

Getting some face time with your customers is a great way to get your brand name out there and start building relationships with customers. According to a survey by event marketing company Bizzabo, 50 percent of respondents said that their primary reason for events were for lead generation and community building.

Glamour magazine knows about the benefits of throwing events for its customers. In 2017, it held The Glamour Beauty Festival in London, catering to throngs of fashion and beauty fans, experts, and entrepreneurs.

The event was held at the London Saatchi Gallery, and featured make-up stands, complimentary beauty treatments, and celebrity guests all in the name of beauty and fashion.


 

 WHY IT WORKS: 

The brand is all about beauty, and it created an event that would make its customers feel the same way as its name—glamorous. By rolling out the red carpet and treating its customers like royalty, it not only reinforced its own brand image, but was able to ensure that its most loyal customers felt appreciated.

 DO IT YOURSELF: 

Partnering with a local organization to arrange an event in line with your brand can be a great way to get your name out there while also meeting other local business owners. If you can’t throw your own event, consider attending other events like conferences or trade fairs where you can set up a booth and get to know some of your customers (or recruit new ones).

Don’t skimp on customer service

Never underestimate the power of a good service experience for building relationships with customers. Contacting customer service is often the only interaction that your customer has with your brand, and it can be make or break for a business.

According to the American Express 2017 Customer Service Barometer, seven out of ten consumers say that the’ve dished out more money to do service with a company that provides better service.

On the flip side, bad customer service makes customers less likely to do business with a brand again. According to NewVoiceMedia, 51 percent of customers won’t do business with a brand after a previously negative customer service experience.

Of course, when it comes to customer service, almost no one tops Amazon. It’s baked such a good customer service experience into its brand that it frequently tops the list of best companies in the world for customer service.

From it’s speedy delivery times, to responsive customer service reps, to even replacing missing packages at no cost, Amazon understands the importance of putting the customer first.

It’s also the key to recruiting new customers through referrals.

As Jeff Bezos said in an interview with Forbes:

“It used to be that if you made a customer happy, they would tell five friends. Now with the megaphone of the internet, whether online customer reviews or social media, they can tell 5,000 friends.”

 WHY IT WORKS: 

You can never go wrong with putting customers first. Amazon makes customer service and experience synonymous with its brand, and more importantly, it follows through on its promises for excellent and speedy service.

 DO IT YOURSELF: 

You might not have the resources of a monolith like Amazon, but you can still deliver on the service promises that you make to your customers. If you say one week for delivery, make sure you stick to that timeline. If you’re using an unrealistic time frame to lure in customers, you’ll only end up frustrating them.

Use AI to get more personal

AI is becoming more accessible for small businesses, and the potential for strengthening customer relationships using intelligent automation is brimming with possibility.

Email personalization is a traditional way of building customer relationships, but this traditional method can be modernized and enhanced with AI. Using algorithms to capture a customer’s previous interactions with your website and email campaigns, you can send more targeted and personalized communication to customers.

Beyond just interaction with the email itself, it can capture previously read blog posts, time on page, and website interaction to better target emails to individual customers.

Chatbots are another AI tool being frequently used to strengthen customer relationships. They can replace service agents for simple requests to provide quicker support while also more appropriately routing requests to real agents when needed.

Domino’s saw an opportunity to use AI to give customers an even easier way to order one of its pies. Using Messenger, customers are able to order by simply texting the word “pizza” to its bot.


 

 WHY IT WORKS: 

Using a chatbot is a natural extension of providing a service on:

  • a familiar platform (Messenger), and
  • for a simple and routine task (ordering pizza)

Providing a new channel beyond just the traditional phone call can also help to target a new demographic more savvy with new tech.

 DO IT YOURSELF: 

If you have a simple or routine support task that can be automated, AI can be a good investment. It helps to provide accurate and timely service to customers that, if done properly, will encourage them to use your company or brand again.

Find out what your customers want

Like any good relationship, it takes a lot of listening to figure out what your customers want and how best to engage them. Before you start throwing events and loyalty cards at your customers, put your ear to the ground to determine what will resonate best with your target audience.

The best way to start doing that is by using social listening. Social listening is a way to scour social media, blogs, and other websites to see what your customers are saying about your brand and your competitors.

Social listening can help you:

 

  • See which topics are being talked about the most in relation to your brand.
  • Find advocates or influencers to help inspire and participate in your UGC campaigns.
  • Track competitors to see where they might see success and how you can replicate it.
  • Get a sense of the general sentiment of your brand to see where you can help make improvements, either to your product or service delivery.

 
Of course, there are plenty of other ways to capture customer data to figure out who they are and what appeals to them most. Once you figure that out, you’re one step closer to building a better relationship with your customers.