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Without happy customers, your business is in trouble, and the experience your customers have with your brand is your most important (and sometimes only) differentiator. But the process by which you create that experience starts with a much better understanding of your customers – not just as a whole, but as individuals, by really understanding and then advancing their journey from prospects to new customers to enthusiastic fans.
At the outset, your customer experience should be much more than something you pay lip service to. It has to start with individual relationships and rebuilding the collective experience to come to something new.
After all, you’re more likely to have a thriving, growing business if you have happy customers. Shouldn’t that be your top priority?
Every interaction you have is an opportunity to not only create a great experience, but to collect and use data to build an ongoing strategy for strengthening your customer relationships. Our survey of more than 500 organizations early this year found that those who ranked their customer experience as the best grew 2.5 times faster than those with a less optimized experience.
But where do you start? You need to start by arming your customer-facing teams with the right people, processes and technology to get the job done. Let’s take a look at five ways to build better customer relationships.
Related: 5 ways to build killer customer relationships
1. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers
In business, we too often use language and processes that focus on us rather than our customers. Even when describing the customer journey, we start with language like acquire, engage, convert, retain, grow, etc.
That language is completely out us point of view, not that of the customer. How about really thinking about what it’s like to be a prospect looking for a product or solution in your space?
From your customers’ perspective, they are not “acquired” – they shop or search for potential products or services that best meet their needs. They do research, talk to peers, and compare you and your competitors on Google review sites, social media, industry podcasts, and more. Once they become your customer, the ability to understand their experience and be empathetic is even more important.
2. Excel at receiving and implementing feedback
Hearing directly from your customers is the easiest way to know how their experience is going, and it should be an essential part of your customer service strategy. This brings me to more research results: 25% of marketers said collecting enough data was a top priority for improving customer experience in the coming year, and there are so many ways to do it.
Focus groups, surveys, feedback through your website, and social media data provide different but important ways to hear from your customers. Focus groups are important because it is difficult to replicate face-to-face communication. Talking one-on-one with your customers in small groups allows you to “hear” so much more than just what they are saying, including intonations of voice, body language and more – helping you understand them better.
Surveys are another great way to get feedback because they’re easy to implement and provide solid quantitative data. In addition, implementing a place on your website or a dedicated email address for feedback allows customers to go into detail about their needs/problems and provides an opportunity for more customer feedback. And finally, social media and online review sites are great places to collect data – your customers are probably already talking about you and it’s essential that you are aware of what is being said.
Related: How to Really Hear and Use Customer Feedback
3. Divide the load
When you think about customer relationships, it’s often assumed that your internal sales, support, and service reps are responsible for making them great. And while it may be true that these teams spend most of their time with customers, it should never fall solely on their shoulders to ensure solid relationships.
Customer relationships are everyone’s responsibility, and for an organization to meet the standard of being truly customer-centric, it must be true across every department and team. Sales, accounting, marketing, operations, support, product – everyone should be able to answer, “What is your company’s definition of an ideal customer experience?” their role, and this means everyone has to work with the same aligned data.
If you have doubts about this within your organization, you are not alone. In our recent survey, more than a third said aligning departments was the biggest challenge in improving the customer experience.
4. Give the people what they want
Once you know it’s everyone’s job to nurture these relationships, it’s time to give everyone the tools to do so. Unsurprisingly, nearly 40% of marketers in the same survey said that both training/coaching and improving access to product/service knowledge are key to success. This probably seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how often these two items get put on the back burner when selling is the top priority.
Don’t make your teams’ lives harder than they need to be by making it harder to find the tools they need to succeed. Make professional development a priority. Find the right tools for your business that make it easy for your teams to communicate with each other. Alignment is key here; the more aligned your teams are, the easier their work will be. For example, give them customer relationship management software that gives them a unified view of the customer so they can provide informed, consistent service across all touchpoints.
Related: Giving customers the digital experience they are looking for
5. Know that one service is not for everyone
Once your customers are your customers, it’s important to respect their varying needs, often based on what type of customer they are and where they are in the customer journey. Are you dealing with someone who made a quick decision to select you and needs minimal hand holding? Even if they haven’t read the fine print and are struggling to resolve, the service you give them should be different from someone who wants to go line by line to understand the details of your product or service.
Similarly, the way you speak to your best friend of 20 years will differ from how you speak to a colleague or acquaintance; different clients require different relationship management tactics. Make sure you empower your teams to see the difference.
Building and optimizing customer relationships starts with creating exceptional customer service experiences, plain and simple. Simple? Not quite, but knowing the right steps to improve your strategy here will set you up for both long- and short-term success.