A great product or service can be enough on its own to get your business going. But that’s not enough to make it last. Beyond that original thing that put you on the map, the relationships that stem from your early success are the most effective things that will keep you rooted.
That’s because when you have a good thing going, other people are going to try to duplicate it. They might make something better, or mildly comparable. Some might make it cheaper, while others might make it more accessible.
Whatever the case, your customers need a reason to keep choosing you instead of something else that comes along. And when you build strong relationships with customers and truly care about those relationships, stealing customers away from you just got a whole lot harder.
I’ve been in business for a long time. There are lots of other people out there doing what I do. But my clients choose me because they trust my expertise and know I have their best interest in mind. And they know these things because I’ve prioritized strong relationships to earn that trust and commitment.
The most effective marketing strategy is to show you care. Get this part right and so many other things will fall into place. Let’s explore further.
Business: It’s More Than Just Transactions
The human component of doing business cannot be overstated. It’s what gives life to a business or brand. It’s what forms emotional connections that make a person relate to what a business says, does, or offers. Adding in the caring element should be par for the course — and yet for some reason, it’s not.
I get it, having a business is a means to an end. We need money to survive, and people start businesses to generate income. That’s a highly transactional mindset, one that just doesn’t sit well with me.
For a business to truly succeed and build value for the long haul, it needs people — people to purchase its products or service and people to facilitate those transactions and make those products and services available. Because what is a business without people, anyway?
Fun fact: your business isn’t about you at all. It’s about the people you aimed to serve when you opened your doors and took the risk. It’s about giving them something they need or want and doing it better than anyone else.
For this to happen, a business simply can’t rely on mundane transactions. Rather, they need to dig deep into the minds and hearts of the people who need or want what you provide and learn how to serve them in ways that matter to them.
The more you build relationships with these customers, the more you learn about their needs and wants. And the longer you prioritize these relationships, the more valuable they become because of the wealth of information you’ve gleaned from them over time.
There’s a Whole Subset of Marketing Dedicated to Relationships
I might be going a little meta on this, but there’s a reason why the practice of relationship marketing exists.
Relationship marketing refers to the strategic practice of creating meaningful connections with customers. Sales organizations and solopreneurs alike build relationships through communication, personalized interactions, and value beyond the products or services being sold.
The goal of relationship marketing is to turn a one-time transaction into ongoing loyalty from the customer. To do this, companies must show they understand their customers’ wants and needs, such as by offering the right information, product mix, support, communication, or any other detail. Companies also keep the conversation going beyond the sale via one-to-one conversations, social media, email marketing, and other means.
It’s a pretty powerful practice, too — customers that have strong relationships with companies tend to be more engaged, and engaged customers generate as much as 51% more revenue than disengaged customers.
There’s also the matter of customer loyalty and retention. Acquiring new customers isn’t just expensive, it’s downright difficult at times. With every new lead, you’re putting your best foot forward, educating them on your product or service, showing them how it will help them, aligning that product with their needs and values, and going up against your competition.
What’s more, businesses are increasingly expected to do this on a one-on-one level. People want their interactions and experiences to be personalized, not one size fits all. That alone takes some thought, not to mention extra time and effort.
When you maintain good relationships with existing customers, you have a ready-made audience who is already familiar with your brand and what you do. You don’t have to sell them on “you”. Rather, your focus is on showing them why it’s worth their while to stick around. It’s still not a slam dunk by any means, but a large chunk of the hard part is already done.
Relationships take work. It’s not a “set it and forget it” approach if you want something out of it. But investing that time and mental energy into maintaining connections is a lot easier (and more fun, if you ask me) than spending that same mental energy on chasing new leads and constantly starting over.
Your NetWORK is Your Net WORTH
The old adage “It’s not what you know, but who you know” still rings true for many professionals. Having a strong network can provide invaluable advice and resources and lead to new business opportunities.
In this day and age, it is becoming increasingly important to view your network as part of your net worth. Not only does it support our sources of income, but the value of a network goes beyond business.
In the words of John Donne, No man is an island. We thrive on human connections to give meaning and purpose to our own lives. Relationships give us a sense of community and belonging. For me, my network helps me stay passionate about what I do because I can see the impact of my expertise when I use it to help others.
Your network should be treated as an asset just like any other financial investments that build your personal wealth. It is important to take the time to invest in building relationships that have potential to bring positive returns down the road.
Networking should go both ways; your customers have something to offer you (i.e. their ongoing loyalty) and in turn, you should have something beyond what you sell to offer your customers. This means being intentional about who you reach out to and making sure there is mutual benefit in the encounter.
If you’re only ever reaching out to a customer to try to pitch them on something new, the outreach feels very one-sided. Eventually, your customers may start to tune out your emails, texts, or phone calls if they think you only want to sell them.
Here’s the thing, though: just as your net worth can fluctuate depending on your investments and current market conditions, your network can go on a roller coaster ride, too. You don’t let your investments ride for too long before you check in with them to make sure they’re still strapped in and safe.
The same goes for your network — waiting months or years in between your communications isn’t a way to build a trusting, fruitful relationship. Relationships that go stale can lose value, making them less effective.
But when you’re actively managing those relationships, you’re in a better position to maintain or even grow that value. Input = output.
It’s important to share this mindset with your customers, too. Not only can this encourage them to cultivate the same mindset in their own business, but it also shows them that you truly do care about the relationship and not just the transaction.
Loyalty Goes a Long Way
How to Show You Care When Words Feel Hollow
Thank you for your business.
We appreciate you.
You’re a valued customer.
You’ve heard these lines a time or two (or five hundred) from the companies you do business with. You’ve said them yourself to your own customers. While these words are always true, there’s something impersonal about them.
Anyone can say them, whether or not they mean them. They’re so common that they’ve become somewhat of a formality. They’re meaningful and meaningless at the same time.
So how can you show you care when all the words you want to say sound hollow and impersonal? I’ve found a few gestures and actions that work well
Help, Even When It’s Not Needed
I was watching The White Lotus on HBO, and one part stood out to me as a marketing professional. It’s the scene where the hotel manager went to speak privately with an employee, and to get her alone she sent the other employee to help a customer with her luggage. The hotel manager had ulterior motives, of course, but the simple gesture of going to help with the luggage without being asked by the customer stuck with me. The hotel manager saw an opportunity to extend their hospitality, and she ran with it.
That’s a hallmark of a true hospitality professional. They’re consciously looking for ways to build relationships and connect with guests. Other industries can take note — don’t just wait for your customers to ask for help. Proactively look for situations where you can extend your hospitality or service. Sometimes, the most impactful gestures are the ones that take your customers by surprise.
Treat Customer Complaints Like They Affect You Personally (Because They Do!)
In a perfect world, all of your customers would dutifully love your company, never complain, and tell every single person they know about your business. They’d never have a reason to go elsewhere because all of your products and services would meet their expectations and work just as they’re supposed to.
The reality, of course, tells a much different story. Even Amazon, the pinnacle of online retail and user experience, has its moments where customers aren’t satisfied. Packages get lost, customers overpay for items, refunds don’t get credited, the list goes on. And yet its customers keep coming back for various reasons.
Your business probably gets its share of customer complaints. Forget the fact that some of those complaints might not be warranted. If a customer complains, it’s up to you to make it right. Showing you care about the situation can be as simple as treating the complaints like they affect you personally (because truly, they do).
Picture this: it’s two days before Christmas and you’re waiting for your child’s Christmas present to arrive. It was shipped two weeks ago but tracking still hasn’t updated. You’d be concerned. You might panic. And you’d definitely expect the company to look into the matter quickly, given that time is of the essence.
The customer service person certainly won’t feel the same urgency you’re feeling about a potentially late package, nor will they experience the devastating emotions on Christmas morning when your child didn’t get one of the items they desperately wanted from Santa Claus. But if they treat your situation like a priority — the same way they’d expect to be treated if they were in your situation — you’d probably feel better about it. You might even look at the company in a more positive light, especially if you get the outcome you wanted.
Treating customer problems like they’re your own can give you a different perspective on the situation. It may help to treat each circumstance with grace and professionalism and work toward an ideal resolution, even when company policies get in the way.
Send Handwritten Notes
Handwritten notes have been around for centuries and are still one of the most meaningful ways to show someone you care. In the digital age, when so much of our communication is conducted through emails and texts, handwritten notes offer a simple yet powerful way to stand out. Not only do they provide tangible proof that someone took the time out of their day to think about you, but they also offer a personal touch that technology can’t replicate.
The act of writing something down by hand takes effort and thoughtfulness. It shows the sender was willing to take the time to make your day special. Maybe it’s a thank-you note for dinner or a birthday card to show appreciation; whatever it is, it will be remembered long after other forms of communication would be forgotten in an inbox or chat thread.
Document the Fine Details of Every Relationship
The bigger your network of customers and colleagues grows, the harder it is to manage it by yourself. That’s why tools like CRM exist. They help you capture and save details that your human brain would otherwise forget.
One of my former colleagues was a stickler about capturing every minor detail in his CRM. He’d been using the same CRM since 1993 when he first started his business, before the likes of HubSpot and Salesforce. One of the key features of this particular CRM was the note-taking section, where he could document notes about every conversation he’d have. He used this CRM religiously. Every time he made a phone call (or send an email once that became a thing), he’d log detailed notes on the things they talked about.
I read through some of them — he’d write down their family members’ names, trips the customers said they were taking, hobbies, funny stories they shared, even one time when the customer’s dog was sick and had to take him to the vet.
You might be asking: What does any of this have to do with business?
Actually, it has everything to do with business.
These seemingly minor details are a great way to build familiarity with your clients. It also shows you were paying attention to them when you can bring up something you recently spoke about (ideally something that has nothing to do with business). What better way to show you care than by treating every conversation with respect?
Surprise Them, and Make It Personal
From an unexpected birthday gift to a discount or freebie, it doesn’t take much to put a smile on your customers’ face. Going the extra mile is always a good idea, but doing it when your customers least expect it can make it more personal and memorable.
This is one way personalization can really stand out. You’re not blasting the same mass coupon or marketing offer to your entire email list. Instead, offer something of value based on what the customer will find meaningful.
Use Their Preferred Communication Channel
Building strong connections with customers is easier when you know how and when they prefer to connect. Customer interactions are increasingly omnichannel, giving you more ways than every to have a conversation.
Knowing your customers’ preferred communication channels serves two purposes: first and foremost, it shows you care enough to meet them where they are and do things their way. And second, it also shows you truly care about being able to connect with them and aren’t just doing the minimum.
How to Build Customer Relationships that Last
Showing your customers how much you care about them strengthens relationships like nothing else. No matter how you choose to show you care, use these tips to build relationships that will last as long as your business.
Trade Short-Term Thinking for a Long-Term Mindset
Short-term thinking can sometimes get in the way of caring for your customers and building better relationships. For example, if you have the opportunity to provide a discount or help a customer out but it means going against company policy, you might be inclined to leave that opportunity alone. You’re worried about the short-term effects of your generosity (e.g., you lose money on a discount or setting an unintended precedent about how to approach a certain situation).
Long-term thinking means thinking about how the decisions you make today can impact your customer relationships in the future. Helping a customer out when they need it most can go a long way in building loyalty, not to mention a higher customer lifetime value and the referrals that come with their ongoing business.
Rather than focus only on the transaction (aka short-term thinking), companies should instead focus on the relationship and loyalty aspect. Invest just as much time and effort in maintaining the relationship as you did to start the relationship in the first place. Like a fine wine or good marriage, customer relationships get better with age.
Leverage Technology to Make Relationship-Building Scalable
From CRM to email automation, we have more tools than ever to help us keep relationships alive in ways that still feel personal and thoughtful. Sure, technology might be pulling some of the string behind the scenes. But it requires human thought to set that technology into motion. Plus, you have total control over what your technology does.
Proactive customer relationship building needs more than just responding to requests or complaints. You need to understand the needs and wants of your target audience.
Doing research, such as surveys or interviews, can help you learn more about what customers are looking for from your business. You can collect consumer insights using social listening tools to see how customers are talking about your business online when they think you can’t hear them.
Gaining insights like these gives you a direct window into your customers’ mindset, allowing you to create a better approach to your relationship with them.
The Best Marketing Strategy is To Care
In a world where everyone is asking “What’s in it for me?”, showing you care goes a long way in building relationships and gaining customers for life. Caring for your customers means meeting them where they are, engaging with them on a personal level, listening to what they have to say, and meeting their expectations as best as you can.
By showing you’re invested in them, they’ll be more likely to be genuinely invested in you, too.