Building Stronger Customer Relationships

The company you work for is not in any real way a “family.” That is probably for the best, even if you may have once passionately desired to have your brother fired for creating a hostile environment. 

Your company is not your family, but you do have a relationship with them. It is in part a transactional relationship, a trade of labor for pay. Hopefully it includes trust and respect and mutual understanding of what everyone needs from the relationship.

The relationship between our companies and their customers is transactional too, but the power balance is different. Especially when customers have plenty of alternatives to choose from, they can often choose to unilaterally end a relationship on their own terms with little consequence.

Maintaining relationships of all kinds takes hard work. If we want to hold onto our customers for the long term, then we need to understand and strengthen our relationships with them. Here are some practical ways to make that happen.

10 strategies for building stronger customer relationships

1. Be human

Processes, policies, systems, and technology are all vital tools in a business, but cumulatively they can form a barrier between customers and the people serving them. Automate away the more tedious tasks, certainly, but look for places to preserve human connection and flexibility in your customer service interactions.

2. Be curious

Curiosity about other people is a trait found in the very best customer-facing staff.  A curious person asks better questions, examines assumptions, makes better judgements, and uncovers more insights. Nurture curiosity in your teams.

3. Listen carefully

Your support queue is full of people who want to tell you something about your business, your market, and themselves. Too often, that information is never passed on because nobody asked the questions and, even if they had, there are no systems to capture the answers. Turn your support requests into insights

4. Anticipate their needs

When you listen well, you will also be able to better understand what your customer is trying to achieve. Use that knowledge to anticipate the next question they will have, and answer that before they even need to ask. 

5. Focus on value for your customers

One role of support teams is to help customers use your product and services most effectively — not most effectively for your company, but for furthering their own goals. Consider how each policy and communication is helping (or hindering) them from getting value for the money they spend with you.

6. Operationalize better service

Don’t rely on your team going “above and beyond” in every interaction to deliver great service. Build up systems, processes, and tools across your business that make for a high-quality default support experience without any special effort. Professor Zeynep Ton’s research identifies four operational choices that businesses need to make: focus and simplify their offerings; standardize work and empower staff; cross-train people; and leave enough slack in the schedule to be flexible. 

7. Use metrics to measure relationships

There are some metrics which can be an indicator of the health of your connection to given customers. In SaaS businesses your churn rates and expansion over time are signs of loyalty. Customer satisfaction (CSAT), net promoter score (NPS), and customer effort score (CES) can point you to things that are working and areas that need improvement.

8. Enable your customer service teams

If you want your staff to be curious, to ask better questions, and to come up with solutions, then they need to be well paid, be well trained, have the authority to make decisions, and be given the psychological safety to stray from the script. 

9. Thoughtfully apply technology

People are essential to relationships, but they are also expensive. Find the parts of their work that are repeatable, automatable, or valuable but time-consuming, and identify technology that could save time and effort. AI tools that augment human capabilities are worth keeping a close eye on in order to remain both competitive and distinct.

10. Build a customer service culture

A strong customer service culture is one where the customer service team is respected and valued, where customer impact is a critical part of business decisions, and where everyone across the business understands who the customers are and what matters to them. Our article How to Build a Strong Customer Service Culture is full of practical advice on creating a customer-centric environment.

Pay attention to your customer relationships

If you take your customers for granted or you consistently prioritize your corporate needs over those of the people you are supposed to serve, your customer relationships will be shallow and fragile.

By strategically investing time and attention in your customer relationships across the business, you will help them develop stronger roots and sustain them through the inevitable difficulties that arise over time.

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