5 Ways to Strengthen Customer Relationships During Uncertain Times
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Your company has changed over the past six months. So have your customers.

Every person who buys from your business has been through the same degree of COVID-related confusion and turmoil. And they've emerged with different consumer behaviors than they had before.

Just how different are shoppers today than they were during the first quarter of 2020? McKinsey and Company research indicates that consumers have migrated to online buying, become tethered to trusted brands, and reduced their buying frequencies. These changes aren't going away, either. In fact, McKinsey predicts they'll be part of the next normal.

Yet customers will always depend on companies like yours, which makes it vital for you to strengthen your relationships with new and long-time buyers. Start by implementing these five key strategies to boost your customer-brand bond.

1. Develop more meaningful connections by better using historical data.

Many organizations collect massive amounts of customer data. However, you don't just want to stockpile data. Rather, you want to use it to make meaningful observations and uncover the best ways to nurture customers on a micro-level. 

For instance, your historical data could help you group together similar clients, or separate them according to their preferences and needs. For example, if you know that Jennifer has shown interest in one of your products and Marco has shown interest in another, you can tailor your follow-up messaging or retargeting ads to each of them based on those interests. Buyers are much more likely to pay attention and feel your business is the right choice for them when you speak directly to their interests.

Of course, you can't afford to lose productivity to tailor your customer experiences. That's where a robust CRM and automation software tool comes into play. As marketing platform Ontraport explains, when you leverage a platform that captures, analyzes customer data and automates your follow-up emails and other messaging, "it becomes far easier to treat every customer and lead who crosses your path as a human being with unique wants, needs and concerns." And that's certain to help you stand out.

2. Make it safe and convenient to do business with you.

With concerns over the possibility of contracting COVID-19, more consumers are taking preference to contactless transactions. This makes them more likely to adopt emerging technologies, such as Amazon One, a biometrics-driven payment option that's being tested in very small pockets for viability.

You don't have to go as far as inventing a pay reader that identifies customers by their palm prints, but you should consider other types of touchless buying solutions. For example, some retailers have installed self-service checkout kiosks. Others allow customers to buy online and have curbside delivery brought to their vehicles. 

Think of your business model from a concerned consumer's point of view. What can you do to showcase that you're taking consumer safety to heart? The more secure customers feel when patronizing your online or brick-and-mortar business, the more likely they'll be to become repeat buyers.

3. Give customers a way to help themselves.

Nothing's quite as frustrating for customers as being unable to problem-solve an issue related to your product or services. Sure, you'll always have customers who need a one-on-one interaction with a customer service rep, but it's important to also provide avenues for consumers to help themselves. It saves time for both your customers and your team members.

How can you give customers the key to service happiness? First, make sure your website is filled with keyword-rich, valuable content in various forms including text copy, images, and videos. These items should be easy to find and point to the most frequently asked questions your customer service and sales team receives. Next, provide additional support with an AI-integrated chat and helpdesk function. That way, you won't need to pay your team members to be available round the clock.

Finally, look for other ways to build a comprehensive network of support. Could you move to omnichannel service through social media and texts? The more empowered your customers feel, the higher the chance they'll stick with your business instead of moving to the competition.

4. Offer customers surprises.

Have you ever gotten a free beverage or dessert at your favorite restaurant? It may have made your day-or week. Little surprises like those don't have to cost a bundle to dazzle customers and keep them engaged.

As you're considering what types of delights your customers might like, consider what's worked for other businesses. Some offer unexpected discounts at checkout for repeat customers, whereas other companies add little extra treats like free swag in packages before sending them out. Even a handwritten thank-you note from the corporate mascot could be a nice touch.

If you're really invested in leading this type of "surprise party" market, begin to reverse-engineer the practice of social media feedback. That is, instead of waiting to get customer shoutouts, highlight your best customers as a way of illustrating their importance. 

5. Improve your products or services based on feedback.

A 2017 Microsoft global survey on customer service showed that 78% of American consumers appreciate companies that proactively ask for feedback. Yet how you use that feedback is really the essence of building loyalty between you and customers.

Look at the recent positive and negative feedback you've received on a regular basis. Based on your findings, ask your employees, "How can we improve our offerings by just one percent over the next month or quarter?" Then allow everyone on the team to get creative. Maybe you need to re-train your customer support team, or perhaps redesign your product's packaging. Keep dreaming big and see if something sticks.

If you decide to implement changes based on your findings, announce them to your customers. Releasing new product and service updates will show evolution and growth, as well as the fact that your business isn't afraid to keep upping the bar.

Times have changed rapidly, but people haven't stopped buying. They just crave a different level of relationship with brands like yours. Show your customers that you understand where they're coming from, and they'll be more apt to keep coming back.

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