How to Build Solid Relationships with Your Customers Online
The internet has allowed companies large and small to reach out to people like never before. The traditional barriers between provider and consumer have been thoroughly smashed, and it’s never been easier to foster lasting business relationships. It’s time you got in on this wonderful revolution, don’t you think? Here’s how!
Respond to reviews
Functioning as online word of mouth, customer reviews are one of the greatest tools at your disposal for convincing new people to hire your business. In order to get the most out of them, you need to demonstrate how much they mean to you by responding to each one individually. Offer sincere gratitude for positive reviews, and see if you can’t stick in a little reason for the customer to return again in the future (“Hi, Christie! Thanks for the kind words. If you loved our salmon quiche, you should definitely head back this week to check out our seafood pizza special. See you soon!”).
Negative reviews are a bit trickier, of course, but there is a right way to address them. Begin by apologising for the fact that the customer wasn’t satisfied with the service, and offer a way to rectify things if the situation warrants it (“Hi, Christie. We’re really sorry you weren’t happy with your meal this time. If you’d like to shoot us an email, we think we might have a way to make it up to you.”).
Accept criticism with good grace (even if you feel it’s unfair) and don’t get defensive. Remember, you’re not just addressing this particular customer. Everyone who sees the review will also see your response, so you need to come across as genuine, professional and diplomatic.
Dialogue builds relationships, so you’ll want to make sure you’re frequently engaging your customers through social media. One of the easiest ways to do this is by asking simple questions, which promote responses and keep your business at the forefront of your followers’ minds.
For example, if you’re a hairdresser, why not post a Facebook status asking people for their favourite celebrity hairstyles of the year so far? A florist could post a picture of some beautiful seasonal flowers they’ve got in stock on Instagram, accompanied by the caption “Nothing beats fresh marigolds in the summertime! What are your favourite summer flowers?”. Do you run a bathroom renovation company? Get followers to share their personal plumbing horror stories. You can even use your social media platforms to ask your followers direct about the services they need most – that’s market research and a conversation starter all rolled into one.
Don’t forget to keep the conversation going in the comments too, as it shows you’re listening to people’s responses and care about what they have to say. Plus, if you’re on Facebook, it has the added bonus of giving you an extra bump up in the newsfeed.
Respond to messages
A big part of excellent service is providing a timely response to any and all customer queries. Whether you’re contacted via email, True Local, your own website or Facebook, a prompt and friendly answer will demonstrate that you not only care about your customers, but are organised, efficient and professional enough to properly show it.
After all, 85% of consumer using Facebook expect a response within six hours, and obliging them will really shoot you up in their estimation. Thanks to its quick-fire, short-form nature, Twitter is also often used as a kind of customer service hub by businesses. If you have a business profile there, check it often, and always be ready to reply!
Reward your customers
Thanking people for nice reviews is one thing, but as we mentioned before, a little extra incentive never hurts your chances of landing yourself a regular customer. If somebody has left you a particularly glowing review regarding your landscaping prowess, why not contact them privately and offer a 10% discount the next time they need a little work done? Better yet, do it publicly! You want everyone to see how well you treat your customers, as this will seriously enhance your reputation.
You can also instigate giveaway campaigns on social media. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, but let’s take our plumbing horror stories example from earlier. Instead of simply asking people to relay their tales, offer a discount voucher as a prize for the best one. This will help get your post shared further, drum up more interest in your page, as well as give you a customer for life. And the stats speak for themselves; loyal customers are seven times as likely to test an offering, five times as likely to buy again and four times as likely to refer.
It’s all good and well to have a customer use your services, but don’t forget about them after they’ve paid the bill. People like to know they’re being well looked after, so get in touch a little way down the line to see how they’re doing. You could phone them, email them or send out a newsletter, not to mention give them a shout via Facebook, Twitter or True Local. Thank them for their business, and find out if they were happy with what they got. You can also ask them to review you, inform them of upcoming special offers, or check if everything’s okay regarding the new haircut or air conditioning system you gave them.
Email marketing tools like MailChimp come in very handy for this sort of thing, as you can tailor them to send out follow-up emails automatically or set up group email send-outs. They’ll also address the recipients by name, which is a nice personal touch that won’t go unnoticed.
Good luck getting to know your customers, and don’t forget to visit our business blog for more handy tips on getting the most out of your online presence.
 2015 Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study
 Economics of Net Promoter, 2016