Use common sense and courtesy first, and then worry about the technology.
You’ve met these two people at a party or business event:
- Person A looks you right in the eyes while they shake your hand and introduce themselves. The ensuing conversation may be short – it is a busy event, but this person throws their complete attention into the interaction. They ask questions that show they’ve actually heard what you’ve said and you feel as if they truly value meeting you. Before you both move on, they make sure you know they want to deepen this new relationship. You’re surprised and pleased to discover a short thank-you message waiting for you soon afterward.
- “Hi, my name is…” has barely left your lips, and Person B is already scanning the room behind you. Their participation in the conversation is forced and insincere. You feel like you’ve already been judged and dismissed. The irony of it is that know you can make a difference for this person. They sell something you want to buy. Like that’s ever going to happen now – especially since they did all the talking and you’re not even sure they heard your name.
These exchanges take mere seconds, but both set the stage for the future relationship you can expect to have with them. Your website is one of these people. Which is it?
What matters most
There’s a clear correlation between the length of a customer relationship and the quality. Longer relationships naturally yield more revenue. As marketers, we’ve all heard the adage that it costs 5x more to attract a new customer than it does to retain one.
Let’s stop and ponder this ratio for a moment. If it’s true, does your company allocate resources to reflect the ratio? Surprisingly enough, multiple surveys show that many companies do not. Only about 20% focus on retention, while almost 45% focus instead on acquisition. Then there’s the group who decides to play it safe. Forty percent of companies and thirty percent of agencies put equal focus on both retention and acquisition.
Clearly, both strategies are important. You can’t develop relationships with customers unless they come to your website. Building traffic is the acquisition go-to tool for this strategy. Hey, we got them to the website and turned them into customers! Now what?
“Your call is important to us.”
It’s our job to communicate with customers. Notice we didn’t say talk to customers. That’s a one-way process, where it’s all about you. Much like our disengaged friend back at the party. We’re going to put on our customer advocate hat and share what we’ve learned from these communications.
Full disclaimer: we’re not going to channel the “average” customer. There’s no such thing. Nobody wants to be treated just like everybody else. You can blame – or thank – a growing number of companies who excel at providing a unique customer service experience on their websites.
We’re going to ask your website 7 questions as we wear our customer advocate hat. Your answers will tell you how well it’s doing at building lasting customer relationships.
1. What’s my name? If I’m a registered customer, do you welcome me back? There’s not much to say about this, other than that the sweetest sound to a customer is his or her own name. Do they hear it from you?
2. How do you make me feel as if we are interacting? I know your website isn’t actually you or your company, but I’m not interested in a 1-way conversation. Something as simple as a navigation prompt is enough to spur engagement and deepen relationships.
3. How will you reward me for being a returning customer? I’m not greedy, but I expect reasons to keep buying from you. A sincere and personal message of gratitude is free, and maybe even more valuable than a 10% discount “for our repeat customers.” A little bit more on this, and it gets back to what we said earlier about the supposed average customer. It’s easy to do research. Rewards are inextricably linked in our minds with reciprocity, which is often a sacrifice – even if only slight – that we willingly give. If your reward doesn’t communicate this psychological concept, your reward inducement becomes an insult.
4. How will you help me share our relationship with others? People were accumulating and trading social capital long before the Facebooks, LinkedIns and Instagrams of the world came along and hijacked it. Social networks just make it easier and prefer to call it social currency. No matter what you call it, you must use it to deepen customer relationships. Remove the mental check mark you placed here because you’ve got those obligatory social media sharing icons deployed on your website. People want to share stories about experiences with products or services on their social networks. How does a collection of little logos that link to your homepage accomplish that?
5. Do you make it easy for me to tell you what I don’t like about you? True story. A large newspaper chain used to determine bonuses for the heads of their circulation departments based on how many complaints per 1,000 subscribers the paper received. Is it any surprise that it was almost impossible to call and complain that your paper wasn’t delivered? Fess up. How easy is it to find a way to express dissatisfaction on your website? Where do you have that buried? The satisfactory resolution to a problem can be a powerful relationship-building tool.
6. How do you demonstrate that you value the longevity of our relationship? Your longtime customers see your promotions aimed at new customers offering a greatly reduced price on an item they’ve been buying from you for years. We can only remind you that your new customer, was up to 5x more expensive to woo, and you’ve done it by discounting the price of something your longtime customers repeatedly pay for at the full price. If it costs 5x less to keep them, maybe the existing customers are the ones who should be rewarded with a reduced price or perk for limited time only.
7. How will you manage my expectations? This is in some respects an extension of the previous 2 points. The probability of conflict increases in all relationships over time. Organizations with the most successful customer relations records got that way by being proactive. They use their website as a communications tool to update customers when there’s an issue that might impact these relationships. Managing expectations isn’t always a focus on negativity. There’s nothing immodest about being proactive in sharing positive things you do for customers, too.
Did you notice a theme?
Technology – especially your website – is the gateway for your human customers to create relationships with the humans behind your product or service. The idea that technology is stripping away our humanity is pure fiction. It’s enhancing our humanity. The basic rules of psychology and relationships still apply. If you don’t believe us, go watch the last couple Terminator movies again.