It’s been said so many times that it sounds like a cliché, “Your customers are the lifeblood of your business.”
Cultivate a pool of regular, loyal customers and your business is guaranteed to have a long and prosperous life.
But given the sheer volume of prospective customers available to any business on the internet, is this really true?
Why focus on outstanding customer services when there are literally billions of people online? Couldn’t you simply just get new customers all the time and still be successful?
The answer is, yes, you could, but it would be foolhardy.
That’s because repeat customers are more valuable to you than any other type.
They are more loyal, they usually will promote your business to their family, friends and – most importantly – their social media contacts.
And you can sell products to them again and again.
For the online marketer, the key to building a loyal customer base is creating interpersonal relationships with your customers.
You need to try to cultivate thousands of BFF’s by sharing personal information about your life, talking about your family and the good people who work for you.
You want to make your vacation and holiday photos public and other ways to invite your customers into your life.
When your customers feel they have an interpersonal relationship with you and they know who you are and what you are about, they are going to want to do business with you.
In marketing, this is called the Cheers Strategy, after the TV show from the 1980s.
People want to go where they feel as if they belong, where “everybody knows your name.”
When your customers feel they know who you are, they will feel at ease and will be more likely to return to buy your products and services again and again.
Of course, interpersonal relationships are a two-way street.
You also are going to have to get to know your customers.
When you own a local brick-and-mortar business, it’s not much of a challenge learning names and faces and cultivating relationships by remembering details about your customers such as their kids’ names, where they grew up and other tidbits you can use to make people feel at home.
With online marketing, however, it can be more difficult because you are dealing with thousands of customers.
But while it can be challenging, it’s not impossible.
For one, online record keeping makes it easier to keep tabs on what people bought in the past, when they have visited your site and what they did while they were there.
Second, if you treat all of your customers as if they were your best, you can give the impression to every visitor to your site that you genuinely care about them and their business.
In most cases, this perceived emotional attachment will be enough to get them to return and do business with you in the future.
You may have heard that email is dead.
According to the ‘experts’, web users today prefer more immediate forms of communication such as the text message, the Facebook post, the Instagram photo and the Tweet.
Many high school and college-aged people don’t even have email accounts, or so the story goes.
Reports of emails’ demise have been greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain.
The death of email is a fiction probably first promoted by the smart phone industry.
The truth is that email is alive and well and – for the time being, at least – just as powerful a marketing tool as ever, if not more powerful.
Most internet users still own and use email accounts.
Many have multiple accounts.
While it is true that email is used less frequently for communication between internet users – other than your mother, of course, who continues to forward emails about how much better life was when she was growing up – it is used more often for commercial purposes.
All those years of giving your email address to businesses and on forms for most people has resulted in an onslaught of daily messages promoting products and services.
While email eventually will retire and move to Florida and may go the way of snail mail, for now it should continue to be used as a means of interacting directly with your customer base.
But you need to make sure that…
Until they actually do become completely obsolete in a few years, email lists will continue to be an important tool for nurturing your existing customer base.
They are a great way to shore up loyalty bonds by giving customers access to your inner circle, sharing rich, personal details about your life and business, alternated with exclusive offers and rewards aimed at your closest, most loyal customers.
But email is an elderly system.
Sadly, it will eventually cease to be vital.
Given the improved tools now available to web users – including free video chat and instant text messaging – email really will someday become as obsolete as the US Postal Service.
Be honest: With the exception of holiday messages, when was the last time you sat down and wrote a letter to somebody and sent it to them through the mail?
Probably during the Clinton administration, am I right?
Yet building your email list is still important because it currently is still an effective way to reach some customers and it also provides your business with a point of contact with your customers so that when email does become obsolete, you can migrate your marketing efforts to whatever communications tool replaces email, be it Facebook, Twitter, or panoramic 3D holograms.
Do you know who knows best what is wrong with your business?
Hint: It’s definitely not you! It’s not even your employees (although they may think they do).
Both of you are too close to your business to see its real flaws.
Your customers, however, can tell you precisely what you are doing wrong.
Unless you ask them, however, they are unlikely to share their opinion with you until you really screw up.
Then they will complain. And you should listen because complaints are opportunities.
It’s human nature to get upset when somebody complains about your business.
After all, your business is a part of who you are. When people complain, it’s easy to take it personally.
Resist this impulse.
Complaints are actually your friends.
They help you improve your business’ performance. They identify breakdowns so that you can correct them.
They aren’t personal attacks.
They are customers who care enough about your business that they will overcome their own shyness and bring your faults to your attention.
And you shouldn’t wait for complaints to find out what you are doing wrong.
When you nurture interpersonal relationships with your customer base, you can speak to them as friends.
When your customers can achieve this comfort level with you, they will be more than happy to share their opinions.
People love to be asked for help.
It’s human nature: If somebody asks you to help them, in most cases you will gladly provide the assistance that is requested.
Especially when it doesn’t cost you any money or an extraordinary amount of time. Especially when there is something in it for you.
Incentivize your customers to share their opinions with you by offering special discounts for filling out comment cards or entering them into a drawing for some sort of prize.
It doesn’t really matter a whole lot what you offer, as long as you offer something, most people will participate in your customer opinion survey.
You can simply follow up via email with selected customers and ask them about their experience.
Or you could open a free Hangout on Google and invite your customers to participate in a video chat about ways to improve your business.
The more information you have about your business’ performance from outside parties that aren’t caught up in the day-to-day pressures of running your operation, the better equipped you are to correct the mistakes that you can’t see.
Information truly is power.
Asking your customers to provide you with quality information about your business helps you improve and it strengthens the trust bonds you need to convert customers into raving fans.
Hands on a Hard Body was a 1997 documentary about a promotional contest run by a Longview, Texas, truck dealer.
A group of 24 contestants competed to see who could keep their hand on a pickup truck for the longest time.
The winner got to keep the truck. He lasted 77 continuous hours.
The film was fascinating because it delved into the psychology behind each of the finalists, and dramatized the promotion so that it was as exciting as watching the Super Bowl.
More exciting, actually.
The film was even turned into a stage musical with music written by Trey Anastasio, of the band Phish, and had it's world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse, California, running from April 2012 through June 2012, with productions on Broadway in 2013, and in St. Louis, Albany and Chicago in 2014.
I cited that example because it’s a great example of how promotions and contest can engage your customers deeply, making their ties to your business all the more powerful.
The film proves that people will go through extraordinary lengths in order to get something for nothing, even forgoing sleeping and regular eating patterns for more than three consecutive days.
Although you probably don’t want to do something as extreme as the pickup truck contest – and I doubt even the truck dealer imagined its promotion would be so dramatic and ultimately famous – contests and promotions are a fun, interesting way to draw attention to your business while engaging your customers on another level.
Businesses have used contests and other customer engagement techniques for generations.
From Christmas coloring contests to guessing how many jelly beans are inside a jar, business owners have found fun, colorful and interesting ways to bring their customers closer to their business while at the same time generating a little free publicity.
Or in the case of the Longview truck dealer, a page in Broadway history.
Contests and promotions should be fun and playful.
The prizes you offer don’t have to be extravagant.
Something as simple as a freebie or a discount on future purchases is often enough to convince your customers to participate.
Once they do, they will feel closer ties with your business, making them more loyal and more willing to give you their business in the future.
Whenever you interact with your customers – whether it is through a promotion, a contest or some other fun event – always try to include a way to get their email address so that you can add it to your subscription list.
The more people you have on your email list, the bigger the pool of prospective customers to which you can market your products and services in the future.
Finally, always try to offer something to everybody who participates, not just the winners.
By offering some sort of consolation prize, it will increase their chances of participating in future promotions and encourage them to share their experience with others, broadening your base.
Every November, the airwaves are bombarded with advertisements for political candidates.
‘Vote for me, I’ll make your life better’, they all promise.
Creating a marketing program for your business is sort of like running a never-ending political campaign.
You want your customers to vote for you by giving their business to you rather than your competitors.
You also want to encourage existing customers to recommend you to their friends — especially their social network – so you can significantly expand your customer base.
Successful political candidates build a base of volunteers and other staff whose job it is to convince other people – their friends, family, neighbors and even strangers – to vote for them.
This kind of person-to-person endorsement is stronger than any newspaper editorial or an endorsement from some organization because it’s based on human interaction.
“Trust me on this,” the person seems to be saying. “You won’t be disappointed, I promise.”
Using this same technique is an effective way to build your business.
Asking your customers to recommend you to people they know is the single best way to get new business through the door.
It’s even better than advertising or other marketing because it’s based on word of mouth, the strongest type of endorsement there is.
One great way to convert your customers into evangelists for your business is referral incentives.
This is when you give your customer something for every new person they bring to your business.
It can be a discount, a premium, a giveaway or anything you like.
Money works best.
Referral incentives help build your business because in essence your existing customers are vouching for your business to people they know.
When they recommend your business, they are in effect putting their own reputation on the line, so they then have something at stake in the success of your business.
Talk about a great way to create loyalty bonds!
The other benefit is that people who have been referred to your business by a trusted adviser, comes to you with a pre-existing positive expectation.
They already anticipate you’re going to provide great products and excellent customer service when they walk in the door because the person who referred them promised that’s what they would get.
If that’s exactly what you provide, you'll convert them into yet another raving fan.
For specific help marketing your business, contact me by clicking here.