Why do your customers shop at your store? Why do they choose you to work on their homes and finances? Why do they buy your coffee? For a lot of small businesses, it boils down to the relationships you build with them.
When customers get to know your business personally, they grow to trust your products and services. That loyalty is why there are more than 30 million small businesses in the U.S. – an integral component of the national economy and the communities that we live in.1
So how do you foster meaningful relationships with your customers? The bottom line: You need to make it as easy as possible for them to trust (and spend their money with) you. There are many ways to do this.
Before we jump into a few strategies, though, let’s take a closer look at what makes customer relationships “meaningful.”
Meaningful customer relationships occur when a small business regularly engages with customers in ways that improve their experiences. Creating meaningful customer relationships can have a short- and long-term structure. For example, solving a customer’s problem on the spot (e.g., handling a return promptly or telling a customer you’ll beat a competitor’s price) is a great way to use short-term tactics to improve customer relationships.
Smart small business owners should also take the long-view in building meaningful customer relationships. For instance, volunteering in the local community and rewarding employees who regularly excel at personalized service can help build positive word-of-mouth and pay off over the long haul. This can help cement the relationships you spend so much time creating.
How do you know when you’ve established a meaningful relationship with customers? When they tell you—in-person, via email, or even on an online business review platform. They’ll let you and all their friends know that they feel valued in ways that go well beyond just making a purchase at your place of business.
The good news? Small business owners have a built-in advantage over larger enterprises in building meaningful relationships with clients. They’re more nimble, which allows owners and team members to build a rapport with customers on a personal level, especially with face-to-face interactions.
What steps can you take to build and sustain quality customer relationships? Start with these five strategies:
You’ll be hard pressed to create great customer relationships if you and your employees don’t follow the basics of customer services. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of being polite, taking time out of your busy day to talk with a customer, solve a problem or make a small connection over a shared interest.
Making customer service a priority means setting up trainings, having regular team meetings and employee check-ins, and rewarding good service. No matter how big or small your team, you need to foster a culture that values customer service, and that means you must be the shining example and cheerleader.
To see a few more ideas about focusing on customer experience, see this blog article.
When it comes to making it easy for customers to spend money at your business, payments can be an easy win. According to the 2019 Small Business Payments Spotlight, 34 percent of consumers would be annoyed if they couldn’t use their preferred payment option, and 17 percent said they would not make the purchase. These numbers suggest a lack of payment options can be an unnecessary road block in the pursuit of meaningful relationships.
A wide range of small businesses—including restaurants, retailers, wholesale businesses and service and repair companies—have started accepting digital wallets. In doing so, they’ve taken a big step creating sustainable customer relationships, especially with younger generations.
Gift cards are also a tool to bolster ties with current customers and even bring in extra sales. According to the Small Business Payments Spotlight, 36 percent of consumers say they are likely to purchase gift cards at small businesses, and 59 percent of small businesses say gift cards increase customer loyalty. That goes to show that gift cards are growing in popularity, whether as actual gifts or for personal use.
Consumers want to be rewarded for their loyalty, and when they are, they’re much more likely to feel valued by a small business. That’s why a robust customer loyalty program can help create more long-lasting customer relationships.
According to the Small Business Payments Spotlight, 66 percent of consumers say they are more likely to shop at small businesses when they are members of their loyalty program. Additionally, 54 percent of consumers say they are more likely to make a purchase from a small business that has a loyalty program with rewards and discounts than one that does not.
This proves that when you roll out a loyalty program, you need to demonstrate the value right from the start. Seed it by giving program members instant discounts, rewards points per purchase and exclusive coupons or discounts—all of which rate highly with customers.
Small businesses can also craft more robust consumer relationships by embracing a host of new technology tools. For example, engaging with customers online on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter gives you more “face time” with customers and provides a great way to get sales, discounts, special events and other programs in front of customers.
Small business owners should also make it a habit to focus on customer review sites like Yelp and Amazon. Customers, especially those 30-years-old and younger, have embraced review sites, both as contributors and as readers. The Small Business Payments Spotlight shows that 50 percent of consumers say they won’t shop at a small business if it has negative online reviews. It also shows that 65 percent of consumers use online reviews to inform their purchase decisions.
Shopping behavior is changing faster than small businesses think, and companies need to canvas shoppers regularly to see what really matters to them. For instance, while 70 percent of small businesses have a website, mobile app or third-party marketplace,2 their online presence might not as effective as it could be. Based on recent data, consumers hesitate making purchases on small business websites because of concerns about shipping costs and speed or because the business doesn’t have the products customers want.2
Get out in front of those issues by engaging with customers face-to-face, or online, and get valuable feedback in the process. Take regular surveys of customers, whether it’s a simple question at checkout or a paper survey. Try to sweeten the pot for completing them with gift cards or special discounts. Make it a point to study customer review sites to see what customers really think about your business.
If you’re business is big enough, it could be a good idea to appoint a team member to lead your company’s customer engagement work and report in with regular feedback on customer attitudes and outlooks. The more you know what customers think about your company, the more meaningful relationships you can build.
Inertia and procrastination aren’t options when it comes to building customer relationships. You’ve got to have a good customer engagement plan, and you’ve got to run that plan on a regular basis.
After all, every day is a new opportunity, and that goes double for small businesses looking to create and sustain meaningful relationships. By applying a healthy dose of customer-focused programs, technology tools and regular business-customer interactions, small business owners can build relationships that last for decades.