Handshake -- building a relationship with your customersBuilding a relationship with your customers is probably the single most important thing that you can do as the owner of an online business. However, too often, we tend to focus on SEO work, trying to gather ever more traffic rather than retaining the traffic we already have coming in.
The fact is however that it’s much easier to keep someone coming back for more than it is to get new people to come by, especially when you want those new people to purchase something. So, with that in mind, here are five strategies for building relationships with your customers so that they’ll continue to come back and buy more things from you.

Follow Up

This is one of those “duh” things that most of us just don’t do when we create a relationship with a customer. No, follow up doesn’t mean you bombard a new customer with another spam e-mail every single day, offering the latest junk that you’re trying to sell them. It does however mean that you make a genuine effort to stay in touch.
Take the time for example to send out a survey a day or two later asking your customers what they thought of your website.
Write as well e-mails which have helpful information which they genuinely may want to know and without a hint of marketing. These e-mails should be pure information and offer your customers something genuinely useful, kind of like a newsletter, but a newsletter which actually provides real information rather than tooting your own horn.
If you do these things, then you can also send out occasional marketing e-mails. The key however is to provide genuine value which doesn’t sound like marketing in most cases. This way, your customers will actually look forward to hearing from you.

Consider Occasion Postcards

If you’ve got your customer’s physical address, because you had to mail them something (or because they were billed for something), consider sending out physical postcards to your customers for special occasions, such as the holidays. These should be generic enough to look innocuous to anyone, so that no matter who your customers are, they won’t be offended. Something like “Happy Holidays” is appropriate here.
Another idea with postcards which I always loved were the “random occasion” postcards. This is a clever idea I saw years ago which someone had put into place to build relationships with customers and they worked wonders.
This marketer would have generic postcards made up which said “congratulations on your happy occasion.” She would then send out randomly to her customers throughout the year. The idea of these postcards was that almost everyone has some happy occasion going on at one time or another – a birthday, an anniversary, a promotion at work, etc. She reported that she would regularly get pleasant calls from customers saying “thank you so much –how did you know?”
Depending on the kind of business you run, you may also want to take a page from Ben and Jerry’s and Baskin Robins. Both of those companies offer to put people onto a registrar for a free scoop of ice cream on their birthday.
The idea is that most people will come in with their friends, all of whom will then buy ice cream while they give away a free scoop to this one person. Of course, this doesn’t work for every online business, but it can work for many of them to build customer relationships.
This is all about brand building, which is an important part of building up your relationship with your customers and as such is an important way to get them excited about your company.

Run Customer Only Specials

Another great way to build up a relationship with your customers is to have specials offered only to previous customers. These would involve providing them with a coupon which is redeemable only by them so that they can use it to make another purchase from you. These kinds of coupons make your customers feel special and generally are well received by them.
The reason they work so well is that most companies offer specials to reel in new customers rather than build relationships with existing customers.
I’m reminded of a Sprint commercial from a few years ago, which flopped because it was trying to get new customers by showing that they offered great service to existing customers. They had a kindergarten teacher offering the new kid in the class the giant box of crayons while all the other kids go the broken leftovers and she justified it by explaining that “she’s new.”
This commercial brings me to another point regarding building relationships with your customers – don’t advertise it, just do it. Customers don’t want to be preached to about how you are so much better than the competition because you treat them with respect even after they are customers.
Instead, when you show them that they are special, they tend to respond that much more readily to your overtures and they will be that much more likely to stay your customers and to recommend you to their friends. It’s a kind of a conspiratorial thing almost, where they like to feel as if they’ve “discovered” one of the few decent companies left in the world, which actually cares for its customers and they can share the “secret” with their friends.

Don’t Forget the One Time Offer

This one is something that many Internet Marketers quickly figure out, but I thought I’d throw it in there anyway for those who are new to the business or who aren’t so savvy on internet marketing. The idea is that when someone has made an initial purchase from you and already has their credit card out, they are more likely to make another purchase if you make a special offer to them.
The way it works is that once they check out, you have a splash screen with a special offer which is offered to them “this one time only.” Then, you allow them to purchase the product only from that special link, which expires once they close the page. The key here is to genuinely make it a one time offer and not an offer you throw around for just anyone. If it’s truly a deal, then they’re more likely to make a purchase.

Don’t Lie

This isn’t actually one of the five strategies – another one is coming up after this. Rather, this is an extension of the one-time offer thing and is also useful for general marketing as well. Nothing ticks customers off more than when they see that you are making the same “special” offer now that you made before.
Be sure to be honest with your customers and allow them to feel as if they are genuinely going to be made a special offer. Otherwise, no amount of marketing will actually allow you to retain customers since they’ll always assume you’re lying to them.
Unfortunately, I find that too many Internet marketers tend to think that their customers are stupid and they therefore try to deliberately pull a fast one. This may work sometimes to bring in short term profits, but it will never work for the long term when you are trying to build a real relationship with your customers.

Have Real Customer Service

Finally, one more strategy for building relationships with your customers: have real customer service available for them. This means that when they take the time to send you an e-mail with a question you don’t wait three weeks to answer them. You try to answer within 24 hours and sooner if at all possible.
Consider as well offering a toll free phone number for customers to be in touch with you as well as a real, live human being to speak to them. Most people hate voice mail services and will really appreciate the old style thing where you are willing to talk them, person to person when they call.
Just make sure to keep the cranks off the phone. I still remember when I ran a business of my own many years ago, I had one customer call me and chatter on for fifteen minutes about nonsense, without actually making a purchase. Today, if the same thing happened, I’d flat out ask the customer if there was something related to the company that I could help them with. If they said no, then I’d say “thank you for your call. Have a nice day” and hang up on them.
This idea, providing real customer service, more than anything else will build a loyal brand following for you because customers are used to crappy customer service and by offering them a quality experience, you already stand head and shoulders over the competition.

Bottom Line

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and try to think about what you would want from a company if you were a customer of yours. Then go out of your way to do the same for your customers. Trust me, it will work wonders for developing real relationships with your customers and keeping them coming back for more.