6 ways to build customer relationships and win over prospects

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Copper Staff

Contributors from members of the Copper team

The obvious: building customer relationships is important. The not-so-obvious: businesses are literally losing money by neglecting customer relationships—and it's quantifiable.

A Harvard Business Review study found that "when a tweet is answered in five minutes or less, the customer will pay almost 20 USD more for a ticket on that airline in the future... After 20 minutes had elapsed, customers were only willing to pay $3 more, a decrease of 85% in value compared to customers who received responses in five minutes or less. After an hour, customers were only willing to pay $2 more."

Other than timeliness, the actual quality of the responses has to be good as well, from people building customer relationships. According to American Express's 2017 Customer Service Barometer, 33% of Americans said they’ll consider switching companies after just a single instance of poor service, and over half have scrapped a planned purchase or transaction because of bad service.

So, customer service matters with relationship marketing. But customer service is only one part of forming good customer relationships. When services go down, as they inevitably do, the relationship can sour. The good news: poor service can be (temporarily) remedied without harming the relationship—with timely and empathic customer communication.

Here's how.

How to build customer relationships and win over prospects: 6 tips

It goes without saying that when it comes to building customer relationships, you should be a good listener. You should ask smart questions that help with the customer experience. You shouldn't hard-sell. You should go (or at least try to go) "above and beyond."

These are all nice-sounding tenets that also shouldn't appear in conversation anymore—because they are the bare minimum that any customer-centric company should already be achieving for customer loyalty. If you want to learn how to build customer relationships, there is more you need to do.

(Also, what does "go above and beyond" really mean anyway?)

Here are six tangible, useful tips for building awesome customer relationships and brand loyalty, whether you're on the phone, emailing, live-chatting, or talking to someone face to face:

1. Don't make them wait.

There are few things worse than calling your internet company for help, only to be put on hold with dull, inoffensive music and the occasional 10-second promo clip for said company. This mundane experience can negatively affect the customer experience.

If you have a live-chat option, your response time should be even shorter—McKinsey's 2017 Customer Experience Compendium found that three-quarters of online customers expect help within five minutes."

2. Let them self-serve.

Sure, having a good self-service system in place will help you save money — and still lead to customer loyalty and strong customer relations. Many customers even prefer helping themselves out. (86% of B2B executives prefer using self-service tools when they're reordering.)

The catch is, you have be strategic about it when it comes to customer relations and relationship marketing. Not all tasks are a good fit for self-serve. If it's possible—and easier—for a customer to do something without waiting to talk to your team (like depositing a cheque), then self-serve is probably a good option. If not... read on to #3.

3. But be available.

If your self-serve system isn't great, or you're finding that people always get stuck at a certain point in your product experience, then you need the human touch—at the very least, while your team is figuring things out.

As you are building customer relationships, don't force your customers into an endless self-serve loop with no one to talk to. "As the complexity of the issue increases, such as with payment disputes or complaints, customers are more likely to seek out a face-to-face interaction or a real person on the phone." The concept is simple: don't make life harder for them.

4. Use your data.

Knowing things about your customers can come in handy with inspiring positive customer relations. If you know that they've been a loyal customer for over six years, that they're based in Japan, and that they've been offering product feedback and giving you shoutouts on social media regularly... you'll probably want to make sure that your interactions with this customer are very personalized, that you're mindful of time-zone and cultural differences, and so on.

Of course, you must first have and be able to access that data easily. Which... isn't always possible when you are developing positive customer relations. This is where using the right tools comes in.

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5. Use the right tools.

You don't need a huge customer support team on the phones to help build strong customer relationships and achieve customer satisfaction. But you do need an organized, well-supported team. The tools they're using will have a huge impact, and yes, you guessed it, one of the most touted customer relationship-improving tools is the CRM. Forbes even wrote an entire article about it.

With a CRM, you have all of your customers' and prospects' information at your fingertips, not to mention records of your past conversations with them, relevant files, and docs. And the really good CRMs will help you respond faster to their questions, answers, and complaints—which, if you remember, is one of the keys to building good customer relationships.

In an email survey sent out to Copper customers, those who weren't using a CRM before estimated that they responded 37% faster to prospects and customers. Interestingly, even those who were using another CRM before reported a 35% faster response time. Yes, using the right tool matters when you are figuring out how to build customer relationships.

6. Balance knowledge and empathy.

Knowing how to solve problems when starting strong customer relationships is a necessity. But it's only one part of the equation. American Express's study found that "68% of customers said a pleasant representative was key to their recent positive service experiences, and 62% said that a representative’s knowledge or resourcefulness was key." In other words, more people would rather have a nice person helping them out than someone who knew what they were doing.

Essentially, if you want to create a truly positive, ongoing customer relationship, you have to also genuinely care about that interaction, whether it's centered around a great new product feature or a frustrating day at your customer's office that was exacerbated by your service being down.

For customer satisfaction and brand loyalty, you have to balance sharing useful information while making someone feel like this is a personalized experience. (This is where that CRM data would come in handy.) Make sure your team is empowered to go beyond the standard "Hi, how can I help you today?" Customers have finely tuned apathy sensors; don't just offer a canned response, unless you want your indifference to be spotted a mile away.

Improving customer relationships is something that should be on every team's mind, whether it's Customer Success, Marketing, or Sales. (Often, by the time someone is a customer, they've interacted with all three—or more—teams at some point.) The way that you interact with them, from the greeting to the actual conversation to the goodbye, is everything.

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