Your only true competitive advantage is your customer relationships

Competitiveness is the hallmark of business. In today's global marketplace, business owners need to determine how best to compete. Not only are business owners competing with businesses in their own towns, they are now competing on a global level. In some cases, they are competing with businesses who only have an online presence making customer retention even more challenging.

New Ways to Compete

Historically, businesses competed by offering better products, lower prices and convenience. Today, this is nearly impossible to accomplish and keep a competitive edge. Building brand loyalty is not nearly as easy as it once was, in large part because of the internet. People tend to look for the products they need online. During this search, customers are more likely to ask friends via social media, shop for the best price on a product and are as interested in convenience as they are in a brand. Therefore, business owners and decision-makers in a business need to find the best way to attract and retain customers.

Do Not Bypass Tried-and-True Methods

One thing to keep in mind is that there are still some tried and true methods that you cannot change while working on attracting and retaining customers. Your business must still offer a high-quality product, stay current with trends that occur in your industry and provide value to the consumer. These are the basic building blocks of a good relationship between you and your customer. But, you cannot stop there. Today's consumer demands more.

Communication is the True Building Block of Loyalty

Communicating with your customer base is the true key to developing customer loyalty. If your customers only hear from you when you are trying to promote a new product, they may soon turn to other similar products that will meet their needs. Developing strong relationships with customers involves time and effort on your part, but, in the long run, it will pay off with a more loyal customer base.

Communicate More Than Sales

Consider the last time you offered a loyalty discount, reached out to your customer base to acknowledge a birthday or holiday or offered some special incentive that was not open to the public. These are great ways to build loyalty through customer relationships and you should attempt to do this type of outreach at least on a quarterly basis. Remember, you do not want to be a nuisance but you do want your customers to remember you the next time they are searching for the product or service you are offering.

Customer Service: Get More for Your Dollar

Communicating between sales is only one step in developing customer loyalty through strong relationships. The best way to ensure your competitors cannot poach your customers is to ensure you have superior customer service. This is the one way that your competition cannot match if you are doing things the right way. Customer service must be proactive and not always reactive. Naturally, if a customer has a complaint you want to be as reactive as possible but if you are proactive, you can stop a lot of problems. Be sure your customer service team is all on the same page with one goal in mind: keeping a happy customer.

Social Media, Telephone and Email

Being available to your customers in as many ways as possible can help you develop the best relationships. Your online presence can help you stop problems from developing before they harm your reputation with other customers. Keep in mind, a happy customer may only offer your information to others if they are asked. An unhappy customer will tell whoever will listen. Keeping the lines of communication open and being responsive to inquiries, complaints and suggestions are all great methods of developing customer loyalty.

Strong relationship building begins with the first comment or inquiry you get from a customer or potential customer. How you handle these matters will determine your relationship with them later. Keep in mind, a timely, accurate response is what most people need. Make sure the staff members who are communicating are doing so in a manner that leaves the customer feeling they mattered.

Effective communications are even more crucial to relationships when you have an unhappy customer. Addressing customer complaints in a timely, effective manner can help repair a potentially harmful relationship and will go a long way to nurturing a stronger, more loyal relationship with your customers. Remember, word of mouth and social media move at the speed of light. One unhappy customer could cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in sales.

Companies That Got the Message

There are numerous companies who have outstanding customer service. However, there are also those companies who stand out from the crowd and offer customers not only good value for their dollar but go out of their way to create strong relationships. Some of them include:

  • L. Bean – a study conducted in 2012 showed a statistic that every business should strive to achieve. Their customer service staff responded to every single inquiry made on Twitter, regardless of the inquiry. LL Bean also ran a promotion where they asked customers to share pictures on social media representing an "outdoor moment". There were a million photos shared, some having nothing to do with LL Bean. As a result, the company donated $1 million to the National Park Service.
  • Nordstrom – not only does Nordstrom offer high quality products but they have an unparalleled return policy. Regardless of when you purchased an item, you can return it. There is no time limit and you need not have a receipt to show proof of purchase. Several years back, Nordstrom leased a property that at one time was an auto shop. One customer decided to return a set of tires to Nordstrom. This company does not sell tires and yet, they accepted the return anyway. Relationship building sometimes means overlooking the rules.
  • Amazon – this massive online retailer has a secret to providing the best possible customer service experience. Before calling, customers fill out an online form so the representative knows exactly what issue they are going to be dealing with. Because of this, in nearly every poll about customer service, Amazon consistently comes out on the top of the list for great service.
  • Lego – this company features educational and fun toys for kids and that means their main customer base is parents. One child recently saved money to purchase a specific Lego set only to discover once he has saved the money necessary the set had been discontinued. In keeping with their commitment to customer service, they delivered the child a package to his home in time for his birthday. No one has ever disclosed whether it contained the discontinued set or not. Remember, if your customer base is children and they write to you, do not ignore them – their parents will be made aware of your neglect.

There are numerous other examples of companies making a difference to their customers and their communities. The bottom line is that it is good for your bottom line to develop strong customer relationships and maintain those relationships. It is never a good idea to wait until a customer has a problem to reach out to them. Developing and nurturing strong relationships with customers is the key to your company's longevity and success. You can be more competitive by simply doing the right thing and treating your customer base and perspective customer base well.

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