When was the last time you communicated with your customers? Was it just to send them an invoice? Communication is a two–way street that involves both speaking and listening. Customers who feel like you are really listening to their responses develop a connection with your company. The old adage that “people buy from someone they know” is true. In fact, “relationship marketing” is a term that has been coined for the various techniques you can use to build this two–way relationship with your customers. When you’ve established this rapport, customers are more likely to think of your business first when they make purchasing decisions. Here are a few ideas on how you can use relationship marketing to your advantage.
Instead of just sending out notifications of sales, consider sending out newsletters and other educational items to your customers. Booklets, newsletters and even events are great ways to explain how your customers can better use your products and services. For example, you might have noticed that Home Depot offers free seminars on various do–it–yourself projects. Attendees then buy the materials for their project at the store. Take a look at your own communications. Is your newsletter all about you? Customers don’t care who was promoted last month. What articles can you include instead that will help your customers with their needs?
Set up a loyalty program. Look at your product sales and talk to your best customers for ideas on how this concept might work. Many programs offer points or other graduated systems where the more customers spend, the more discounts or freebies they earn. A simple example of a loyalty program is the “buy 10, get one free” cards you get at ice cream stores or video shops. How might this idea be adapted to your business?
Create two–way communication systems. Send out surveys and encourage feedback from your customers. Also work on beefing up your customer service so customer problems are handled quickly and efficiently. At clothing retailer Coldwater Creek, they view customer complaints as an opportunity to show off their “world–class customer service.” Every employee is authorized to go to extraordinary lengths to make sure each person who calls their catalog 800 number leaves with a positive experience. If one of your customers encounters a problem, what can you do? A few options include sending a personal thank you note or apology letter offering a gift certificate or even a free gift. Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool. You want your customers to be raving fans, not grumps posting irate messages about you all over the Internet.
The key to relationship marketing is to take a long-term view of the interaction between your business and your customer. You create a lasting relationship with your customers through repeated communication. After all, if a customer has bought from you once, he has already convinced himself that he can trust your company. Communicating with these customers more frequently only increases that bond, and they will be more likely to buy from you again.
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