There are a lot of businesses that spend valuable time and money to convince people that they treat customers like friends & family. You know the flowery mission statements. The two thumbs up photos plastered on social media. The feel good commercials and ads of smiling, happy customers interacting with employees. But treating customers like friends is more than a marketing tactic or stellar customer service; it’s hard work, just like real friendships, to maintain these connections.
I’m sure you’ve heard the old marketing adage that 20% of the customers generate 80% of your sales, but in an online world of constant options, this no longer applies. Due to turnover of your frequent buyers, that ratio is now closer to a 60/40 split. You must invest in creating advocates to combat decreasing customer loyalty. In the marketing world, our effectiveness is generally measured by KPIs tracking how many new customers we bring in, but our heads are in sand on how many people have left in the meantime. I believe that retention is just as important-if not more so- than initial sales so you can turn those infrequent buyers into repeat business.
Many companies don’t understand their customers’ infidelity. The brand has a loyalty program, usually in the form of a loyalty card. However, most loyalty programs have little or no impact! I know I have at least 4 different cards in my wallet, twice that many on my key chain, and several from direct competitors of each other. But I wouldn’t say I’m loyal to any of these companies. I’ll pull the card out if I happen to shop there, but I’m not suggesting it to friends and their store may not be top of mind when I need to make a purchase. Customer loyalty is not earned through loyalty programs that are made of shiny plastic. I believe loyalty comes from being friends with your customers.
It’s not a matter of how do I treat customers like friends; instead, I find it’s helpful to think about what if a friend became your customer. What do you do when your best friend becomes your customer? How would you set things up differently at your business if your good friend was the buyer? Personally, I know I work even harder to make the experience enjoyable. After all, my friendship and reputation are on the line and I want to make sure my friend is taken good care of.
When you build the business and marketing strategy around your best friend as the customer, you’ll share everyday anecdotes and industry secrets. You’ll surprise and delight your good friends occasionally. And, most importantly, you ask them for advice on decisions both big & small.
As a company, you can build this type of relationship and rapport with consumers. You can even hire specialized agencies (like me!) for this type of thing. Just ask your creative agency to provide customers with entertainment and the odd surprise. Of course, we also share our daily content with them. Through modern research techniques we even ask their advice. But friendship goes much deeper than these tactics. Friendship is a deep emotional connection between people. You build memories & spend time together, help each other without asking anything in return, and you forgive each other’s mistakes and shortcomings. Sounds like something you’d want to build for your business.
Here are five tips I recommend:
Offering good customer service from the heart is an important step in building a friendship with your customers but you also have to take it one step further: you have to do things together. You don’t just talk at your friends never letting them put their two cents in-at least I hope you don’t. By involving your customers in the full process, and actually letting them influence the business, when they see their suggestion take fold or when you give them credit for the innovation it leads to a deeper emotional connection.
Launching a new product? Ask your customers first. Thinking of hosting an event? Ask your customers about topics and timing to make sure they can show up. Collaboration sparks friendship. Involving customers whenever you can is the key to turning a satisfied customer into a friend.
2. Care About Their Needs
Everybody has that friend that only comes around when they need something. A lot of companies are like that because they only really care about their customers as far as the getting them in the door, or when there’s money on the table. If clients only hear from you when it’s time to renew the service you offer, then you’re treating them as a means to an end and nothing more. And worse...they know it.
For example, both the car dealership where I service my car and the gym I attend both offer free child care. They do this because they know customers may not come and stay for an extended period of time with their child in tow. As a business, you need to think about customers personal needs, to treat them like friends.
3. Integrity Matters, So Follow Through on Your Word
I can assure you that you also have a friend who always bails on plans you’ve made. A lot of businesses are like that person. I see this when I work with service or sales teams where reps have made promises and pledges and “give you their word”, but when the customer really needs it they play games or start talking about the company policy they can’t break.
In order to really treat customers like friends you must live up to every word you say. EVERY WORD. Without this trust and integrity, you can never have the strongest bond. If you say you have “great customer service” that will “exceed expectations” and “satisfaction is guaranteed” but really mean as long as your expectations are really low and you don’t want a refund, then there’s a problem.
To reap the benefits of being friends with your customers, you must keep the integrity and honor your word. If you can’t fulfill on the original promise, you should be as proactive as possible to let the customer know just like you’d let a friend know ASAP if the plan needed to change. Making it right for the customer may also mean that you’ll have to do something you don’t want every now and then.
4. Listen and Respect Their Opinion
In business, being a friend means asking your buyers customers for their thoughts and opinions. I believe your buyers have vital insight to things you may have never thought about before because you haven’t experienced your brand from their perspective.
Ask “what else would you like to see from our business,” BEFORE your customers leave, not just in a survey you send after they cancel. Needs change over time, so ask periodically so you can stay up-to-date with what your customers want from you. Like friends, your customers are willing to give advice when you ask, but if they have to feel that you’ll listen to their input good or bad.
You’ll want to make sure that any solutions they recommend you do your best to adapt. It’s also a nice touch to give thanks to those who take the time to help you out with their responses. This can be a discount, giveaway, or other incentive, but even just sending a thank you note or email is a good way to thank them being good friends of your brand.
5. Don’t Get Defensive
If your buyer gives you feedback that you don’t like, don’t react in a way that comes off as defensive or that you think they are wrong. Especially if it’s in an online medium where other prospective clients can read it. I’ve seen it happen before where one response can trigger what appears as an online fight; one which even if you’re in the right, your business will never win.
You may be able to disagree with your friends in everyday life, but to be friends with your customers you need to tread the water carefully. This isn’t to say your team needs to be beaten up by a completely biased opinion, but you have to respectfully disagree. Always thank the person for their feedback, then explain why you took the steps you did and why it was done in an honest effort to benefit all customers. If you tell them, you’ll pass it along to other people on your team then follow through on your word to do so.
Make the effort to be friends with your customers and I promise you’ll start to see an increase in brand loyalty with the people who count and will be the strongest advocates for your brand!