As a business owner or marketing manager, you're always trying to find ways to attract new customers. But you're also concerned about keeping the customers you have. After all, studies show that it's 5x to 25x harder to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one.
No matter which customer you're focused on at any given time, success begins with gaining their trust. If consumers trust you to treat them fairly and compassionately, you're far more likely to gain their loyalty. But how do you do that? You can begin by dealing with them as human beings rather than objects.
You can naturally appeal to consumers in ways that will encourage them to buy your product or service. More importantly, in doing so, you'll convince them to care about your business. Here are eight ways to gain customer trust and loyalty. Put these suggestions into action and see what a difference it makes for your business.
1. Understand Your Customers
The first step in gaining customer trust and loyalty is to understand your customers. You need to know who they are. If you already have an established list of customers, check for trends among them. In what ways are they alike? What commonalities do they share? Also, ask your sales team for their input. What can they tell you about the leads they're currently working with? This all helps to understand your current customers or those who have shown an interest in your product or service.
Of course, those tips are moot if you don't have a database of customers in the first place. Be encouraged, however, because there is a solution for you: customer personas. You can create them no matter how large or small your database is.
How to Create Customer Personas
You've probably heard about customer personas, but if you've never created one, the process may seem a bit daunting. After all, they're fictional representations of your customers. In other words, they're not real. What you're going to do, however, is create specific profiles for your target customers. These are the people you want as your customers. You're even going to give them names. This makes them seem real. Plus, it's the first necessary step toward creating your real customer database. So let's get started.
Customer Persona Basics
When you're creating a customer persona, think in terms of demographics, attitudes, incentives, and objectives. The more information you can gather, the better. Some of the questions are pretty obvious. Ask them for their age, gender, location, and level of education. But also consider the industry they work in, what type of job they have, and how much money they make (if they're willing to divulge).
You can get much more specific, too. Ask them about their goals as a customer and what problems you can solve for them. This really zeros in on how you can position your product or service to match the needs of your customers. (More on this in the following section.)
So you have some great questions to ask, but how do you ask them and who do you ask them to? If you have some current customers, ask them. They've already bought into what you're selling, so they're perfect. Ask both happy and unhappy customers, however. You want to know what you did right, but you also want to know how you can improve in the future. Also ask prospects, especially since you already have their contact info. You can also approach co-workers, social media contacts, and anyone who might fit into your target persona. Lastly, consider a third-party network like UserTesting.com.
Customer Persona Tips
People are busy and they're very protective of their time. To get a better response rate, it's a good idea to offer them an incentive to provide answers to your questions, especially if they don't already have a relationship with you. You can offer anything you want, but a gift card is typically a good option.
If you're wondering how many interviews to do, it's probably not as many as you think. After all, these are detailed interviews. There's no pat answer, but shoot for 3-5 interviews per persona. You may need to do 3-5 interviews per category to get the information you need. Once you're able to predict what your interviewee is going to say, that's a good sign you've arrived at an accurate persona. Congrats. You now have an accurate representation of your ideal customer.
2. Align Your Product or Service with Your Customer's Needs
As a smart marketer, it's important to give your customers what they want. But that involves more than merely trying to think like they do.
Malinda Gagnon is the co-founder and CEO of Uprise Partners, a growth-focused consultancy that supports startup businesses, challenger brands, and new products. During her 20-year career as a strategist and marketing technologist, she advised clients like General Electric, Walmart, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, and many others. Her philosophy is one of compassion for the consumer.
"Understanding your customer's most fundamental needs requires more than putting yourself in their shoes. That's empathy. It's important to move from empathy to compassion. This allows you to understand someone's needs and have the desire to meet those needs."
Gagnon noted that compassion isn't just a marketing function. Rather, it's a feeling that needs to happen throughout the entire business. That's why she created a method known as "Compassionate Commerce," a topic she'll cover in-depth as a featured speaker at INBOUND 2019.
"If business leaders, marketers, sales reps, customer service agents, etc. can act from a place of compassion for their customers, that's when the magic happens. You have products and services that are the perfect market fit, and authentic communications to promote and support them."
Here are several ways you can align your product or service with your customer's needs.
- Talk to your employees. Your sales representatives or customer service staff are on the front lines of your business, so to speak. Ask them for their input about what customers want and what they don't like. What good things are they hearing? What are they asking for? This not only helps you align your product, it also tells your staff that their role is important.
- Collect feedback. You can also go straight to the source—your customers themselves. Send email surveys. Check social media to see what people are saying about your product or service. Ask for direct feedback in your retail store, if you have one. However you collect info, make it easy for your customers to voice their opinions.
- Watch your customers. If you can arrange it, get a group of consumers together with your product or service. Then watch as they interact with it. This gives you an unfiltered look at your customer's experience. Afterward, ask them about it. What did they like? What would they change?
3. Make Sure Your Website is Secure
Customer trust may begin (and end) in their first experience with you. If that first encounter is your website, which is oftentimes the case, and you don't have a secure site, you may have just lost a potential customer for good. There are a variety of technical ways to secure your website, but let's talk about two things that are obvious to your visitors: your SSL certificate and the way you collect data from them.
Absolutely, positively make sure your website has an SSL certificate, whether you have an e-commerce presence or not. Google prefers sites with secure URLs (https://), so you're going to rank higher with added security. Plus recent studies prove that security (or the lack of it) is what prevents conversions among website visitors.
4. Customer Service: Treat Every Customer Like They Matter
About 90% of Americans use customer service as a determining factor when deciding whether they should do business with a company. Plus, nearly three-quarters of consumers say they will spend more money with a company if they can get great service to go along with it.
Those statistics should be incentive enough to provide the best customer service experience you can. In fact, if you treat every customer like they're your most important customer, you'll have covered all your bases.
It's like the Golden Rule, which states that you should treat others as you yourself would like to be treated. By applying that principle to your marketing efforts, you can use customer service as a marketing tool.
Let's look at a couple examples of outstanding customer service.
Santa Cruz Bicycles Has a Reputation for Great Service
Santa Cruz Bicycles is a manufacturer of high end mountain bikes. Since 1994, they've earned a reputation as a company that not only builds advanced-quality bikes, but one that also provides outstanding customer service. Santa Cruz patrons are loyal to the company because of both. They know if a problem arises, they'll somehow get the help they need, regardless of where they purchased the bike.
When the company first experienced a growth spurt, they dealt with an influx of customer service requests by creating shared inbox tools that allowed multiple staffers to access a single inbox. It worked to streamline the support process and give customers the fast responses they desired.
Lyft Shares Its Values
Ride-sharing service Lyft has a more indirect approach to customer service, but it's one that has proven effective. In 2018, they generated more than $2.1 billion in revenue. How did they do it? In part, they make their environmental values and social causes known because many of their customers share their sentiments.
Lyft: Made a commitment to full-carbon neutrality and 100% sustainable energy.
Consumers: Almost 80% of Americans support limiting carbon emissions.
Lyft: Donated $1 million to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union).
Consumers: The majority of Americans support immigration from Muslim-majority countries to the U.S.
Those are just a couple examples. By promoting their social and environmental agenda, Lyft makes their customers proud to support an organization that stands up for these principles. Of course, that can backfire with those consumers that don't support these beliefs. But Lyft is playing the percentages.
Under Promise Then Over Deliver
It would stand to reason that if you give your customer more than they were anticipating, they're going to be pleasantly surprised. If you give them less than they anticipated, you'll disappoint them. So, aim to exceed their expectations if you want to gain customer trust and loyalty. For example, let's say you're shipping an order to a customer. You pack the item they ordered and paid for, but you also include a handwritten note of thanks and a bonus item. Chances are good that you'll impress your customers with the thoughtfulness. Plus, you'll convince them to buy more from you in the future because you made them feel good about the purchase.
The same applies to a simple customer service response. When a customer sends an email to you, you send an auto response that tells them you'll get back to them within two hours. (Consider that a promise, not a random response.) Then you address the issue within 15 minutes. You promised two hours and delivered in 15 minutes. You exceeded their expectations and gave them more than they were expecting. That's a feel-good moment that any customer will remember—and they'll use it to your advantage in the future.
You can regularly provide more than you promised. It's highly unlikely there's any harm in that. Just don't underdeliver on your assurances.
Provide 24/7 Service ... or Something Close to It
When your customers need your help, they need your help right away. To gain customer trust, let them choose your business hours. This lets them know you're dedicated to their needs. You're not making them adapt to yours. Naturally, you can't work 24 hours a day and you may not have the resources to staff someone all day, every day. So you'll need to strategize in one of several ways.
- Research and react. Ask yourself when, how, and who. When are customers contacting you? How are they contacting you? Who is contacting you? Once you answer these questions, you can staff your business accordingly to take the bulk of your calls, emails, etc.
- Outsource. For those hours you can't answer calls and email messages, hire an agency to take care of this for you. The downside is they will likely not have the same in-depth knowledge about your business as one of your own customer service employees.
- Automate. During your off hours, use an automated system like Zendesk to reply to and route incoming support requests automatically. Some options include letting a customer know when you'll get back with them and/or providing a link so they can help themselves in the meantime.
5. Ask Your Customers for Feedback
When you ask your customers for their input, there are steps you can take to gather valuable information. Here are several you can put into action that will improve the quality of your customer feedback and reviews.
- Be specific. Ask your customers for clear-cut information. This removes any confusion as to what they should write about.
- Make it easy. Ask for reviews where your customers "hang out" online, like Facebook or Google.
- Go holistic. Use the most popular places for feedback, but also use platforms like SMS, social media, and write-in reviews at your physical location (if applicable).
- Collect ALL feedback. Negative feedback can be beneficial. Use it to your advantage by including any constructive criticisms and responding with solutions.
- Spy on your competition. See what people are saying about your competitors. This will give you an idea of how you stack up and how you can get better.
- Personalize. If your customers have had an experience with a specific person from your organization, have that person invite them to write a review.
Safelite Autoglass became the largest auto glass specialist business in the U.S. by using technology, personnel, and top-notch training. Consider their assurances. They let customers know who's coming to take care of their windshield, where they are (live location sharing), and when they'll arrive. They provided this service because they listened to their customers' feedback. When your customers speak, listen. Then implement those changes that show how much you care about solving their problems.
GNC has taken a proactive approach to customer feedback by asking a question during the checkout process. After swiping or inserting a credit card, you're asked if the product you were looking for was in the store. Your options are:
- Not sure.
This is a great way to ask a quick question and get a real-time answer. After all, GNC has your attention. They might as well retrieve some valuable information if you're willing to provide it. Just be careful how many questions to ask. One inquiry would be considered fair by most consumers.
6. Check Social Media for Customer Remarks
Social media can be both rewarding and penalizing. So, you might as well accept the fact that you're going to need to use it to help your marketing efforts. The way you use it is key. Chances are you'll find good comments on social because consumers are around 53% more likely to post about a positive experience than a bad one. Still, the important thing is to know what they're saying. By monitoring your online reputation, you'll learn what you're doing right—and wrong. This also allows you to form a personal connection with your customers.
7. Be Authentic
There are a number of ways to show people you're for real, but you can start with your website. From your About page to your Contact page and beyond, you can reveal the authenticity of your business and let people know where you're coming from—literally.
- About. Show people pictures of your employees and include a bio for senior staff members on your website. Include information that shows off the human side of your work force. Talk about the history of the company, why the business began, etc. Include anything that will make people more comfortable with your brand.
- Contact. Provide a street address and photo of your business so people can see where in the world you're located. This will save them from typing your address into Google Maps, although they might do that anyway.
- Testimonials. Create a web page for select reviews and testimonials that show that others have had good business experiences with you. Positive feedback gives new customers a good reason to do business with you.
- Badges of Trust. If you've earned certifications, awards, or endorsements from authoritative agencies, go ahead and brag about it by displaying badges. For example, if you earned an A+ rating and Dynamic Seal from the Better Business Bureau, that's a gold star for your company. Go ahead and gloat. Display the badge of honor in your website's footer or another place of importance.
- Guarantees. If you truly stand behind the quality of your product or service, you'll provide your customers with a no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee. Naturally, you can set some terms for this provision, but give them some assurances to make a confident purchase.
8. Send a Handwritten Note of Thanks
One of the most overlooked ways to gain customer trust and loyalty is to send a handwritten note of thanks to your valued customers. There are different ways you can use this method, but in all cases, it's the sincerity of your words that matters the most. Naturally, a handwritten note is going to get the attention of your customers. Handwriting on the outside of an envelope will get most people to open it. On the inside, a handwritten message is a welcome sight from the usual emails and text messages. It shows that you care enough to write a message by hand and express your thanks or gratitude for their business.
Of course, if you have hundreds or thousands of messages to send, writing by hand isn't practical. Does that mean you have to miss out on the benefits of handwritten notes? Not at all. Digital handwriting is your perfect solution.
To talk about how digitally handwritten business notes can help your business, contact us to learn more.