The 7 most effective ways to connect with customers

Businesses need to prioritize building a connection with customers. By doing so, companies get to know their customers on a personal level and can better serve their needs.

Walking into a café and hearing the barista ask, "Are you having the usual?" is a simple pleasure that only loyal customers get to experience.

Today, businesses can collect large amounts of customer information that makes it easy to personalize experiences and increase customer engagement opportunities. However, businesses need to know how to use this readily available data to connect with their customers and make them feel like regulars. Even if the company only interacts with its customers online, it needs to find ways to form the emotional connections that may be easier to form in person.

Here are seven ways that businesses can connect to their customers.  

1. No one-size-fits-all approach

Consumers may purchase a product for different reasons, so it is important for businesses to tailor their marketing approaches to multiple audiences. People want to feel as though the company recognizes that they are individuals -- not part of a group -- so it is important for businesses to cater to this.

Customer segmentation is key for businesses that want to tailor marketing efforts to specific groups. Companies can use customer segmentation software such as Experian's Mosaic, SproutSocial and Qualtrics' CustomerXM. Some CRM systems -- such as HubSpot's -- or marketing automation platforms -- such as MailChimp's -- may already include a customer segmentation tool. 

This practice requires the organization to divide customers into various groups using information such as the customer's demographics -- including age, race, gender, family size, income and education level -- where they live and work, what social class they are in and what their spending and consumption tendencies are.

By getting to know customers on a more personal level, companies can send more personalized messages to increase cross-selling and up-selling opportunities. The ads that segmented groups may receive can improve the customer experience because they feel as though the advertisements were directed toward them and not everyone else in the world.

2. Promptly respond to concerns

The faster a company responds to customer concerns, the higher the likelihood that customers will be satisfied with their experiences and return to the company for their future needs. If a customer has a poor service experience, that could turn them off from the business.

People want to feel as though the company recognizes that they are individuals -- not part of a group -- so it is important for businesses to cater to this.

Whether the customer expresses their concerns by email, phone, social media or chatbot, it is crucial that customer service agents respond to requests as quickly as possible, while providing effective information and solving the problem completely.

Businesses must be aware of how their response times are affecting the customer experience. If the company is struggling with poor service ratings, a manager may need to measure customer service metrics to determine the call center's success and see where it is lacking.

3. Manage customer expectations

It is important for organizations to understand what their customer is looking for and to create experiences with them in mind. The business must also anticipate the customer's needs before they even know that they need them. Companies can use predictive analytics to understand buyer behaviors and what their next step might be.

Predictive analytics use standard statistics, machine learning and AI to look at previous data patterns and predict what will happen next. Companies can use predictive analytics to determine prices for their products or to send offers to customers. Some popular predictive analytics tools include SAP Analytics Cloud, SAS Advanced Analytics and RapidMiner.

Organizations can also use predictive analytics to act on customer feedback from surveys. By collecting information from a smaller group of customers, companies can use that data and project it onto the larger population to make predictions.

4. Increase customer engagement with marketing automation tools

Companies can use standalone marketing automation tools alongside a CRM system, or they can use a CRM system that already has an integrated marketing automation platform to improve personalization. Standalone marketing automation tools include Adobe Marketing Cloud and HubSpot Marketing Hub. CRM platforms with integrated marketing automation tools include Microsoft Dynamics 365 Marketing and Oracle Marketing Cloud.

Depending on the tool, it can automate many functions, such as sending text messages and push notifications to customers, producing targeted ads based on customer segmentation and preferences, email marketing and social engagement.

Rather than spending time with manual data entry and sending out emails one by one, marketers can use the marketing automation software to take care of repetitive tasks, such as posting on social media and sending follow-up emails. Marketing automation software ensures that businesses operate their marketing campaigns at regular intervals with specified frequency. As a result, companies build their trust with customers with consistent communication.

Marketing automation software also enables businesses to track leads and see where they drop off during lead nurturing email campaigns. When the company can see where they lose potential customers, it can adjust its strategy to improve engagement opportunities.

5. Use empathy maps and personas

Empathy enables businesses to improve communication and personal connections with customers. When a company uses empathy to understand how the customer feels, what makes them upset, what they value and how they want to connect, it can use the information it learns to strengthen customer relationships.

Empathy map

Companies can use empathy maps -- or visualizations of what the organization knows about a customer -- to understand what customers need and to help with decision-making. An empathy map is split into four quadrants with labels "says," "thinks," "does" and "feels," with the user in the middle to give the company a complete view of the customer.

  • Says. This quadrant includes what the customer says out loud about the company and is usually a direct quote. For example, "I have great experiences with this product."
  • Thinks. This quadrant contains what the customer is thinking but not saying out loud during an experience with a business. For example, the customer may think, "Why am I not understanding this?"
  • Does. This quadrant describes the actions that the customer takes. These actions may include refreshing a page or looking at other prices on another website.
  • Feels. This quadrant shows the customer's emotional state and may include an adjective plus a short sentence describing why they feel a certain way. For example, "Impatient: due to slow page loading times."

Businesses should continually revise and adjust empathy maps to keep them up to date.

6. Focus on face-to-face interactions

Technology dominates customer service. Customers can call, email or text a service line, message brands on social media channels or use a chatbot to communicate with a company.

However, technology can often lead to frustration or miscommunication. Face-to-face interactions reduce the likelihood of miscommunicating with a company and increase the potential for meaningful connection. For some people, face-to-face is the most comfortable way to communicate with a brand. It may be best to ask a customer what their preferred form of communication is and proceed that way.

If a company isn't physically able to meet a customer face-to-face, it can use a video conferencing platform – such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or BlueJeans Meetings -- or host a webinar to put a face to the name of the business.

7. Show appreciation

Businesses should show gratitude to their customers beyond a simple "thank you" to make them feel appreciated. Showing appreciation can make a customer happy and more likely to return to the business. If a customer is happy, they will spread the word about the company to friends or family, which improves the business's reputation.

Businesses may consider creating a customer appreciation strategy to reward loyal customers. The strategy would include contacting customers regularly, promoting their accomplishments on social media and making them feel important with personalized messages.

Customers can tell when a message from a company is generic, so it is important to customize appreciation messages and add a personal touch. If a business has record of their customer's birthday, it should send them a personalized card or coupon on their birthday. Organizations can also send gifts to their customers out of the blue -- for example, a discount code or coupon -- to emphasize that their customers matter. Companies can use a corporate giving platform -- such as Sendoso, Alyce and Gift My Client -- that offers API integration with the company's CRM system, gift tracking and customization of gifts to customers.

Next Steps

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