Maintaining and building strong customer relationships is crucial for business success. That's true whether you're a brick-and-mortar retailer, online software vendor, service provider, or another type of entrepreneur. If you ignore your customers, your business will fail.
However, staying in touch with customers becomes more challenging during a health emergency like the coronavirus pandemic. When in-person meetings are frowned upon, and gatherings are all but prohibited, what can you do to stay top of mind when you can't see customers face to face?
Plenty, it turns out. Large and small companies are finding ways to show they care and stay connected with their existing and future customers during the pandemic. Here are a few ideas.
Schedule virtual meetings
Videoconferencing has become the new norm. "Many clients prefer face-to-face contact," says Sarah Franklin, co-founder of Blue Tree AI. In addition to phone calls and emails, she offers virtual meetings to her customers to foster that sense of connection. "GoToMeeting has proved a useful platform for me to be able to touch base with clients and share visually from my computer," Franklin says.
Justin Thompson, marketing executive with Beyond Blue Media, found that his marketing agency had to first educate clients on how to use video technology. Once they were up to speed, Thompson found that the video experience "has drawn our relationships with our clients closer together." Starting meetings with questions about how everyone and their families are doing became standard procedure, which only forged a deeper personal bond, he says.
Pick up the phone
Majid Fareed, digital marketer with Angel Jackets, says that while his company formerly emailed clients to alert them when an order was delayed, during the pandemic, they decided to use the phone instead.
Because more customers were isolating at home, they "were happy to take calls from our representatives," he says. Phone calls are a more personal communication medium than email and can help humanize companies.
Camille Chulick, co-founder of skincare company Averr Aglow, which has a "very busy and engaged community, especially on Instagram," continued to post regular updates and share content "that was gentle, understanding, and appropriate for the stress everyone is feeling," she says. Her goal was to "keep our customers feeling happy and welcome even beyond product placement."
Learning that the amount of time consumers are spending on Facebook has increased by 60% during the pandemic, says Andrei Vasilescu, CEO of coupon website DontPayFull, says his business doubled down on providing content and sponsoring contests to keep customers engaged. "We've conducted different funny contests, and our audience has willingly taken part in those," he says.
Follow up via email
While many companies are using email to convey messages of concern and provide useful information, Paul Kocharhook, president of Pathway Design & Construction, took it a step further. "We have also reached out to past leads that went dormant in late February and March to let them know it is a good time to start thinking about their projects again," he says, which led to the most successful outreach campaign thus far.
While any type of communication is great for strengthening customer bonds, what you share information-wise also impacts how effective your efforts are. John Surdakowski, founder and CEO of Avex, says his company called and emailed its customers to let them know they were there for them. But they also expressed an interest in helping, telling them "we could be flexible with payments. … We don't want them to feel like we are 'selling,' but rather here to support their businesses during a difficult time," he says.
Similarly, Lisa Davis, manager of Shanti Bowl, which works closely with retail stores, says her health-and-wellness business has loosened its due dates for invoices and has been "offering discounts on any new wholesale purchases [customers] may wish to make in anticipation [of] their stores' reopening."
Customize shared content
Malte Scholz, CEO and co-founder of Airfocus, says that, instead of sending out generic content to fill clients' inboxes, "find out what they are interested in and give them the content they want to read and learn from." Personalize it.
Create new business opportunities
Laurel Mintz, founder and CEO of Elevate My Brand, says her agency has thought long and hard about how to provide "immense value" to its current client base to help them come out of the pandemic even stronger than before. That has resulted in offering clients complimentary consulting support as well as invitations to appear on the Elevate Your Brand podcast and participate in co-branded blog and vlog content, social takeovers, and Facebook Live sessions. "We're elevating not only our brand, but our partners', clients', and the community's as a whole," she says.
Exceeding customer expectations by staying in touch, expressing concern for them personally, and working together to rebuild their businesses will go a long way toward establishing a loyal customer bond.
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