How to Foster Deeper Connections with Your First Customers
When you’re first launching a startup, you don’t know a lot of people. You’re struggling to get the word out. The first customers you land will have been in the trenches with you during a time when you were on shaky ground, just figuring this business thing out for yourself. They may have watched you fail a time or two, and they’ll probably see you fly even more. Creating an emotional connection with these customers will be an essential step for taking your brand to the next level.
Living in the age of automation
It’s no secret that we live in the age of automation, of bots, of call centers filled with worker bees who may not be equipt or empowered to help you solve problems. While this automated model is good for big business looking to save dollars and cents, it can be a struggle for customers who just want to talk to another human being who genuinely cares about helping them.
In marketing, we’re always talking about what’s “disruptive”. On one hand, disruptive is bad; it describes things like advertising and cold pitching, both of which shove messages in the faces of people who didn’t necessarily want or need to hear them. On the other hand, disruptive can be good when shakes things up for the better.
You may not think of exceptional, human-on-human customer service as a disruptive device, but in the age of automation, nothing could make your company stand farther apart from the pack than a customer service experience that actually makes the customer feel taken care of.
What true customer care looks like
You can create a true sense of customer care by creating an emotional connection with your customers from the get go.
Be available to them.
While this should go without saying, this is the one thing most companies can’t seem to do right. For small companies, they seek to protect their own time—which is a very good business practice—but too many boundaries can make your customers feel like you’re inaccessible. That means you won’t be able to support them the way they need to be supported. For larger businesses, automation tends to get in the way of real, human conversations. Automating your processes is a great idea if you have a quick and easy way for customers to get in touch with you or a dedicated team member when they truly feel stuck. (For some founders, this is going to mean hiring help or a customer care team! It’s a very worthy investment.)
Right or wrong, your customers need to feel heard. (That will be impossible if they can’t actually talk to a real person.)
My startup clients give new customers direct access to the CEO via email in the beginning. While this model isn’t going to be sustainable forever, the ability to talk to an executive 1:1 whenever you want has created a real sense of belonging in the early stages of these startups, leading to happier customers and strong brand advocacy.
Stop and simply listen.
This is harder to do than you might think. We live in a world where people are constantly consuming information; when marketing a startup, we often think that one of our biggest jobs is content creation—it’s not. The most important role that we, as marketers, possess is the role of listener.
Customers, whether directly or indirectly, are always trying to give us insightful feedback. It could be via a complaint with our software or a thought about how to tweak our offerings to better serve them. Either way, that feedback is pure gold.
When we’re so obsessed with distributing our messages, we’re not stopping and hearing the messages that our customers have for us, and those are the messages that really count.
Take direct action.
Again, maybe this should go without saying, but it’s not as easy to implement as it sounds. Nothing is going to be more irksome to a customer than asking for help and having you not take direct action. When a customer tells you what they need, you should be acting on it.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when it’s just not realistic to support a customer the way they need to be supported at that moment. In that instance, you’ve got to communicate clearly about what you can do.
Let’s take another look at one of my software startup clients. When a customer says they need a new function, it can’t just magically appear. And so, my client makes a catalogue of all customer requests, lists them by priority, sets up reasonable implementation deadlines with their team of developers, let’s the customers know when their new feature will be ready, and then continues to offer 1:1 support for all customers.
Do you know what really tells people that you care about them? When you check in on them without being asked to do so! This could be in the form of an automated email or chat bot. Also, you could send your customer a personal email or—gasp!—call them on the phone. The point is that you’ll be talking to your customers when there are no problems at all, which forges a greater emotional connection between you and your customers than just waiting around for them to reach out when they have a complaint.
Be proactive in the relationship you have with your customers by communicating in other ways than just solving their problems. Start conversations on social media. Send them a card (yes, a physical piece of paper) on their birthday. Throw away your marketing calendar and send them a discount code on Tuesday for no better reason that it’s Tuesday.
Just like any other relationship you have in your life, the relationship you have with your customers is a two-way street. They won’t feel very loved if the only time you “care” is when something is going wrong on their end.
Customers want to be your brand advocates, you just need to start fostering connections with them on a deeper level. You will do this by making yourself (or a dedicated team of support humans) available to them, truly listening when they speak to you, taking action on their feedback, and being proactive in your communications, valuing the customer relationship like that of a dear friend. When you take these simple steps, the connections you have with your customers will flourish.
Meet the Author: Shauna Armitage
Shauna is a Marketing Director or Fractional CMO helping early-stage startups scale with effective strategies, creative solutions, and unparalleled integrity by making the most of small budgets for maximum impact.
As a vocal advocate for women in business, Shauna is on a mission to redefine what it looks like to be a working woman and to support other women doing the same. She spends her free time traveling with her husband and four kids while drinking Coca-Colas. Connect with her on Instagram at @shauna.armitage.