Customer relationships are a fundamental — but often overlooked — component of marketing. Few companies truly understand their customers, nor do they accurately predict their behavior or consistently influence their decision-making. Even fewer companies understand what "customer-focused" means and how to achieve it.
Seven factors tend to influence customer behavior and relationships. Although you may be familiar with several of these concepts, considering them all simultaneously may be helpful in creating your customer base.
To build lasting, valuable relationships with customers, it's not enough to send product updates or announcements of new services. Progressive-thinking marketers are creating and solidifying customer relationships by delivering resources via email. Email has transformed the world of business. In fact, I think you'd be hard-pressed to imagine working without it.
Email is recognized as the best one-to-one communication vehicle available, providing the fastest, most cost-effective way to deliver personalized, time-sensitive information while maintaining close relationships with customers, prospective customers, vendors and partners. Yet, there are certain criteria that must be met to ensure a consistent, useful e-mail resource and communications channel for customers.
Provide relevant content. The best way to ensure that subscribers remain on your email list is to provide them with content that is interesting and relevant. For instance, if your company develops computer games, you may want to provide a newsletter that contains information on the latest games, tips and tricks and special offers on new releases. If your site provides the latest business news, a newsletter with the latest headlines would potentially be of interest to your prospects and customers.
Target and customize your messages. Be sure that you segment your lists appropriately and send targeted messages to each segment. Give your clients information about what they want and less of what they do not want. To further customize your messages, allow subscribers to select their own preferences for receiving email in HTML, plain text or URLs that link to Web sites.
Personalize, personalize, personalize. Personalized messages sell. Talk to your readers on a one-to-one basis, and your marketing campaign will be much more successful.
Prepare for an explosive response. Make certain that your email system will handle the high volume your messages will generate.
Provide an automated subscribe/unsubscribe process. If customers are not interested in your resource, make it easy for them to remove their email address from your lists. Also make it as easy as possible for new subscribers to sign up.
Create viable storage for customer data. Maximize the value of your customer data throughout your organization by storing it in a standard relational database. This will allow you to better integrate the information throughout your entire company.
Automate e-mail "bounce" resolution. Some of your emails will bounce back to you. Rather than manually searching for correct addresses, ensure that you have an automated process for handling those returns.
Respond to e-mail inquires with 24 hours of contact. This may seem obvious, but it's not so obvious to the number of large corporations that are swamped by messages from inside and outside their companies. Many organizations take from three to five days to respond. Sadly, some do not respond at all! If you are slow in responding, most likely your customer will think, "If they can't respond to my email in 24 hours, how long will it take them to send me the product?"
Adopting these practices will help you ensure a sustainable, successful relationship with your customers. You should always strive to be as useful to your customers as possible and to provide the best service you can. Customers will reward you with loyalty and sales that would not have been possible with standard offers and discounts.
Further support is available from your local Small Business & Technology Development Center to help you with marketing, customer service and other business management issues.
- John Parfet, MO SBTDC. For Creating Quality Newsletter, Aug. 2002.