Once upon a time, customers didn’t know how to solve their own problems. They had to rely on salespeople who had “solutions.”

Salespeople didn’t necessarily always have a deep understanding of what the problem was, because they didn’t have to. What they were selling was “close enough,” and the customer could take it or leave it.

Today, customers are more in control than they have ever been. They make their purchasing decisions (researching products, comparing pricing, reading reviews) before they ever talk to a salesperson or end up on a website with intent to buy. This means it’s up to you, the business owner and/or the salesperson, to build a relationship early on and show the customer how the product or service you offer uniquely solves the problem they’re having.

Think about it. Your customers hope your product fills a basic need or desire they have. You have only to convince them that it does. That’s your job.

Remember: Your business isn’t about your product or your service. It’s about your customer. And it’s about building that relationship. Part of relationship-building is building trust. You want lifelong customers here—not one-night stands. So stop trying to score on the first date.

What does this mean? If your product is inexpensive and the market is based entirely on impulse buys, a “buy now” button on the first point of contact may be appropriate.

But if you’re selling a high-dollar product or an ongoing service, or if your business model is B2B (where buying decisions might require the approval of several decision makers), you need to shift your focus from closing the deal immediately to educating your customers and building trust.

A “learn more” button on your website that collects names, email addresses, phone numbers, and other relevant info about your customers might be a better relationship-builder than “buy now.” These kinds of calls to action (CTA’s) will help you start a dialogue and nurture a long-term relationship.

“Old-school” sales reps went into a marketing campaign thinking “We are going to sell ‘Product X,’ so let’s find a way to tell everyone about it.” The “new school” requires listening to customers and responding based on their feedback.

How do you get this feedback?

That’s a good question, and the answer ultimately depends on your business and its unique needs. But here we’ll look at some of the best ways to build relationships by listening to—and responding to—your customers.

 

1. Use your website to answer their questions

Are you constantly hearing the same questions from customers? If so, answer them on your FAQ page. It will not only help your customers, it will mean fewer emails and phone calls to you.

2. Don’t be afraid to mention your competitors

Use comparison charts and other tools to demonstrate how your product stands out.  Give them the information that will allow them to make an educated decision. Customers want to learn about your value adds and about what separates you from your competitors. They’re going to research these differences SOMEWHERE. Why not keep them on your website?

3. Be consistent

Inconsistent messaging on different platforms will turn off customers. That’s why your tone of voice, your pricing, your product positioning—everything—has to be the same, whether they’re on your Facebook page, talking to a sales rep on the phone, or in your place of business, browsing the shelves.

4. Deal with the haters

For every dissatisfied customer who complains, 26 just quietly go away, never to return. As a business owner, it’s frustrating to get a rage-filled, ranting online review that slams you and your business. Swallow your pride and look for ways to use this feedback constructively.

Customers appreciate it when a business goes out of its way to make wrongs “right.” And here’s where social media is your friend—you an deal with these problems quickly and in a public forum, so others can see how helpful and responsive you are. Respond quickly! The worst mistake you can make is to ask your customers for their opinions, and then not do anything in response.

5. Survey says!

You can use email, social media, or your website to conduct fact-gathering surveys to identify problems with your product or sales process. The answers you get will show you what you’re doing right, and what you’re doing wrong.

Standard online survey questions might include “What was the purpose of your visit to our store/site?” or “were you able to find what you need?” Don’t ask too many questions, but make sure they encourage a detailed response. Instead of “were you satisfied?” you might ask “What can we improve?”

6. Don’t lose focus

A hands-on way to get direct feedback is to conduct focus groups. They give you more in-depth insights than surveys, showing you why and how a behavior is happening. These days, companies can conduct focus group research using online tools. This lets you focus on targeted demographics, such as age groups and location.

7. Online communities

You may already allow blog comments and other interactive comments on your website. But once your brand is large enough, your website can host forums where customers answer one another’s questions and do some of the “customer service” work for you.

It’s important to moderate these forums, but resist the temptation to erase all the negative comments. Keeping them—and responding to them quickly—makes you look proactive and engaged. It also makes the complainer less likely to go vent on Yelp or some other online outlet where you can’t control the situation.

8. Keep the lines of communication open

Make it easy for people to be able to contact you, both before and after the sale. Most people who don’t leave feedback choose not to do so because they think the business does not care. Go out of your way to show that you DO care and you’ll get constructive feedback you can use to improve. Another tactic that will improve response is assuring them a speedy reply, so put “We’ll reply within 24 hours” or something similar and watch the feedback roll in.