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Customer relations: What it is and how it’s changing in 2023

Customer Relations
What is customer relations and how is it changing?
The benefits of strong customer relations
How to build positive customer relations
7 steps to establish positive customer relations
7 ways to nurture and enhance your customer relations
Final thoughts

To keep up with the competition, brands must invest more time and resources than ever to build strong customer relations.

However, from technological challenges to changes in expectations, customer relations isn’t the same as it was a decade ago. So, how can brands build and nurture relationships in a changing space?

In this article, we’ll define customer relations, explain why it’s so important to invest in and analyze how it’s changed over recent years. Then, we’ll dive into how you can build, nurture and enhance your customer relations to create an audience of loyal customers.

What is customer relations and how is it changing?

Customer relations is the practice of building and maintaining positive relationships with customers. Companies use customer relations to foster loyalty, trust and satisfaction with their products and services, which can lead to increased sales, profits and customer engagement.

Consider the hypothetical competitors Company A and Company B. Company A reaches out to customers for feedback, solves reported issues and satisfies the changing needs of their customers.

Meanwhile, Company B avoids customer problems with a difficult-to-use call center system, including long wait times and multiple re-routing points.

Company A’s approach creates lasting impressions, which lead to loyal brand advocates. In comparison, nothing is stopping Company B’s customers from changing to a competitor offering better service.

How customer relations is evolving

The way companies interact with consumers is evolving quickly. Nowadays, consumers don’t only care about how good your product is. They also care about the buying experience and the treatment they receive during after-sales service.

With higher expectations, companies need to do more to produce excellent experiences. That is why many of them are focusing on building customer relations.

These changes don’t solely affect customer service. Customer success, product development, sales and marketing all have a role to play in improving a customer’s interactions with your company.

The goal is to create positive customer relations with a mutually beneficial, stable and trusting relationship between the customer and your company.

Customer relations has changed in several ways over the last few years:

  • More technical challenges: It’s quickly becoming necessary for communication to be omnichannel. That means companies need to figure out how to connect with customers across platforms. It also means working out which channels are most effective and how to spread brand messaging across multiple channels.

  • Self-service or human contact: Even though 81% of customers expect more self-service options, that hasn’t reduced the need for human service. A Qualtrics study found that nearly three-quarters of consumers still want to interact with humans when resolving technical or billing issues. Brands need to strike that balance without breaking the bank.

  • Higher expectations and concerns about data: Consumers have more power than ever. It’s now very easy for them to switch to a competitor if you don’t provide the experience they want. Customers expect both a higher level of engagement and personalization, but they want this service along with data security, transparency and privacy.

  • Value-based decision-making. Customers want to make ethical buying decisions, and they’re looking increasingly at the commitments made by brands. An Edelman study found that 63% of consumers expect to see a brand’s stand reflected in their business and operations. Understanding value-based selling and marketing key values to your consumer base is vital.

How does customer relations differ from customer service?

Customer relations and customer service aren’t the same, but they are related.

Customer relations involves managing and building relationships. The goal is to create a positive experience, build loyalty and ensure satisfaction.

Customer service is the practice of providing support to customers by helping them with their inquiries. In short, customer service is only one part of customer relations.

The benefits of strong customer relations

Strong customer relations can lead to many benefits for both your company and customers, including:

Increased customer retention and loyalty

Better customer relations means reduced churn and increased retention. If you have better relationships with your customers, they’re more likely to stick around.

A study by Microsoft found that 95% of respondents cite customer service as important for their loyalty to a brand, with 59% having higher expectations than they did just one year ago. Furthermore, 61% of customers say they’d switched brands in the past due to poor customer service.

According to Vonage, 46% of customers switch to other businesses or service providers after a frustrating customer experience.

By providing an experience that customers have come to expect, you reduce churn and increase the chance that your customers stay with you for the long term.

Improved customer satisfaction

Positive customer relations lead to increased customer satisfaction by fostering trust, goodwill and loyalty between customers and the company. That feeds back into customer loyalty: When customers feel respected and valued, they are likelier to continue doing business with the company and recommend it to others.

More (and better) customer feedback

Feedback gives companies essential insight into what’s working and what isn’t under their current approach. A good relationship between the customer and your company means they’re more likely to share their opinions with you, giving you the opportunity to solve their problems and improve the customer experience.

For example, say a customer has a problem navigating your website. You connect with them to capture the feedback, listen and empathize with their issues. The customer walks away feeling heard and you have valuable insights to improve their experience going forward.

Boosted brand reputation and increased customer acquisition

Happy customers tell people about it. In fact, 95% of customers left an online review in 2022 or at least considered leaving one. The better your reputation is, the more you will attract new customers.

The best brands approach the customer experience seriously. They deliver the best experience possible and follow up immediately with dissatisfied customers. That has a two-fold effect: It prevents detractors from heading to social media to air their complaints and helps create new brand promoters.

How to build positive customer relations

Building positive customer relations isn’t a “one-and-done” proposition. Instead, it requires brands to establish good practices and evolve their approaches as they gain insights into their customers’ needs.

In the following sections, we’ll explain how to build and maintain positive customer relations with your customers.

Since customer relations includes every aspect of your customer interactions, there are a lot of moving parts. Therefore, we’ve organized the guide into two steps: establishing customer relations and maintaining and enhancing customer relations.

7 steps to establish positive customer relations

Building positive relationships with your customers requires strong foundations. These seven steps will help you establish a connection with your customers and nurture long-term relationships.

1. Learn who your customers are and what they want

The first step is understanding what your customer base wants and how you can provide it. Only with a deep understanding of customer needs will you be able to improve your interactions. Further, generating long-term relationships isn’t solely about having a good product – you need to consider other ways to bring value to the table.

To begin, you should create robust customer profiles. Generic demographics like age, profession and location can help, but you’ll need to dig deeper if you’re going to get closer to your customers.

Once you have a better idea of who your customers are and what they want, you can begin to cater your service to fill their needs. You’ll be able to categorize your customers into segments that require different things from your product or service, or have different preferences when it comes to how and when they’re contacted.

2. Communicate often and effectively.

With robust data, it’s possible to reach out to customers using personalized messaging that targets those value elements.

Try to stay in contact with your customers as much as possible. Respond to their emails, answer their support inquiries as soon as possible and be active on social media. Tools like email autoresponders and chatbots can help you remain in touch even when you have no agents online.

Steady, personalized customer interactions show them you’re engaged and listening. The quality of communication is as important as the frequency, however. Keep customers engaged with newsletters and content that interests them.

The trick, though, is not to overdo it. Customers receive dozens of emails a day and there’s a fine line between communicating and annoying your recipients.

3. Gather feedback (and act on it)

No one can give you a better idea of where you’re succeeding or falling short than your customers. For this reason, gathering as much feedback as possible through customer interviews and surveys is vital, especially following a critical interaction like a purchase or reply from your support team.

Asking is only the first part, however. To improve your relationships, you must show customers you’re listening. For example, if they had a support inquiry, reach out and make sure the company solved their problem.

Once you receive feedback, consider it seriously. Whether it’s potential product improvements or a rating of your customer service, showing your customers that you’re thinking about their opinions makes them feel valued and heard, building trust and loyalty.

4. Build trust through consistency

Every touch point with a prospect or customer is crucial – you can leverage each to improve your relationship with that person. Aside from personalization, effective communication needs consistency.

Customer journey design strategies now largely focus on pleasing the customer. As customer relations become omnichannel, the challenge now is to provide the same quality of communication across every platform.

Building a consistent experience requires clear policies and rules that support your teams in their customer interactions. Get a CRM strategy in place as soon as possible and update it as you hear back from your customers.

5. Be transparent about customer data

Modern consumers want a personalized experience, so you must gather as much information and sales data as possible.

However, with the explosion of data collection technologies, consumers are becoming uneasy about what data and how much of it companies use behind closed doors. They want to know what information you have and what you’re doing with it.

Using ethical data collection practices and being transparent with how you use them goes a long way toward building trust.

6. Let your customers help themselves

Always-on customer support is the gold standard, but it isn’t always possible – especially if you’re a smaller company or startup. This is where self-service becomes essential.

Self-service options give customers a way to find answers to their questions quickly and easily. That might include conversational chatbots, help centers, FAQs and in-depth knowledge bases.

With modern software, it’s easy to add most of these self-service features to your website, enabling customers to help themselves and learn more about your product.

7. Leverage software to increase your efficiency

Customer relationship management (CRM) tools have become indispensable. These can help you provide delightful CRM experiences to your customers. For example, Pipedrive puts all customer data in one place combined with workflow automation and visual pipelines while providing add-ons for customer support and marketing campaigns.

All of your teams must have access to the same customer data so that they have the required context to provide an excellent experience in their interactions. When one department is in the dark, the customer will end up repeating themselves.

At the very least, you should keep a record of your contacts, when you last contacted them and how likely they are to make a purchase. Tracking these elements can be time-consuming and difficult, but without it, you won’t be able to communicate with your leads and customers.

Customer support and help desk software can also help your employees understand your customers and monitor their interactions with your company. With everyone on the same page, you ensure that your customers aren’t receiving mixed responses or having to repeat themselves.

7 ways to nurture and enhance your customer relations

Once you have a CRM solution in place, along with effective policies and a strong understanding of your customers, you’ll begin to establish good relationships in no time. That’s just the beginning, however. If you don’t continue to nurture these relationships, they could decline, and your customers will look for better treatment from your competitors.

Here’s what to do:

1. Invest in your employees

Happy employees are more productive and engaged and leave a lasting impact on customers. Productive service teams and sales reps achieve quicker resolution times, which in turn leads to higher customer satisfaction rates.

Everyone has experienced the difference that motivated, helpful employees can make in an interaction.

To create a great customer experience, your employees need to be well-trained, knowledgeable and motivated. Soft skills like active listening, professional communication and problem-solving are vital.

Employee training, consistent organizational standards and a happy workplace combine to create a consistently good customer experience.

2. Focus on accessibility

A survey by Ascend2 and eMarketer found that resolving a customer’s problems or issues was the top factor contributing to a successful customer experience for marketers worldwide. In other words, prompt and effective customer service is vital.

Meanwhile, according to American Express consumer research, over half of consumers (60%) say convenience is a high priority. One of the best ways to increase convenience is to decrease how long customers wait for service.

While the self-service options mentioned above can help alleviate some of the work required by your customer service team, they can’t replace them.

If you can’t have 24/7 human support, you at least need responses to be fast. There’s nothing worse than having a time-sensitive issue and waiting days to hear back. The quicker you solve customer problems, the easier to develop a meaningful relationship with them.

One of the better metrics to measure here is first-call resolution (FCR), which is the number of inquiries resolved without the need for follow-up. This metric gives you an idea of your team’s efficiency and is a good estimate for customer satisfaction.

3. Respond to complaints and own up when you’re in the wrong

These days, customers expect more. They want to know that if you make a mistake, you’ll admit it, make up for it and take accountability. Customers will respect your transparency and trust you more when you resolve problems in this manner.

That goes for customer complaints, too. A bad review or complaint can seem devastating, but it’s also an opportunity to win over customers for good. Since most customers with a problem walk away without leaving a complaint, every complaint you do receive is a chance to fix a problem and nurture that relationship.

What matters is your response.

If a customer has an issue, take steps to fix it and repair your relationship with them. They’ll see you’re making every effort and respect you for it.

4. Show appreciation

Making your customers feel special is the key to nurturing your relationship, and it isn’t as hard as it might seem at first. Put simply, you need a strong customer lifecycle marketing strategy.

Small things like calling your customers by name, sending them messages on their birthdays or checking in occasionally can go a long way. You can go even further by providing a loyalty program or rewarding repeat customers with a discount on their next purchase.

Beyond these ideas, you could send handwritten notes, give away merchandise, offer a special preview or organize an event for key customers.

Not only will this cement your relationships, but it will also garner word-of-mouth referrals and encourage repeat purchases from your most loyal customers.

5. Provide educational resources to your customers and employees

Offering online classes, tutorial videos and training modules that help customers get more out of your products and services adds another layer of value.

The same goes for providing employees with the skills and resources to give excellent customer service. Empowering them with sales enablement resources and educational material like in-house knowledge bases improves their efficiency and creates a more consistent customer experience.

6. Measure and improve customer satisfaction rates

Don’t keep the engine turning over. You need to track key metrics so that you can find places to improve. Customer satisfaction score (CSAT) and net promoter score (NPS) tests are a great way to measure feedback you can apply to improve customer experience.

These tell you how satisfied a customer is with your product or service and how likely they are to refer you to their friends and families.

Another good idea is to provide surveys with open-ended questions where your customers can fill in the blanks. Yes or no questions are helpful, but open-ended questions are where you’ll strike gold. For example, you could ask “Describe a problem you’re having with this product” or “Do you have any additional feedback to share”.

7. Build a community

Having strong one-on-one relationships with your customers is vital. However, providing a community where your customers can build relationships can take brand loyalty to a new level.

To enable this, you need to create a way for your customers to communicate their needs and experiences with each other.

Social media is a great place for this, and so are forums. A community forum can enable customers to help each other, provide feedback and recommend upgrades to your products that will improve your company’s success in the long run.

Pipedrive’s Community provides users with a forum to learn more about the CRM, discover tips and tricks, connect with useful contacts and share their own thoughts and content.

Final thoughts

Tracking your customer’s needs and providing a consistently excellent experience is one of the major challenges facing brands today.

Showing your customers you care will help you build a close relationship with them. By investing in the right tools and empowering your teams, you can then nurture your customers into long-term advocates.

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