These days, it's nearly impossible to build a business without including an online component. If you're a brick-and-mortar business, your customers are going to look online before they ever set foot into your store; they're going to want to know what products you have in stock, what your dinner menu looks like, or whether they can walk in and get service without making an appointment. If you're a business that operates completely online, you have to work even harder to make sure your online presence is clear and easy for potential customers to understand. You also have to think about how you are going to build relationships with potential and current customers, directly from your business's website. In our current environment, people often make purchasing decisions long before they ever speak to a business representative in person. Here are a few tips for connecting with your customers online, whether you are a new brick-and-mortar business owner, an established online consultant, or anything in between:
1. Start With Social MediaOne of the best ways to build relationships with customers is to create social media accounts for your business. If you don't already have a Facebook business page, for example, it's time to get one. Once you have your social media accounts set up, make sure you are doing more than just posting - you need to respond to your customers in order to build those strong relationships that lead to brand loyalty and future purchases.
2. Include Live Chat In Your WebsiteNobody wants to pick up the phone and call a business; we're all too familiar with the experience of getting stuck in a hold queue. You still need to have a phone number somewhere on your website, of course, but try focusing your customer rapport into a live chat box instead. With live chat, a customer can drop in a question and then move on to other tasks without having to stay on hold. People are much more willing to wait for a chat response than to wait on the phone. You can also chat with multiple people simultaneously, meaning that everyone gets their questions answered faster. Lastly, live chat gives you a transcript of the conversation, meaning you have a record of the customer service you and your staff are providing.
3. See What Your Customers SeeSometimes, it isn't enough to simply talk to your customers. You need to see their computer screens to understand the problems, whether they are having IT issues or simply want to show you something they are viewing online. Remote support software, initially designed for support technicians, is useful for any entrepreneur who might have a reason to ask "can I see your screen for a second?" Some types of remote software even let you "drive"; that is, once you see your customer's screen, you can use your mouse and keyboard to navigate and show the customer how to solve his or her problem.
4. Follow Up, And Stay HumanUnless you take the time to follow up, a single customer is unlikely to become a repeat customer. However, you have to be careful. People are already naturally sensitive to anything that looks like spam, and services like Gmail are filtering out mass corporate e-mail messages into their own folders. To successfully follow up and continue your remote relationship with a customer, you have to stay human. If you're going to make a product recommendation, for example, you have to make sure that either you - or your algorithm - chooses a product that is actually related to a recent purchase. If you're using name merge software, you have to make sure it actually merges the name correctly; the last thing you want is an e-mail that begins "Dear Doe John." You also have to be very careful with your language, so that your communications sound like they're coming from a friend, not from a personality-free business. If you'd read the first sentence of a similar e-mail and then delete it, assume your customers will do the same. Building remote relationships with customers is all about finding easy ways for customers to contact your business, and then replying as quickly - and thoughtfully - as possible. Once you learn how to create these relationships, your business, and its customers, will quickly grow.
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