Developing solid customer relationships is an essential aspect of a customer-centric strategy. To be effective in its purpose, a customer relationship strategy and program must create and build customer value.  Employ these best practices when creating your relationship strategy.

Three Tenants for Developing a Customer Relationship Strategy

The primary purpose of a relationship strategy is to build and maintain a base of committed customers who are profitable to the organization. These are the basic tenants of to creating a customer relationship strategy: 

  1. A new sale signals the beginning not the end. In sales-centric transaction-based companies, the ultimate goal is to make the deal and then move on to the next deal. Relationship marketing suggests that you’re investing in a customer for the long-term, which makes the relationship a bit like marriage, you want to be selective in the customers you choose so you can serve them well throughout the life of your business relationship.
  2. Treat your best customers like gold.
  3. Focus on solving problems rather than selling. There’s a whole movement devoted to cross-selling and up-selling. The drawback to this thinking is it’s about selling rather than solving. The value of the relationships is that you have access to customers and therefore the opportunity to listen to their wants and needs, ahead of the competition. Listen with the idea of solving a problem rather than selling and you will be able to develop products they will want to buy.

Two Criteria for a Successful Customer Relationship Program

Many relationship programs are very one-sided. Designed under the assumption that customer participants are satisfied to be in a relationship where they are constantly being asked to buy more. Reciprocity must be the foundation for any relationship marketing program to work. Unfortunately, many relationship marketing programs are not very mutual or reciprocal.  The very definition of the word relationship suggests a state of being mutually and reciprocally interested. For your relationship marketing program to work you must think more like a partner and less like a supplier. Therefore, your program must in some way be mutually beneficial. Your customers must experience something in it for them. Your program must serve both parties’ common interests. And for it to be reciprocal there must be some kind of complimentary interchange.

A viable relationship strategy must provide ongoing customer-centric value. For a customer to participate in a relationship program there must be a good reason for them to stay involved. A good relationship marketing program isn’t about how many people you have signed up, but about how many of them you keep engaged. The success of any relationship rests on your ability to create, grow, and keep the trust of your customers. A customer relationship program and strategy rests in understanding how to build trust and value.

Incorporate 7 Elements into Your Relationship Marketing

Incorporate Seven Elements into Your Customer Relationship Strategy and Program

We would recommend that any customer relationship program should include these seven elements:

  1. Base the program on serving your customer needs. This will require that you processes and tools to gather and understand customer needs. These techniques can include surveys, advisory panels, user groups, etc. Consider any method for continuously keeping a pulse on your customers’ requirements. Focus on more than just meeting their needs, gather data that will help you anticipate and solve their future needs.
  2. Processes for introducing relevant product offers at the appropriate time. Growing the share of wallet of your customers is often one of the most fundamental efforts of any relationship program. This means you need to bring relevant new products and services to their attention at the right time.
  3. Appropriate rewards at the appropriate time. When customers are working on your behalf and demonstrating loyalty, it’s appropriate to acknowledge their efforts and commitment. Celebrate their contributions.
  4. Two-way, interactive communication. By definition, a relationship implies something that is two-way and interactive. An effective customer relationship program is more than just pushing out more stuff (offers, requests, etc.) to your customers. Do as much listening as you do talking, in fact, more listening is better.
  5. Forward-looking, long-term, bi-mutual engagement. Again the idea of a relationship is that it lasts over time and is not a single event. Relationship marketing programs should encourage both parties to stay engaged over the long-term.
  6. Deliver on your promises. All the nice events, rewards, material, etc. will be for naught if you don’t deliver on your promises. Have everyone in the organization understand that your word is your bond with customers.
  7. Ensure that you have product and service delivery consistently at all times.

Check out the book The One to One Fieldbook by Don Peppers, Martha Rogers, and Bob Dorf where they outline four key implementation steps for initiating individual relationship marketing programs:

  1. Profile your customers in as much detail as possible. In addition to demographic data like age, address, and income, you also need to know their habits, preferences, and reasons for transacting with you.
  2. Differentiate your customers by both their value to your organization and their needs.
  3. Interact with your customers and use this interaction to acquire additional information about that customer that can help you make decisions or implement new strategies.
  4. Customize some aspect, or many aspects, of how your organization interacts with and behaves towards each individual customer. In some way make each customer feel special.

Will Your Relationship Strategy and Program Work?

Creating and implementing a relationship marketing program based on the above tips is a serious endeavor. Your odds of success will be impacted by three factors.

  1. Your customers like and trust you. You realize that people are buying who you are and not just what you do. Your character, manners, and kindness all play an important role in continued success in a service-oriented business. No program will overcome issues of trust.
  2. Your organization has a reputation for listening and solving problems. Listening to your customers’ wants and needs and focusing on how to solve your customers’ problems impacts future opportunities.
  3. You can and do communicate the benefits, and the specific results your product or service offers.

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