In the early part of this millennium, when a customer came into your restaurant or boutique you had the chance to interact with them; inform them about your store, what’s on special and attempt to build a bond.

Sometimes you’d have success with that interaction and you’d initiate a relationship. Other times, a person would leave your store and never return. In fact, that will happen often, even if the person was treated well.

Now that your customers are not just in person, but also follow you online through social media too, you have the ability to connect with them digitally.

And then there are the customers who felt they weren’t treated properly. Not only will they not return to your store, they have a chance to scare away potential customers through negative reviews on sites like Yelp. Take a look at these statistics from Customer Service Manager (CSM) to get a better idea:

  • 91% of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with you again.
  • A dissatisfied customer will tell 9-15 people about it. And approximately 13% of your dissatisfied customers will tell more than 20 people about their problem.
  • For every customer who bothers to complain, 26 other customers remain silent.

Clearly, no one wants unhappy customers. But if customers are taken care of or problems are resolved, new positives appear. See for yourself with these additional stats from CSM:

  • 70% of complaining customers will do business with you again if you resolve the complaint in their favor.
  • 95% of complaining customers will do business with you again if you resolve the complaint instantly.
  • Happy customers who have their problems resolved will tell 4-6 people about their positive experience.

Happy customers and new connections can be created and nurtured in the digital landscape. Here are just a few of the social platforms and methods for doing so.

Skype: If you need to have a personal call, Skype can be your answer. Plan b, a cut and color boutique in Cambridge’s Harvard Square, uses Skype for video consultations so clients can talk to a master stylist from their home computer before coming in. This unique idea helps create a personal connection while staying professionally relevant.

Text MarketingMobile marketing is all the rage because of its super high response rate. I read at one point that text messages have something like a 91% open rate. Not that big of a surprise, considering that we're living in a mobile world where people carry and use their cellphones everywhere. I'm suggesting opt-in text marketing of course. You promote a unique number on table tents and in-store signage to your customers, they text the number, and they get subscribed. They probably also get an incentive for subscribing.

For any store that has constantly rotating inventory, text marketing can become a great loyalty program. If you change your menu every week, why not send it out? Every time Redbox has new movies, I get a text message from them letting me know what's out and I've always found that really helpful and non-spammy. If you get new products in, or have a weekly special, why not let them know?

Facebook: This social network is perhaps the leading platform for small businesses to foster an online community with their customers. Even though email is still king to most marketers, Facebook gives the unique opportunity to speak directly, one-to-one, if a customer wants.

There are a billion ways to engage customers on Facebook, but here’s a simple example of a post by Stoddard’s Fine Food & Ale. They asked whether fans felt it was time that Massachusetts started allowing craft beer growler stations. An excited fan chimed in, "Abso-lutely. What's the first step to making that happen?"

Twitter: The micropublishing site doesn’t have the user base that Facebook does, but it’s still a valuable website for content sharing in real time. Those who are "Twitter people" rather than "Facebook people" can make a business go viral in their communities in a snap.

Check out how Rialto Restaurant was able to quickly inform its followers that they had last-minute space in their bar for Boston’s popular Restaurant Week. What's nice about Twitter is that you can send out these short little news bursts, and you can send them once an hour if you want without annoying anyone. On Facebook, your wall could get a wee bit crowded, you'd be better off paying to "sponsor" the original post.

 And as a bonus ...

LinkedIn: For the business-minded among us, LinkedIn can be used for building a professional network online. Michael Fuchs, Executive Recruiter at Ascend HR Corp in Houston, Texas, considers LinkedIn to be his best tool for his work. Fuchs says, “LinkedIn helps me reach people who aren’t necessarily looking for a job. Having access to these people, in addition to candidates that are actively seeking a new position, gives me the best opportunity to find the candidates that have the skills and credentials my clients are looking for.”

I imagine the world of job recruiting must have been much harder in the days before LinkedIn.

How are you using digital to enhance your customer relationships? Please share your experiences with us!

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