How to Build Customer Relationships in the Digital Age

ipad-605420_1280There’s no question that the digital revolution has led to sweeping changes in virtually every industry, but it’s important that companies not throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to digital transformation. The fact is that many core business principles remain just as relevant today as they were before anyone had ever heard of a smartphone, and while they certainly need to be re-examined and reapplied in a digital context, they still provide as solid a foundation for good businesses practices as they ever did.

One case in point is the concept of customer relationship building. For most businesses, one of the main steps involved in digital transformation is the process of seriously renegotiating the customer relationship in order to satisfy the high expectations of today’s digital consumers. But in working to build a technology-based connection that is closer, more responsive, and more personal, there’s no need for companies to abandon the “evergreen” principles that underlie a good customer relationship. The following three touchstones are still, and always have been, critical elements of building good customer relationships, and even as companies move forward on their journey to digital transformation, they would do well to continue reaching back to these basics.

  1. Customer orientation

Following the customer’s lead has always been a golden business rule. But while it’s certainly logical for businesses to make responding to their customers’ wants a priority, it’s interesting to note that the most successful businesses have not simply given customers what they say they want, but instead deliver something that customers didn’t even know they wanted. (Steve Jobs perfectly captured this method with his quote: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”) Genuine customer orientation is not only about listening to your customers, but also about empathizing with them; to truly follow the customer’s lead, businesses need to be aware of both what customers need a product to do for them and how they want the product to make them feel.

This longstanding principle is vital for companies to keep in mind in the digital age, when there are more ways than ever for customers to voice their wants, needs, and opinions. True digital leaders must get to the heart of what’s really behind their customers’ desires, leveraging new technology to create vital, intuitive connections.

  1. Customer segmentation

e-mailToday’s sophisticated technological tools make it easier than ever for companies to reach huge audiences with a simple click of a mouse. But truly savvy digital companies know that it’s more important to reach the right people than just the biggest number of people. That’s what segmentation is all about: not assuming that all customers care about the same things, and instead focusing on the specific needs of distinct subgroups. It’s also about companies differentiating themselves from their competitors by standing out in certain key areas (rather than going for a the vague goal of being a little bit better in all areas, some of which matter less than others).

Marketers have focused on customer segmentation for years, but this touchstone of customer relationship building has taken on an even greater importance as more and more businesses become digital entities. With fierce competition between incumbents and startups for an ever-more knowledgeable customer base, segmentation has likewise become more complex and changeable; if customers feel that a particular company or brand isn’t speaking to them, they will not hesitate in taking their business elsewhere. Companies who want to build good digital relationships with their customers need to take the segmented approach seriously, and constantly assess and re-assess who their target audience is at any given time.

  1. Multi-dimensional customer journeys

Aligned and integrated branding at every consumer touchpoint is the final customer relationship principle. But whereas it once involved a limited number of channels, namely print and television advertising, the digital revolution demands that messaging aligns consistently across a much broader spectrum. And given the present dynamism of the Internet, companies must clearly define what they stand for to mitigate confusion or inconsistencies across various media.

Indeed, regardless of which digital channels companies incorporate into their marketing strategies (e.g., online advertising, social networks, or other digital media) the one customer relationship rule that cannot be broken is delivering what was promised, wherever or however it may have been promised. Transparency is prized more than ever by today’s consumers, and the businesses that fulfill the digital promises they make are set to reap great rewards in the form of brand loyalty and advocacy.