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New year's resolution: Building better connections with my customers
There are a lot of little things small business owners can do to better connect with their customers, but with countless other concerns, revenue-oriented priorities, and urgent fires to put out, customer outreach often gets ignored.
Maintaining a better connection with customers doesn’t have to be a challenge, especially since there are so many forms and channels to use, and entrepreneurs have the flexibility to explore the ones that work best for their business and industry. The best part is that most of these platforms are free, and while building an audience can take a lot of time, it doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money.
Here are a few ways small business owners can better connect with customers in the new year.
Engage on social media
Just about every small business owner understands the value of strong customer service on social media, but it can often feel like no amount of online interaction is enough. That’s because customers increasingly utilize social media as their first point of contact, knowing that it’s so accessible and gets them connected to your business faster. Whether voicing a complaint or a compliment, consumers are beginning to see social media as the defacto platform for with community businesses.
Incorporating social media into your customer service strategy can sound overwhelming, especially when the number of platforms continues to expand, but there are ways to master it without letting it take over your routine. You don’t need to start your own TikTok account or become an expert at using Snapchat—interacting with your customers can be much more manageable than that. Responding to customer reviews, direct messages or comments is a great first step in effectively navigating the expectations and needs of your customers.
If you’re already comfortable interacting with your customers, the next step would be to start building an engaged audience. Actively posting pictures of your products or sharing company updates will help build a stronger connection with your customers, and offer them a reason to follow your business on social media. You can also try sharing valuable insight or knowledge tidbits with your audiences: establishing trust and showing expertise also means that your customers and their communities will think of you when they need help or advice next.
As time goes on, consider adding more social media platforms to your repertoire, but don’t feel pressured to sign up to all of them at once; this might get a little overwhelming, so take your time in establishing your voice and posting routine before moving onto the next one. Setting up a social media account and dedicating an hour a week is a great way to start off the New Year, so it’s easier and more fun to build stronger relationships with your customers.
Start a blog
For those who enjoy writing, there’s perhaps no better way to engage with customers than starting a blog (like the one you’re reading now!). Small business owners often have a strong understanding of how their industry is evolving, and consumers are eager to hear what they have to say about it.
It’s important, however, not to be overly promotional about the products and services, or you’ll risk losing readers. There’s a fine line between informative and sales-y, and finding it is paramount to building a loyal and engaged audience.
Once your article is ready, consider publishing it on a section of your website dedicated to blogging. You can also further expand your reach by publishing your articles on fellow blogs that were similarly set up by peers in your industry or business type. Many of these established blogs are free to contribute to, and often come with their own audiences. Furthermore, you can increase the reach of your content by linking to it on social media, and can entice conversation to further engage with your followers.
Start a podcast
If writing isn’t your forte, perhaps you’d be more comfortable connecting with your audience through a more auditory medium. Fortunately, just about anyone today has the ability to start their own radio show or “podcast” with little or no additional equipment required.
You can start by writing a script and recording on your laptop or smartphone; if this is something you feel will contribute positively to your business in the long run, or you want to maintain a communication avenue with loyal listeners, consider upgrading to a more professional setup as time goes on. As with blogging, there are now a variety of free online services that can help you create, edit and post your podcast where an interested audience is likely to find it.
Podcasting is an emerging trend, so take some time to research audiences and existing channels. It might also be a good idea to find and analyze podcasts that have a similar feel or approach to what you envisioned, to help you build your strategy.
Consider launching a newsletter
One of the best ways to interact with your customers directly is through regular, direct email messages or newsletters, especially if you already have the necessary contact information from agreeing clients. There are a variety of platforms that you can use to send out all types of messaging—customize basic templates or design a more complex look, write unique content each time or have a consistent call to action at the bottom—add your content and include a custom mailing list, and you can easily reach those customers who have subscribed to hear from you..
Encourage customers to sign up for your mailing list in store, on social media or any other platform, and you can continue building your audience over time. You can also encourage more readers by including special offers and promotions, or early access to new products or services.
How to get started
The only investment you need to make this year is a commitment of your time: one hour a week can go a long way when it comes to maintaining relationships and building larger audiences online. Business owners who want to invest their earnings into customer engagement can also redirect part of their advertising budget towards promotions that will help build their audiences. These could include offering a discount code to podcast listeners, or hosting a social media product giveaway contest; the goal is to provide a resource that is valuable to your audience and relates to the product or service your business offers.
Maintaining a strong connection with customers can seem like a daunting task, but fortunately there’s a wide range of online platforms that can help you stay connected and up-to-date with what your audiences are talking about. Though it may be difficult to find the time to dedicate, we encourage you to make a commitment, no matter how small it may seem. After all, keeping up with your customers online will help you build a loyal following and an educated community that you can easily reach, and that is well worth the investment.
Continue reading our series of new years resolutions with resolution #2.