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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Businesses are trying to cope with the global health crisis, and many are struggling to crack the code to keep their brands relevant and stable as it persists week after week.
The thought of staying possible, let alone growing a business, during a time like this can be extremely intimidating. During difficult times, many companies opt to pursue new leads in an effort to increase revenue, rather than remembering that it costs less to nurture the customers they already have. A strong, solid customer base can insulate companies during a time of economic uncertainty.
Related: 5 Ways to Build Killer Relationships With Customers
Businesses need to think more holistically about their customers and yes, increase outreach where needed, but also pay attention to existing loyal fans. While any company that wants to grow needs to engage new audiences, during this time my company is focusing significant resources on retaining existing customers and building stronger relationships.
Below are three lessons I encourage businesses of any size to consider to keep their customer base secure, improve retention and protect long-term growth.
Nurture customers all the time, not just when you “meet” them
Many businesses roll out the red carpet for new customers, only to ineffectively communicate with existing ones.
Especially right now, nurture current customers at every opportunity, because they are the foundation of your business. Of course, welcome new subscribers or customers with a warm greeting that points them in the direction of relevant products or services. But don’t forget existing customers have already confirmed their excitement for you. Meet with your internal teams and make sure you’re working together to have a continuous plan to engage customers and provide timely value to keep them excited.
Going the extra mile to nurture people on special occasions is another effective tactic, especially right now with customers craving interaction. If a customer is celebrating a birthday while social distancing (an emotionally difficult situation for many), a special recognition, thoughtful discount or perk can go a long way. At the same time, make sure you take an integrated approach so you aren’t bombarding customers with multiple messages across different channels. Loyal customers deserve to feel valued, but take caution not to over-communicate with multiple branded emails or text notifications.
Every customer touch point right now provides an opportunity to deepen retention, a metric my team watches rigorously. If brands nurture customers properly, they can retain relationships and emerge on the other side of the pandemic with a healthier bottom line and more enthusiastic brand advocates.
Related: 7 Amazing Ways to Build Long-Term Relationships With Your Customers
Personalize your communication
Every customer is different, and there is no excuse to engage each one in a generic way — especially during a time of crisis when people have such varied needs. Paying attention to customer behavior can help pinpoint these needs. What websites are customers viewing the most? What’s convincing them to buy?
Then, personalize your messages. My company offers a wide range of solutions for specific needs. If we blanketed customers with the same messaging, our solutions wouldn’t resonate and we couldn’t connect in a useful way.
Personalization helps deliver the right information to people who will appreciate it and take action. Especially when people’s schedules are so unpredictable, using tools to track how message open rates or time spent on a page are changing can go a long way. Is one of your customer types more likely now to open an email at midnight instead of 9 p.m.? Using an integrated approach to get a multi-channel picture of customer behavior can reveal a treasure trove of insights.
Automated tools are great resources for companies of any size to stay on top of personalized outreach. There is a wealth of technology available that helps tailor communications for each customer based on demographics and personal preferences. Grouping customers into segments allows companies to focus on specific challenges and the solutions that are the best fit.
Related: How Billion-Dollar Companies Think Differently About Customer Relationships
Pull, don’t push, people to earn trust
In my eyes, one of the biggest mistakes a company can make right now is to be overly promotional or aggressive. I’ve seen companies desperate to protect company growth go back to customers repeatedly, pushing them to spend — but I believe that’s a huge error.
Instead of promoting products and services in a self-serving way, take an empathetic approach and pull customers towards solutions by making value clear. I’ve seen incredible success from companies that change their tune from this “push” approach to a “pull” strategy, refocusing on educating customers instead of pressuring them.
If someone visits my company’s website, we thank them for their interest and offer a multitude of ways to learn more about our services, like blog posts and webinars. I highly recommend exploring creating educational assets if you haven’t already. Identify how customers like to receive information (maybe it’s a 20-page e-book, or maybe it’s a Twitter infographic) and package up that information in an appealing way that your customers will be interested in.
The bottom line is, people do not want to be sold to. They want to feel empowered to make their own decisions, and it’s our job as marketers to guide them to the right choice. If companies try too hard to push customers to the choice they want them to make, they will push people away and hurt their own growth prospects in the process.
I know this is not an easy time to focus on growth as so many companies report profits are down. But I have found time and time again that the best way to prepare for future growth, even when times are tough, is to focus on customer relationships. Customers are your strongest advocates. By investing in retention and skillfully nurturing new leads, you can protect your bottom lines and emerge from this crisis with a strong growth strategy intact.
Related: How You Can Build Long Lasting Customer Relationships