Customer relations 101: Beginner’s guide to building relationships
Learn the basics of customer relations to improve your customer experience, raise profits, and boost your brand’s credibility.
By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer
Last updated June 9, 2023
“It’s not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It’s the customer who pays the wages.”Henry Ford
Building strong customer relations will certainly help contribute to your company’s success, and in today’s customer-centric market, customer relations is a must. After all, over 90 percent of consumers are likely to spend more with businesses that offer streamlined conversational experiences.
Whether you’re nurturing long-term customer relationships or laying the foundation with someone new, it’s crucial to understand the importance of customer relations and how prioritizing across your business can create loyal customers and brand champions.
- What is customer relations?
- Benefits of customer relations
- The importance of customer relations
- Who is responsible for customer relationships?
- What makes a great customer relations employee?
- Customer relationship strategies
- Customer relationship tools
What is customer relations?
Customer relations refers to the methods, strategies, and processes a company uses to build and maintain customer relationships.
Every customer interaction has an impact, and it’s more important than ever for companies to consistently meet expectations. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, consumers have higher customer service expectations now than they did a year ago. If you continually provide great experiences, you’ll develop strong relationships with customers, and that emotional connection can keep customers coming back—even if you drop the ball.
74% of customers say they will forgive a company for its mistake after receiving excellent service.
Customer relations is one of the most undervalued aspects of potential business growth. In their study on customer relations, Watermark Consulting compared data for the same businesses over 11 years. They discovered the companies that led in customer experience outperformed their competitors by a 3-to-1 margin. Such a margin represents millions of dollars and a solid, undeniable market advantage.
Customer service vs. customer relations
Customer relations refers to methodologies, and customer service refers to reactive interactions—both are crucial and work together to create a good customer experience.
The customer service team plays a key role in growing customer relationships, as they are usually the first point of contact for customers. In customer service, agents help customers in real time to solve issues and deliver a positive journey through the sales funnel. This presents opportunities to gather feedback and information about customer issues and behavior that can be communicated across teams.
Companies can use the valuable data gathered from customer service interactions to foster customer relations, and proactively strive to improve the customer experience and address problems before they impact customers.
Examples of customer relations activities
What are customer relations examples? Here are some specific activities of a customer relations team:
- Providing consistently great customer service
- Analyzing customer feedback through surveys and customer service interactions
- Setting marketing strategies
- Working with IT and technical teams to streamline customer interactions and decrease wait times
- Building and maintaining brand credibility
- Ensuring the customer service experience is consistent across customer touchpoints
- Proposing solutions to frequent issues, bottlenecks, and customer holdups (including researching and proposing the right sales and marketing software)
Not every team’s priority is going to be putting the customer first—that’s understandable. Each department has its own KPIs and goals to hit, so they all won’t necessarily focus on the same things.
That’s why customer relations is there: to ensure you never forget the customer.
Benefits of positive customer relations
What does customer relations mean to your business? Here are a few key benefits to help your company thrive.
Higher customer retention: Satisfied customers make repeat purchases and recommend your products to their friends and family. That’s invaluable free advertising and passive income from simply creating a positive customer experience. A study by Bain & Company found that a five percent increase in customer retention can yield a 25 percent increase in profit, at a minimum.
More customer loyalty: When you have a great relationship with your customers, it’s unlikely that they’ll leave you for a competitor, even if they can get a better price. According to our CX Trends Report, 70 percent of customers said they base purchase decisions on customer service quality. These intangible incentives created by strong customer relations drive customer loyalty.
Better business reputation and brand credibility: Customers will often reward businesses that provide top-notch experiences. Sixty-seven percent of customers who are impressed with a brand consider leaving a review detailing their positive experience or posting about it on social media.
Ability to maintain prices: Without a good customer experience, you may be subject to more price fluctuations due to a lack of customer loyalty or a poor service reputation. If sales are low, you may find that lowering prices is your only option to entice buyers. A high-quality customer experience adds value for customers and, in turn, helps foster pricing stability.
Increased competitive advantage: Brands that deliver the best customer experience generate around four to eight percent more revenue than their competitors. Focusing on providing memorable customer experiences and nurturing your customer relationships can set your company apart from the crowd.
Improved employee morale and attitude: When your customers are happy, your workers are more likely to be happy. When you prioritize positive experiences across the customer journey, your employees will feel more motivated, and your business will thrive. Don’t believe us? Companies with engaged employees outperform the competition by 147 percent.
The importance of customer relations (backed by numbers)
Customer relationships are vital to any business: Satisfied customers make repeat purchases and therefore bring in more money. In our CX Trends Report, 73 percent of business leaders said there’s a direct link between customer service and business performance. They’re right—that same report shows that high-performing companies view customer service as their primary revenue driver.
73% of business leaders say there’s a direct link between customer service and business performance.
Need more proof that customer relationships are the way of the future? Check out these statistics:
- Companies that earn $1 billion a year will see an average gain of $700 million within three years of investing in the customer experience.
- Offering high-quality experiences can lower the cost of serving customers by up to 33 percent.
- The average cost of customers switching to other companies due to poor service is $1.6 trillion.
- The top reason customers leave brands is that they feel unappreciated.
- Eighty percent of consumers are more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences.
Who is responsible for building and maintaining customer relationships?
Building customer relationships isn’t a job that falls on any single team. Everyone at the company—from customer service to sales to product to marketing—plays a critical role. However, there are specific jobs within the customer relations department that can help with the process.
Who’s on your customer relations team?
The customer relations department normally includes three levels:
- Chief customer officer (CCO): This person oversees the customer relations team and the interactions between the brand and its customers. They develop new strategies for building and maintaining strong customer relationships.
- Customer relations managers: CR managers supervise customer relations representatives and their daily customer interactions. Depending on the size of the business and selling style, some CR managers will also handle any relations with major B2B clients. CR managers often work with the CCO to determine what strategies are working or not working for the team.
- Customer relations representatives: CR reps are in the field—they’re directly communicating with customers on the phone, via live chat or messaging, and through email. They’re core to the company’s success because they hear feedback straight from the customers and can pass the information upward.
What makes a great customer relations employee?
When you’re assembling your customer relations team, you need people who can work together to solve numerous fast-moving problems. Here are the top qualities companies should look for in customer relations job candidates:
- Strong communicator:
Customer relations employees must be able to step into customers’ shoes and understand their pain points to form a better connection with them. Today’s customers base 70 percent of buying experiences on how they feel they were treated, so empathy is a crucial trait.
Customer relations activities vary every day. Customers have different personalities, reach out with a range of issues, and contact the company through multiple channels. Your team should be able to roll with the punches and provide quality customer service—no matter the circumstance.
One of the top pain points for customers is getting ambiguous answers to their questions. An effective customer service relations worker knows how to balance charm with clear, factual responses.
The following traits are essential for customer service staff, but they’re also valuable for customer relations team members:
- Positive attitude:
- Calm under pressure:
- Active listener:
It’s tough to create a positive outcome for your customers without a positive attitude. When a customer is upset or frustrated, your customer relations rep has the opportunity to shine the brightest. They must stay focused on working through the issue and finding a solution.
Your customer’s problem might not be your fault, but it is your responsibility. Customers appreciate when a single agent takes ownership of the issue and does everything in their power to reach a resolution, communicating with them along the way.
This trait may be tough to quantify, but it’s an important one for your customer relations team. An angry customer might get emotional or even yell. A customer relations rep must stay calm and maintain composure to de-escalate the situation and work toward a resolution.
A great customer relations employee knows that active listening is crucial. Verbalize that you’re listening with phrases like “I understand” or “of course,” and repeat key information back to the customer to ensure they feel heard and understood.
Every day is busy in customer relations, and representatives and managers must be able to keep up without getting overwhelmed. When you have 50 people on hold, you need to know how to solve problems quickly and kindly—this is where strong organization and time management skills come in handy.
How to build positive customer relationships: 22 tips and strategies
Building any long-lasting relationship requires nurturing—something that’s especially crucial for customer relations. Customers don’t want to feel like their interactions are transactional. So taking every opportunity to provide a rich, personalized experience can provide nourishment to help your relationship grow.
Not every product, service, or company can fulfill every single customer need—and that’s fine. The secret is to identify what your business already provides to customers and how you can do more. Follow these tips and strategies to help your business build better, stronger customer connections.
1. Decrease wait time
Reducing hold times will improve the customer experience and boost customer satisfaction. Customers love when they can easily reach a representative that will quickly resolve their issues. Investing in a CRM that offers omnichannel support, self-service options, or chatbots can help reduce wait times even more. With 76 percent of customers willing to pay more for a better experience, the investment is worth it.
2. Meet customers on their preferred channels
As more communication options emerge, customers’ preferred channels keep evolving. An omnichannel support experience helps meet customer expectations, allowing you to connect with them on any channel. Whether it’s by phone, messaging app, email, chat, etc., you can keep the conversation going and boost customer relations.
3. Create simple tools for your customers to learn about your product
Depending on your business, your product might require extensive learning or training. No consumer wants to waste time trying to figure out how to use it on their own. By investing in self-service portals that feature convenient training modules or basic instructional videos, your company sets itself apart as one that values its customers’ time and energy.
4. Offer self-service options
Providing 24/7 support with self-service options helps customers find answers to common questions, fast. These options include:
- Help centers
- Knowledge bases
- FAQ pages
Though many customers prefer to call when they have urgent or complex issues, some may prefer addressing less complicated issues themselves.
5. Invest in effective customer support software
Invest in software to increase efficiency for your employees and customers. You may be hesitant to buy the latest sales force automation system or robust CRM software, but you’ll earn those dollars back in repeat customer revenue. Time is money—when you speed things up for your team and your customers, you’ll see a return on your investment.
6. Prioritize employee training
A support agent is the first person customers interact with when they have a question or an issue with a product or service. When you have highly skilled agents on the front lines who know how to create an excellent conversational experience, it can do wonders for your customer relationships. Prioritize customer service training that helps develop skills like active listening, communication, and problem-solving abilities.
7. Collect customer feedback
Customer feedback provides valuable insight into how your customers feel about your brand. You can collect this information through surveys, reviews, social listening, spikes in support issues, and more. Analyze this data to help your business make better, customer-centric decisions, such as:
- Improving products or services
- Streamlining processes that affect the customer experience
- Building better relationships with customers
Collecting positive and negative customer feedback can reveal where you’re excelling and where you need to improve. Implementing feedback will show customers that you value their opinion and help strengthen relationships.
8. Learn who your customers are
Customer context is important for gaining a deep understanding of your customers and improving your interactions with them. Being able to see the entire customer conversation in one place—no matter the communication channel—gives you the context needed to customize the interaction, save the customer from repeating information, and form a stronger bond.
9. Personalize your interactions
Personalizing interactions go beyond addressing the customer by name. When you can easily access a customer’s personal data, purchase history, preferences, and buying behaviors, you can tailor the interaction to their individual needs. This makes the customer feel valued—they’re not just a faceless voice on the line.
Companies can provide personalized service with a conversational CRM that collects customer data and captures all conversation history, so the next rep can seamlessly pick up where the previous interaction ended.
10. Show appreciation for your customers
Your brand credibility is only as good as your customer experience. Reward your repeat and loyal customers to show your appreciation. Something as simple as a loyalty program, discount, or complimentary product goes a long way toward cementing customer relationships and encouraging referrals.
11. Listen to your customers
Asking for feedback is only one part of the equation—you must also actively and visibly implement that feedback in your company, services, or products. If you can show customers that their opinions matter, you won’t have to convince them to stick around.
12. Build trust through transparency
When you take accountability and own up to your mistakes, customers will respect your honesty and transparency—leading to trust. Minimizing an issue, denying fault, or passing the blame sends negative signals to the customer, damaging your relationship. Take responsibility for a mistake right away and resolve the issue in a timely fashion.
13. Be personable and accessible
Whenever you engage with customers, do what you can to make each interaction feel personal. When using automated communication, take the time to customize the experience, and ensure a human support agent is always accessible to customers. People don’t want to buy from robots—they want to buy from people.
14. Measure and improve customer satisfaction
Customer satisfaction should be at the top of your list of priorities. Collect feedback through CSAT and NPS surveys—they will help you measure feedback so you know where to improve and deliver a better customer experience.
15. Create a customer-centric culture
Culture is a company’s beliefs, values, behaviors, and practices. It’s what makes your business unique and what connects customers and employees to your brand. A customer-centric culture puts the customer at the center of the business while focusing on customer and employee satisfaction and success. Creating this type of culture starts from the top down, so it’s important for leadership to embrace and champion customer-centricity.
16. Prioritize consistency
Customers want consistent messaging and communication—and a streamlined conversational experience on their preferred channels can make that happen. An omnichannel experience connects customer interactions across channels (email, live chat, phone, messaging apps, etc.) and presents them in one unified view. No matter which agent they speak with next, customers will have a seamless experience.
17. Form emotional connections
Each customer is unique, so forming an emotional tie will differ from one customer to the next. Start by establishing trust through transparency and consistently providing great customer experiences. Personalize each interaction to create deeper conversations and form human connections. All this can lead to stronger customer relationships and increased customer lifetime value.
18. Create a community
Brand identity can be difficult for many people to understand, but plenty of customers use brands as symbols of belonging to a group. Even something as simple as a community forum—where customers share stories, tips, and experiences with one another—will keep buyers engaged with your company while also enabling them to connect.
19. Share feedback across teams
It’s critical to remove silos when sharing feedback and collaborating across teams. When other departments are in the loop and can access key information, they can better implement changes to improve the experience for customers and employees.
20. Reward your customers
Looking for an effective way to increase customer retention? Reward your loyal customers. Everyone loves being appreciated, and offering incentives like discounts, special offers, or loyalty programs will motivate customers to keep coming back and make more purchases.
21. Invest in a fulfilling workplace for your employees
Not only are happy workers more productive, but they also create a cause for your customers to rally around. Some companies prioritize sales over everything—a business known for treating its employees well and providing positive customer experiences is a social draw. Suddenly, consumers aren’t just enjoying your products: They can feel good supporting a business that cares about its workers.
22. Provide educational resources for customers and employees
Simply selling your product or service to your customer or handing your employee a paycheck shouldn’t be the goal of your business. Build stronger relationships with your customers and employees by empowering them with skills and resources to help them grow and succeed in business—and in life. Offer classes, training modules, and educational videos that help people learn about your products or services and provide tips on how to flourish in business.
The best tools for managing customer relationships
Expecting your team to keep track of every single customer and all their individual needs without any help is a tall order.
Zendesk offers the features your company needs to make every customer feel valued. Between automated customer communication alerts, extensive sales histories, detailed client profiles, and guided customer help channels, Zendesk software enables you to reinvent the customer experience. Request a demo today if you’re ready to take the next step.