When I take my dog for a walk, he may be the one on the leash, but he's definitely the one who walks me. He decides where we go, how fast we get there and when it's time to go home.
Marketing professionals are used to this. While it may seem like we have the power because we hold the leash -- we have the ability to dictate our brand's content, strategy and channels -- it's really the customers who are in control, and it's our job (with the help of sales and customer service representatives) to nurture our relationships with them.
Like being a dog owner, managing relationships with your customers is a huge responsibility. It takes a whole lot of time and effort. But transfer these four pillars of pet ownership to your relationships with your customers, and you can retain customers who will be very loyal to your brand. Dog might be man's best friend, but the customer is brand's best friend.
1. Give them attention.
If you've ever come home from an eight-hour workday to a big slobbery dog kiss, you're probably aware of how much attention you need to give your four-legged friends. Engaging your customers also requires being attentive. That means when they have an issue, you listen to their concerns, care about their dissatisfaction and do everything in your power to reach a solution. Has a customer let you know that he/she is dissatisfied with your product or service? Figure out where that dissatisfaction stems from and take the necessary steps to correct it.
If you don't give your dissatisfied customers the attention they need, they'll get that attention elsewhere -- likely by bashing your brand to anyone else who will listen. (I suppose it's better than peeing on your carpet.) Also, keep in mind that preventive maintenance is just as important (if not more important) than solving problems after they occur, so make sure to check in with all your customers -- not just the unhappy ones.
2. Train them.
You don't need to carry a bag of treats around for every time your customers do something right. (We'll assume they're already housebroken.) However, you can train your customers, in a way, by rewarding positive behavior that could result in brand loyalty. If you sell a product, thank them for making a purchase by offering discounts or other rewards to encourage them to keep buying or provide them with a value not offered by your competitors.
It's also important to remember that, much like training a pet, reacting negatively in any situation can damage any strides made in strengthening a relationship between your brand and your brand's ambassadors. Yelling at or becoming frustrated with your dog is not going to make him more loyal -- just more scared. Likewise, treating your customers poorly when they have a complaint is the quickest way to make them run the other direction.
3. Approach change slowly.
You can't teach old customers new tricks. Isn't that how the saying goes? Basically, humans (like dogs) are creatures of habit, and they aren't always the most receptive to change. On the bright side, this means if you can form a strong relationship with your customers, they will be more likely to stick with your brand habitually. On the not-so-bright side, it means your customers may be turned off by the changes you make as your brand evolves.
Think about the ever-changing look of Facebook and the backlash you hear each time a redesign occurs. Innovation is essential to keeping your brand current, but you also have to make sure you aren't leaving your customers behind in the process. Make changes gradually, or allow your customers to opt in or out of the changes so they can evolve with you.
4. Read their behaviors.
When your dog whines next to his food dish or scratches at the screen door, you can make fairly sound assumptions about what those behaviors mean, despite the lack of direct communication spelling it out for you. Similarly, your customers might not always write you a heated email or leave you a nasty voicemail venting about why they're dissatisfied. Much like our dogs, we can often learn more from customer behaviors than we can from their direct communication with us.
Customer surveys and social media/web analytics are great ways to monitor these behaviors. Surveys allow you to ask your customers direct questions about their behaviors, while analytics let you monitor consumer behaviors firsthand. No matter what method you use to find the information, understanding your customers' behaviors is critical to knowing how to best interact with them to keep them interested in your brand.