Customers Crave Connections. Do You Deliver?

It’s no surprise that social media has taken off so quickly. People crave connections in a world where families are scattered from coast to coast or around the world. We want the validation that can only come from interacting with others. Social media quenches this thirst with immediate affirmation of our existence. “I tweet, therefore I am.”

Why is this so important? The twentieth century was the age of disconnection. As autos and aviation made it possible to quickly and affordably move from place to place, communications technology made it seem easier to stay in touch.

I say “seem” because in reality, the high cost of long distance calling and the slow pace of postal communication made it incredibly simple to just let go. A weekly call home turned into a monthly call, then even less frequent connections.

From the end of World War II through the late 20th century, it became incredibly easy to lose touch with friends and family. While some relished this independence, for many life became lonely. Parents missed children who moved to the big city. Peers lost touch with colleagues who relocated for a job out of state. Old friends rarely spoke between college reunions.

While TV show like the Brady Bunch idealized relationships, many people were wondering, “When will the phone ring?” or “What will the mailman bring?” No wonder AOL was so successful with it’s “You’ve Got Mail” message in the early days of email. It was instant, audible confirmation that someone wanted to connect with you. AT&T’s “Reach Out and Touch Someone” tagline offered the perfect antidote to America’s collective disconnectedness.

Fast forward to the Internet era, and now the post-PC age. We have Facebook and LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter. But how many people really have strong connections? It’s easier to connect and harder to CONNECT.

Are your 2587 Twitter followers people you can call in the middle of the night when your car breaks down? Not likely. They may want to know that you just checked in at Starbucks for the 300th time this year, but they often don’t care for a much deeper relationship.

So what does this mean for businesses? There’s a huge opportunity to foster those missing connections. Whether you’re selling to consumers or focus on the B2B space, there are ways you can use technology to enable real, authentic connections with – and between – your customers.

Few businesses take advantage of this opportunity. In fact, a recent study by Satmetrix showed that 55% of businesses ignore customers who provide feedback via social media. Is your company one of them? I blogged about this a while back and I encourage you to take the “Twitter Test” to see how your business is doing.

Develop a strategy for cultivating customer connections. From ensure social media follow-up to knowing when to take relationships offline, map out your company’s approach. Create customer communities, online or off, enabling customers to share information and experiences. These can take the form of online forums, meetups or customer appreciation events.

Tap into your communities for new product ideas, suggestions to improve your service, and new ways to differentiate your business versus your competitors. Be sure to provide feedback and show appreciation. This is a vital step in bonding with buyers, who will quickly lose interest if you communication is all one-way.

Finally, allow for the unexpected. You may find that engaging with customers uncovers new avenue to growth your business that you hadn’t previously considered. At the same time, surprising customers with unexpected value can cement a strong relationship. Can you offer a special benefit that they didn’t ask for? A free sample or the chance to be the first ro try a highly anticipated new service? Customers appreciate these extra touches, and tell their friends and colleagues.

Paying attention to connections with a sincere desire to build relationships can be a huge differentiator for your business. Build trust based on emotional connections with your brand, and you’ll discover a wealth of loyal customers ready to be your brand advocates. These true fans will support your business in good times and come to your defense should problems arise (assuming you handle this issue with transparency and integrity).

Has this worked for you? Tell me about your experiences in the comments below.

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