Young woman using laptop in coffee shop; digital customer experience concept

Bplans and Palo Alto Software are strong supporters of entrepreneurs and small business owners. We work with like-minded partners who also want to help your businesses succeed by providing the best tools and content for the job.

If our readers choose to learn more or purchase from links to our partners, sometimes we earn affiliate commissions that support Bplans’ mission.

A customer’s experience with your company begins the minute he or she is exposed to your brand or product. Doing business digitally—whether through a cloud-based inventory system or online marketing—often allows for a more robust, trackable relationship with your customers.

When you digitize your business, you not only have more control over the entire customer journey, you also can tailor that experience to individuals based on how they shop, what they want, and where they spend time.

Creating that customized experience is an ideal way for business owners to set themselves apart from larger competitors. For many small businesses, building lasting relationships with customers has become more important than simply ringing up a single sale. Doing business digitally has become key to cultivating longer-term connections with patrons, and through that, developing a more transparent view of your business’s financial health by assessing your customer journey. Here are five steps to help you build meaningful customer relationships online.

Step 1: Establish an easy entry point

As customers have started to expect a seamless experience, regardless of the channel, businesses need to be able to respond and generate sales in the preferred method of their customer.

Black N Bianco, a formal wear shop for children based in El Monte, California, has established their website as their entry point. Black N Bianco offers special incentives to reward consumers who engage online, including discounts, points, free samples, and a customer showcase—a deal that offers 20 percent off the next order for those who share photos of their children wearing Black N Bianco clothing. All these incentives not only help create a stronger online presence, they also ultimately create an easy entry point to help blend customers’ in-person and online interactions with the brand.

Taking the effort a step further, Peli Peli, a South African fusion restaurant in Houston, Texas, uses its online presence as “a continuation of building relationships with our customers in a setting that’s more convenient for them,” says owner Thomas Nguyen. “When we are online via social media or send out emails, customers can access them and be included in our ecosystem when they are at home or at work and checking their phone. We like to include helpful information unrelated to our restaurant—such as things to do in Houston or cooking tips—with the intention of improving their lifestyle. We want to build our brand, not just sell our goods nonstop to a customer. We like to think we have a long-term relationship with our customers, so we try not to always push our products online.”

Step 2: Personalize the experience

Once your customers are in your online ecosystem, you have the perfect opportunity and the tools to create an experience that’s tailored to them.

According to Chu, connecting with and tracking customers through online platforms is the best way to offer a personalized shopping experience to Black N Bianco customers. “For instance, the service we use is able to determine which products each consumer will most likely purchase based off their metrics,” she explains. “If they hesitate to purchase the item, we will send them a discount code for the exact item they want. The app also has the ability to send out customer discounts on their birthday. It’s just a small way to show our customers we care and personalize their shopping experience. It’s not about creating the ‘wow’ factor as much as it is about understanding your customers and their needs.”

Similarly, Peli Peli engages with the customer either through email or their preferred social media channels. “Some respond to emails, while others prefer Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter,” Nguyen says. “It’s important to have a presence on each medium so that you can reach more of your customers and give them exactly what they are looking for through that medium.”

Step 3: Provide impeccable customer service

While reaching your customers on a personal level is a great way to get them to the point of sale, keeping them engaged through the sale and (more importantly) afterward is imperative in building your relationship. A surefire way to accomplish this is flawless customer service.

Every time a customer makes a purchase from Black N Bianco, they receive a short survey. “It’s a simple way to get real, unbiased metrics on our customer service and shopping experience,” Chu says. In addition to asking a few questions, the customer survey also includes a comment box for customers to provide feedback on what Black N Bianco could have done to improve the customer’s satisfaction. “Customers are our number one priority, and we use the feedback as a motivator to improve our business,” Chu adds.

Black N Bianco also uses a live chat system that delivers direct support from a staff member. “We train our live chat operators to be proactive in providing a real, genuine service for our customers, ensuring all of their needs are met,” Chu says. “Consumers online need 24/7 support, and the live chat support system has proven to be a very useful tool. It has especially improved the customer satisfaction metrics.”

Step 4: Keep them coming back

There is nothing more valuable than building advocates for your brand—especially when you’ve already created a relationship with your customers. Keeping lines of communication open and informing your customer base about what’s happening with your business are both easy to do online and priceless in building your brand.

While Peli Peli doesn’t sell products online, its robust online presence allows the business to keep customers informed about what’s going on with the restaurant, “especially in terms of promotions, events, and philanthropy,” Nguyen says.

Additionally, using technology as a means to communicate with and listen to customers is rewarding for both your customers and your business. It is important to have these digital channels and equally as important to execute well which means responding to customers in a timely and polite fashion. By doing so, you will gain valuable insights and feedback and your customers will feel like their voice is being heard.

“We offer various ways to directly communicate with us so that we make it easier for us to take care of our customers’ issues,” Nguyen says. “Instead of only being able to call or email us with issues, our customers can communicate with us through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to let us know how we can be better. It’s invaluable.”

Step 5: Make time for the personal touch

While doing business digitally allows for a more seamless interaction between your brand and your customer, it can also free up your time, allowing you to invest further into your customers. Digital banking products, like digital checking and saving products, take some of the work and extra time out of managing your cash flow and day-to-day operations.

Having this kind of control allows you to redirect the extra time you would be spending doing the books and focus on your customers instead. Whether it’s analyzing trending purchasing data or being front-of-house at your shop, adding a personal touch can help boost your reputation as a customer-first company, which will ultimately help boost your sales.

Doing business digitally can help you create an ongoing two-way dialogue with your customers. As the business strengthens its brand virtually, customers can plug into a more enriching, tailor-made shopping experience. If you’re looking to gain a competitive edge, consider how you can allocate more time to cultivating deeper and longer-term connections to customers founded on loyalty, quality, and accessibility.

Learn more about how Spark Business products can help you do business digitally.

This blog post is sponsored by Capital One® Spark Business® for informational purposes only. Any views or opinions are those of the author and not Capital One. Unless noted otherwise in this post, Capital One is not affiliated with, nor is it endorsed by, any of the companies mentioned. Any trademarks or other intellectual property used and displayed are the property of their respective owners. © 2017 Capital One.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)