Long ago (the 1990s), the majority of businesses built relationships with their customers based on face-to-face interactions with the owner or the staff. This has changed dramatically in the modern marketplace, where many transaction take place online. This change hasn't diminished the value of relationship building with customers. Building trust is necessary as consumers become more wary of cyber theft and customer loyalty is essential for any business that plans to survive into the future. Since, face-to-face tactics are out of the question, here are five things business owners can do to build customer trust and loyalty online.

  1. Use Social Media to Connect with Fans
    The best place to connect with customers is on social media. For good or ill, consumers have become accustomed to the idea of reaching businesses through social media. People use it as a quick way to vett a company and to see what other people have to say about it. According to a 2014 study from Deloitte, 75% of online Americans say product information found on social channels influences their shopping behavior and enhances brand loyalty. Not having a social media channel, or having a poorly managed one, can scare off potential customers. (Read this article for 9 social media stats to get marketers ready for the holidays.)
  2. Offer Customer Service Assistance Online
    Though there are less face-to-face interactions in modern business, it doesn't mean there aren't things customers need to say to a business. The internet is often the first place people turn for customer service assistance, hoping to avoid lengthy hold times on customer service hotlines. In fact, a business can reduce the amount customer calls they get by having a Frequently Asked Questions section on the site. Similarly, a customer service chat on the website can reassure customers who are trying to buy something that they can get help if they need it. Even when customers have a mobile device in their hands, they prefer web-based solutions to talking to a live agent. A recent Loyalty360 study found that for US mobile shoppers, 75 percent would prefer to use live online chat versus calling to speak with an agent and 60 percent will abandon their online shopping carts and never make purchases from an online retailer again if they experience poor customer service.
  3. Use Loyalty Programs
    This may seem a little obvious ("use loyalty programs to build loyalty") but this is an underutilized tactic for how effective it truly is. Nielsen found that 76 percent of North American consumers are more likely to choose retailers that offer loyalty programs. The percentage are higher in Asia (92%) and Latin America (82%); and slightly lower in Europe (72%). It goes beyond preference and actually affects shopping patterns. The same study noted that three out of five US consumers say that there are loyalty programs offered where they shop. There are a lot of ways to implement loyalty programs for online customers. This can be through email coupons, loyalty points for doing certain actions, free shipping perks, contests, etc. Make sure loyalty programs are easy to use. Loyalty 360 released data that found 48 percent of US loyalty program members have experienced frustration when attempting to redeem rewards. Frustrating rewards programs would be the opposite of building trust and fostering loyalty.
  4. Encourage Customer Reviews and Display Them Prominently
    Customer reviews are important for online consumers since they aren't able to hold the product in their hand or test it before they buy it. Nielsen found that 70 percent of global consumers trusted online reviews. According to other studies, consumers trust reviews as if they were coming from friends and family. Business owners can use this to their advantage and use the words of their satisfied customers to boost confidence in online shoppers. Encouraging reviews also lets current customers know that a business cares about their opinion. This builds loyalty, and often, these customers will become brand ambassadors to their friends, family and people they meet online.
  5. Offer Multiple Payment Options
    Internet security is no joke (I wasted five minutes trying to think of one). With what seems like a never-ending stream of breaches and hacks, consumers are increasingly wary of how and where they pay for things online. Business owners will encounter more customers who only use a certain payment method and the sites that have it are at an advantage over those that don't. One study found that 73 percent of online consumers want several payment options when making purchases.

Building customer trust and loyalty is vital for online businesses that want to succeed. With so many options out there, consumers won't shop with or stay with a business that doesn't make them feel valued or where they have lingering concerns about privacy and security. Adding these features to a site can help a business make a lasting rapport with customers that can last a lifetime.