Many business leaders are on the hunt for growth hacks. They are constantly on the lookout for ideas and strategies that can help win them new customers and keep them loyal over time.

But the key to earning loyal customers isn't about growth hacks or specific tactics. It's about building relationships with your customers over time that give you a deeper degree of intimacy with them. As a result, you'll be poised to deliver remarkable customer experiences along every aspect of your journey with them.

The challenge is that many businesses aren't quite sure how to build these types of relationships with their customers. Rather than approaching interactions as an opportunity to build and nurture a relationship over time, they engage with customers in a more transactional way.

They watch and track what their customers do. They have more data and information than ever, but still engage in a cold and awkward way that doesn't do much to deepen the connection. No bueno.

Is the way you're capturing feedback enhancing your customers' experience?

The solution to building deeper relationships with your customers that grow your business is to have meaningful conversations with them. The data proves this out as well.

InMoment is a customer experience analytics company that helps brands understand both their customers and employees. In their 2019 CX Trends Report, they found that customers want to have more conversations with the brands they engage with about how to serve them better. Andrew Park the Vice President of Customer Experience strategy at InMoment, told me customers' feedback on this area was all about wanting brands to ask them directly how they feel about the customer experience they receive, particularly to the brands they are loyal to because they have ideas on how to make it even better.

Most companies go about having these conversations in the form of surveys. While those can be helpful, they still often feel impersonal, and not at all like you're talking to a trusted friend.

Based on their research, Park advises that brands should take a more personalized approach.

The most effective brands are those that provide choices to their customers, those that are meeting customers where they want to meet... It's making sure that they're offering opportunities for, it may be personalized phone calls talking to certain customers. It's definitely giving them the ability to record video and submit that as part of the feedback. Or images, we've seen the proliferation of images in the way people want to give feedback through images today.

I've been flying a particular airline back and forth from the U.S and Argentina. Every time I book an online reservation, I have to subsequently call an agent to have them add my need for a gluten-free meal to my record so I can have it for my trip.

After each trip, I get an automated survey asking me to tell the company about my flight experience. I never fill those surveys out, because it feels like I'm interacting with a stranger after an awkward first date, instead of interacting with a friend who genuinely is interested in how to serve me better. Never mind the fact that my biggest gripe isn't with the flight itself, but with the booking process.

I'd welcome the chance to chat with someone live, or even record a video expressing my feelings to get the airline to understand the hassle that it is for me to have to make a phone call every time to get my needs accommodated, instead of having the online experience be smart enough to capture and retain that info. 

When I think about the people in my life who I have a relationship with, I only have to tell them one time that I'm gluten-free. We are able to progress and operate our relationship without having to rehash this detail every time food is involved.

Businesses should be able to operate with this level of sophistication as well, especially if your goal is to build long-term relationships with your customers.

Business is about belonging.

And it will be difficult for your customers to feel like they belong with you if you treat them like a transaction or a stranger that has to rehash the important details of how to best serve them every time they interact with you.

Start engaging in more meaningful conversations with your customers.

But don't just interact with them and collect data. Use the information and feedback from your customers to refine and tweak your approach so you can serve them better over time.

Treat your customers like friends. Let them co-create with you on the products, services, and experiences that will enhance their success with your brand and the problem they are trying to solve. 

Stronger relationships, loyalty, and growth will ensue as a result.

Published on: May 29, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.