Customer relationships are job No. 1 for any business, but building them with customers who experience your product primarily online and over the phone requires a unique blend of intentions, knowledge, and process (all aligned with clear expectation-setting). The goal is to quickly forge trust in the ability, reliability, and strength of your service and its team. These overall truths of your product and team are vital to delivering a customer experience that bonds the customer to your brand and your service ultimately resulting in a lasting relationship connection.

These days relationship building, especially online, is not for the faint of heart. Much of the Web's transactions and interactions are set up as self-serve and therefore, by design, happen quickly. In lieu of a first-person interaction, first impressions on the Web stem directly from the initial customer experience on your website, social channels, or online conversations reviewing your service in communities or forums.

Every time a customer experiences your product or service, he or she should get clear brand and relationship context to support their purchase experience. Without it, a less-than-positive first impression becomes a potential disaster. Conclusions are drawn quickly, leaving you with limited opportunities to clarify, confirm, and resolve problems before your customers express dissatisfaction to their social networks. Both delight and disappointment can spread like wildfire at a moment's notice.

So what can you do to ensure your customers get a clear sense of your brand, and the relationship you want to create with them, when they make an initial commitment to your service? Here are several ideas:

Be Explicit With Your Customer Philosophy.

Make it visible on your website. Communicate it in your newsletter. Create specific marketing campaigns around it. Write it on your wall in the office. Reinforce the philosophy with employees, vendors, and partners—anyone who has a role in the direct or indirect relationship with your customers. At Get Satisfaction, we express our philosophy through a document called the Customer/Company Pact. We encourage our customers to sign it and incorporate the principals in their own business. It's a foundation to the way we do business and core to our culture.  

Keep the Feedback Light "Always On."  

The days of monthly webcasts, quarterly surveys, annual conferences, and expensive one-off focus groups are becoming antiquated as relationship development moves further. Online customers want to be able to share ideas and insights wherever they are and whenever they decide to. In fact, they expect it.  Encourage always on feedback by creating a visible way to gather it directly from your website and in your social channels as well.

Showcase Your Customers' Success. 

Shoot fun videos demonstrating your customer's success. Surprise them with thank you notes, fun schwag and other material that supports your philosophy. Offer opportunities for them to share their insights with other customers, and employees too. Publicly recognize them for their expertise.

Surprise Customers With a Different Form of Communication. 

In our crazy online, e-mail-centric worlds, you can shift a relationship by simply reaching out voice-to-voice. Yes, even a simple voicemail can have a big impact. The power of the human voice signals a different intention than can be typically be expressed through an e-mail. Even though we often shy away from making a call, sometimes it's just what you need to build a memorable connection with a customer who typically only gets email communication often filled with corporate speak (jargon).

Build a Highly Discoverable Customer Community.

Make it easy for your customers to find and engage with like-minded peers. Make sure your customer communities are integrated with your social channels and your web site, as well as plugged in to your customer portal or CRM applications.  True engagement happens when customers are actively helping each other, solving problems, expressing ideas for ways to improve your service, as well as giving praise for exceptional service and features. Peer-to-peer relationships are central to engagement because they build a natural tone of trust, which can be echoed, supported, and amplified by company employees too. 

Making sure that the customer's experience has the right brand and relationship context is core to building amazing long-term relationships with your customers. 

Think about your business: How are your brand and your overall customer experience building trust with your customers?  How engaged are your customers?