You’ve likely heard that the secret to building relationships with your customers is to “be everywhere your customers are.” As a result, you’ve probably signed up for a dozen social networks hoping that just showing up will turn out to be enough.
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But being everywhere is only the beginning. It turns out that online, just like in real life, the key to building relationships is trust. Cultivating trust online is tricky and takes work, but is by no means impossible. When you respond to your customers in the right way, you earn that trust and build the foundation for a real, long-term relationship. Here’s what you need to consider as you do that.
1. Acknowledge with Empathy
When it comes to earning trust, it’s not if you answer, it’s how you answer. Recognize the type of feeling your customer is having, and respond in an empathetic, emotionally intelligent way. The worst thing you can do is respond with the attitude that your customers are yet another problem to be solved. They will sense it. For example, if a customer tweets asking for help with a lost password, winning their trust might be as easy as adding an, “I’m sorry” or “that must be frustrating” to the response.
Also, when a customer has a good experience with your brand, amplify it. Thank them and then share their feedback socially. Not only do you validate their emotion, you also create the opportunity to connect with the members of your community that might have the same feeling or problem, but haven’t made it known.
2. Enable the Right Outcomes
Before they trust you, your customers need to know not just that you’ll hear them, but that when they raise concerns, they’ll see a resolution. That means enabling your customers to express their feedback in the place where it’s most productive for them, whether that’s Twitter, Facebook, product pages on your website, or anywhere else. In other words, your community needs to have multiple front doors under one roof.
In order for a customer to find a channel that works, you have to make sure that all the conversations people are having about your brand are accessible anywhere your customers are. From there, they need to be able to access information and conversations about products, customer service, and community. That way, your customers are able to find like-minded people and can jump in on any conversation on any platform.
3. Educate Through Experience
It’s not your job to tell your customers what the company values are. It’s your job to let them experience those values by bringing them into the fold of your brand’s community. That requires a system for archiving, organizing, and sharing conversations, the rallying point for your community of customers.
For Intuit’s TurboTax that means offering a robust library of help documents created by the company, but the site also includes a “Live Community” widget that invites people to get help from a community of tax experts and users. Every customer experience is converted to valuable insight that can influence prospects, customers, and onlookers alike. What’s more, the community is a testament to the brand’s values: Offering a DIY tax experience that’s accessible and easy for everyone.
Of course, you still need to produce and share content. It’s not time to ditch the company blog or stopping sending original tweets. It is time to recognize that the conversations within your community actually turn into knowledge. Ultimately, your community is a living FAQ.
4. Keep the Momentum Going
Once you’ve earned your customer’s trust, they’re likely to be even more engaged with your brand and product. That’s a good thing, but it means you’ll need to go above and beyond to continue building that relationship. To do that, you have to get to the point where the trust goes both ways and you trust the customer. Take Tyrel Hartman, who wanted to use the social discovery app StumbleUpon to propose to his girlfriend. Both were active Stumblers and often enjoyed exploring the site together, so Hartman contacted the company and requested that they rig his girlfriend’s account so that she’d stumble on a wedding proposal disguised as a blog post.
StumbleUpon’s team could have easily said no to Hartman, but instead, they were inspired by Hartman’s enthusiasm and explored a new use for their product. It required cross-departmental collaboration and an investment of resources, but it was also a priceless marketing opportunity that earned the company ample news coverage across the web.
Ultimately, real relationships are a two-way street, and your customers know that. Trust is the foundation of a relationship, but to keep that relationship going, you need to prove that you earned it, every day and everywhere.