Many businesses make the mistake of forgetting that their customers are real people with real emotions. Just like you and I, they are part of a family, a social network and a community, and they make decisions based on past experiences, emotions and trusted recommendations.

This is a simple, yet important point for businesses to remember, and it is why this article will be exploring the importance of building positive relationships with customers. The relationship building process should begin from the very earliest interaction between a business and a potential customer and continue all the way through to after sale service. The result? Customers will use your business again and again. They will likely tell their family and friends to use you too.

Your Customers Are Not Experts in Your Industry

What does this mean? Well, imagine you were trying to sell your product to a family member or friend. Would your conversation be peppered with industry jargon that is incomprehensible to anyone outside your industry? Or would you aim for clear and simple language that explains what your product or service is, and why you are the best provider of that product or service? Since it can be hard to remain subjective in your own business, take the opportunity to ask people you know to read over proposed marketing material including your website and provide feedback – not on design or style (after all, everyone will have a different opinion), but on the clarity of the message both written and visually. Do they understand what it is you are selling and what message you are trying to convey? Can they easily find what they are looking for. If they can’t, a re-work (or two, or three) may be in order.

Why is Clarity So Important?

People don’t like to feel stupid. If you’re using wordy techno-babble that is difficult for the average person to understand, then they are not going to feel comfortable buying from you. They may even distrust your motives in making things so needlessly complicated (are you trying to hide something?). If your website is clear and concise, while also answering key questions with useful information, then you will build trust. Customers will start to view your business as a knowledgeable provider that they can rely on.

This philosophy is expounded by the geniuses behind UnMarketing Inc., whose motto is: “Stop marketing. Start engaging”. This ethos has led to a successful business, popular podcast and five best-selling books, which remind businesses (including PepsiCo, IBM and Microsoft) that “maintaining trust, consistency and connection through customer service and community” are vital elements for a successful business. This is evident in the About Us page on their website: it presents them as friendly, likeable and approachable…they seem just like the kind of people you’d love to have a coffee with; yet at the same time, they are presenting their impressive credentials and demonstrating why customers should choose them. This may be far removed from what you expect as the ideal “About Us” page, but at the same time, it is incredibly effective.

We All Recognise a Stock Photo When We See One

“Hi, my names Susan, and I’m here to help!” So says the beaming face on the website. The problem? “Susan” also appears on several other websites you’ve already looked at. “Susan” is not real…and everyone knows it. She’s a stock image, the one that comes up when you type “trustworthy employee” into the search bar on a stock library website. Unfortunately, she doesn’t appear too trustworthy to your potential customers.

We’ve all heard the old adage “a picture tells a thousand words”. In terms of a website, generic stock photos tell your customers that you are hiding behind a veneer. That what you are presenting is not the truth. Research has shown that when stock photos on business websites are replaced with real photos of real products, real employees and real owners, the conversion rate rises. When people browse through your website, they want to see real representations of your business and your product. This doesn’t mean you can use sloppy shots quickly snapped on a smartphone – after all, you are trying to show your company in the best possible light. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money to obtain high-quality images of a neat and clean workplace, respectable looking employees and an authentic, relatable owner – in fact, shots on your smartphone may be perfectly fine if you take care to get the best possible shot you can. It also depends on the nature of your business and the platform you are sharing on. For example a tradie who takes a quick and dirty shot of his or her latest project may be perfectly fine to share on Instagram but not ideal to feature on the home page of a high-end interior designers website.

Everyone Loves A Good Story

Customers as a whole are getting worn out by the use of banner ads and “traditional” forms of advertising. The modern buyer wants to know the story behind the product: what led to its invention, what hurdles were overcome, what mission remains the key focus? Stories help buyers to feel like they are becoming part of a community or movement when they engage with your business. In fact, research shows that the value of a service or product can be increased by a factor of 20 when accompanied by a brand narrative.

This was demonstrated by Airbnb, a business that can best be described as a “customer facing company”. It relies on people being willing to offer their homes as Airbnb hosts. So rather than try and convince people of the benefits themselves, Airbnb asked some of their hosts to tell their stories. The ‘Stories from the Airbnb Community’ introduces us to people like Lisa and Byron from Brooklyn, artists who use Airbnb as a source of “sure income”, and Tessa from London, who suffers from a neurological disease and finds Airbnb is a great way to stay involved with the local community. Their stories help people to feel engaged; they might see themselves as a ‘Byron’ or ‘Tessa’, which helps them feel like this business could work for them too.

How Does This Relate to Your Website?

To tell an effective story, the narrative needs to be clear and easy to follow; it also needs to be relatable to your potential customers. But this story should not be relegated to a single paragraph on just one page; the narrative should continue throughout your website. You have opportunities to include elements of the story within your About Us page, your Product pages and as a regular feature within your company blog. This will allow customers to become familiar with the history, culture and direction of your business, which will, in turn, make them feel more comfortable when dealing directly with the company.

From a marketing standpoint, it is important to strike the right tone with your storytelling. Written text can be open to misinterpretation if the right tone is not found; you can be formal, funny, familiar… just don’t be boring or aggressive. If you’re not sure what kind of tone is going to resonate with your customers, then why not ask them?

A great example of a business striking the right tone can be seen on MailChimp.com, a company that offer an email marketing platform. Their website text is knowledgeable yet easy-going and light-hearted – it makes you feel like they know what they’re doing, and you’ll be in safe hands. Interspersed with this text is a collection of Roald Dahl-esque cartoons that are relatable and engaging. They tell you that MailChimp.com, although competent and business-like, also have a fun side.

The Aim Should Be for Your Clients to Like and Trust You

“All things being equal people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust.” This quote from The Go-Giver (by Bob Burg and John David Mann) has been referred to as “the Golden Rule of business”. If a customer is presented with two companies that offer the same product or service at the same price, then they will naturally gravitate towards the business they like the best; the one they feel they can trust. Your aim as a business should be to help your clients know, like and trust you.

How can this be accomplished? Most people will see through meaningless flattery and will become suspicious of a business that asks them for some kind of commitment straight off the cuff. But if they feel like they have something in common with the business (be it the product, the owner or the staff member they’re dealing with), then that can start to establish a connection. So, actively seek common ground. Be relatable. Offer them something useful (even if it is just answering their questions) without asking for anything from them in return. This is where lead magnets can be a great format for long-term investment in a potential customer. Most people are happy to provide an email address if they feel they’ll get something of value in return; just don’t flood them with useless information that will be relegated straight to Junk Mail. Make a note of what products or services are of interest to the individual, and then send them relevant and useful information. Closing a sale has more in common with an endurance race than it does with a sprint.

Don’t Underestimate Testimonials

It is undeniable that testimonials are often the deciding factor when it comes to choosing a product or service. Consider the following reports:

  • “Customer testimonials and case studies are considered the most effective content marketing tactics” – 2013 B2B Content Marketing Trends Report
  • “Customer testimonials have the highest effectiveness rating for content marketing at 89%” – Social Fresh
  • “90% of respondents who recalled reading online reviews claimed that positive online reviews influenced buying decisions” – Dimensional Research
  • “85% of consumers said they read up to 10 reviews before feeling they can trust a business” – Search Engine Land

While a potential customer may be wary of a business initially, one of the fastest ways to instil trust is for them to see positive reviews from happy customers. While all positive reviews will work in your favour, not all testimonials are created equal. For example, which of the following reviews do you find more compelling:

“Two thumbs up!”

or

“They were fantastic – the sales staff answered all of my questions, provided a free demonstration and then assisted with arranging for easy delivery to my home… When I had a question about how best to clean the product, the after-sales support team were happy to help and knowledgeable enough to answer all of my questions.”

Without a doubt, ‘B’ is the testimonial you want to get. So how can you go about collecting this kind of review? The easiest way is to provide your customers with prompting questions. For example: How were your interactions with the staff? Did you encounter any problems with the product/service, and if so, how were they dealt with? Would you recommend our company to a friend or family member, and if so, why?

Once you have a collection of testimonials, take time to edit them for improved readability. No, this doesn’t mean changing them (that would defeat the aim of trying to establish trust). But if a testimonial starts off with a fantastic sentence, then meanders off track, before closing with a concise summary of the help they received, then a quick edit will remove the less relevant aspects. You’ll then be left with a testimonial that is short, sharp and effective.

Reviews Improve Online Rankings

Did you know that online reviews have an impact on how your website is ranked by search engines? The more online reviews you get, the higher you will be ranked by search engines. Online reviews can be gained through a range of relevant websites including Word of Mouth and Facebook, but Google Reviews are one of the most effective although an account is required. Reviews through Facebook are easy to request, simple to complete, and available to view by the over 15 million Australians with current Facebook accounts.

In Conclusion

Your customers are real people. They are searching for businesses that are relatable, likable and trust-worthy. They talk to their friends and family and read online reviews when deciding who to buy from and are far more likely to engage with businesses that they speak their language. Be the kind of business they can trust. Offer clear, concise and appealing messages (both visually and written), with real images showing real products and staff. Always be proud to tell your business story.