User Experience

How to Build Strong Customer Relationships to Boost Retention

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Building strong relationships and connecting with customers encourages faster growth. Everyone knows this, right?

Why, then, are so many people putting so much focus on acquisition and neglecting to keep current customers happy?

According to a recent marketing survey by Belly, only 28% of businesses plan on allocating budget to customer retention this year.

Furthermore, Bain & Company have found that increasing customer retention rates by just 5% can lead to a profit increase of 25% to 95%!

The argument for focusing on your current customers is clear. The question is, how do you do it in a scalable and affordable way while keeping your eye on the customer acquisition ball?

In this article, you’ll learn the top-down strategy for developing a strong customer relationship plan. You’ll also learn the best tactics to get started and the tools to make these efforts easier.

How to Build 1-to-1 Customer Relationships in 2016

No matter how “automated” your business is, relationships are key. If cash is oxygen, strong customer relationships are H20.

Many marketers start this journey by focusing on tactical retention techniques. They have their place, and we’ll get to that. But there’s a more important (and neglected) starting point.

Have you ever advocated a brand without ever buying from them? You’ll constantly be checking up on what they’re doing, perhaps anticipating an email landing in your inbox.

It comes down to the shared interests, desires and concerns you have with them.

From a business perspective, this is your brand story, your “reason why” and your cause & purpose in business.

Gary Vaynerchuk is a great example of a personal brand executing these principles. He believes in the hustle and has a candid approach to business. This is reflected in the huge amount of content he creates.


Do the “F-bombs” put people off? Sure, but remaining true to his character attracts a strong, loyal audience.

In the SaaS world, Unbounce and Buffer put content before product launch. They didn’t have anything to sell, but they had a message.

Unbounce wanted to help marketers increase their conversion rates. Buffer empowered people to improve their social media skills. They proved this with in-depth content that over-delivered on value.

customer relationships unbounce

charity:water, a non-profit organization, consistently demonstrate common interests. They believe that every single person in the world should have access to clean water, and they believe their work should be as transparent as possible.

They do this by showing exactly where every dollar is going – something many charities fail to do. This attracts donations from those who value a high level of transparency, and cultivates advocates who spread the word for them.

customer relationships charitywater

As a marketer, none of this is new. Content marketing has proven its worth time and time again – and we all know about the power of storytelling.

But many fail to answer the question “what does our content and story stand for?”

Are you doing things through ego, or do you do what you do because of what you believe in? Do your customers believe in this, too?

Sharing desires and concerns are where relationships become stronger. The conversation is happening on a one-to-one level, which is what relationships inherently are. This leads to stronger loyalty and retention on a long-term basis.

Part of this requires listening to your customers. This can mean picking up the phone and actually talking to them. On a more scalable level, you can use customer intelligence principles and tools as well.

This can sound vague without specific examples to execute upon. Let’s look at 7 techniques you can apply to retain customers today.

7 Customer Relationship & Intelligence Techniques

The methodology we outlined above comes down to two things: building relationships through common interests and listening to your customers.

These 7 techniques tick both of these boxes. Test one or two on a small scale to start with, measure results and scale with success.

1. Using customer service as a marketing tool

Your customer-facing teams are a source of insight. They speak to your audience on a daily basis.

But there’s a flip side to this. Listening is important, but as a marketer you must pay attention to what these teams are saying. Sales & marketing are no longer siloed and neither should customer service.

Get Satisfaction discovered that 71% of customers have stopped doing business with an organization due to bad customer service. With this in mind, you may want to start your retention efforts in the customer service department.

Empower your customer service teams by helping them act quickly. Response time is becoming more and more influencing to customer satisfaction. If someone reaches out to you, then you should reply promptly. Especially on social media.

Social media is where people communicate, human-to-human. Respond like a person and throw some personality into the mix:

social media fun

2. The value you should be creating

Everyone talks about adding value. But what does this actually look like?

If you’re going to keep customers engaged and loyal, it starts by going beyond your product or service. In this sense, HubSpot has become the poster child on over-delivering value.

From the genuine advice of salespeople to the streams of content they create. Everything they do smashes customer expectations.

customer relationships hubspot

Educational material is one way to extend the customer experience. For service-based businesses, this can mean doing extra work without charging for it.

If you’re in retail or ecommerce, how can you delight by adding a little something extra into the box? Something as simple as a handwritten note can go a long way, no matter your industry.

3. Listen to what your customers are saying

Good or bad, the feedback customers give you can help improve and direct your marketing efforts.

You’ll learn what they really want, providing you with a data-driven approach to your marketing, service and product design efforts.

To do this, keep a close ear on what your customers are saying about you via social and the web. What are they saying in reviews? What feedback do they give when on the phone to customer service (see above)?

We’ll cover some tools to do this effectively in the next section.

4. Building loyalty with word-of-mouth and “VIP treatment”

Sometimes loyalty needs incentivizing. Loyalty programs and VIP programs are two proven ways to do this.

Take Zappos for example. Their VIP program is free, but gives customers perks they wouldn’t usually get. These include free shipping, redeemable points and exclusive customer service.

Another example of this model is Virgin Atlantic’s “Flying Club”, where perks are based on different tiers. On top of air miles, these include discounts on cars and hotels, 50% off flights and priority boarding.

customer relationships virgin atlantic

These incentives are all things that customers value, and encourages loyalty. Start by finding what your customers value most about your business. Give them more of it in the form of incentives.

5. Earning trust and creating a social-proof loop

Trust is as hard as ever to gain, and even easier to lose.

Social proof traditionally comes in the form of testimonials, reviews and embedded tweets. Even case studies are key in the B2B world.

But you can go a step further and create what I call a “social-proof loop.” This is where you provide such an impressive customer experience that customers shout out about it.

They share their experience with their friends, which builds trust with other potential customers. This is exactly what happened with Sainsbury’s when they responded to 3 ½-year-old Lily’s letter inquiring about their tiger bread:

sainsbury letter

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This ended up going viral, and Sainsbury’s even ended up acting upon the feedback they received from Lily.

6. Using brand personality to be relatable

Brand personality is the difference between an unfamiliar logo and a welcome friend.

Letting your personality shine through can create a positive image towards your ideal customers. This is exactly what Old Spice did to position themselves away from “just another shower gel”:


The way you execute this will vary. If your brand is professional, a subtle, friendly approach to your messaging may be more appropriate.

If you want to completely differentiate yourself, however, then be like Old Spice.

They dipped their toes into the controversial and the result was entertaining commercial content. This caused them to go viral in the online world and build loyal customers.

7. Delight your customers with the unexpected

Sending someone a gift on their birthday (or an email in more recent years) has always delighted and surprised customers.

While not unwelcome, it’s expected. How can we go beyond this?

I used to be a member of Cineworld’s “Unlimited” program. The UK based move theater’s loyalty program gave you unlimited access to movies for a monthly fee.

On the year anniversary of my membership, I received a letter from them with an exclusive “black card”. This gave me access to more perks, including big discounts from kiosk snacks. And we all know how expensive those are.

Delighting your customers is simple: surprise them with something they didn’t ask for. It feels like they’re receiving a gift from a friend and solidifies the relationship.

Tools to Scale with Ease

Now you know what you need to be doing, what tools can you use to scale these efforts?

I’ve compiled a list of 3 key tools that help with relationship building and customer intelligence efforts. They’ll help execute the advice I’ve given here today and scale up.


If you’re looking to learn more about customers and users visiting your website, then Woopra is a strong choice.

This customer intelligence tool tracks visitors from the moment they land (anonymously) until they identify themselves – either as subscribers or customers.

customer relationships woopra

You get all the data you expect from many analytics platforms, with added segmentation, funnel and retention data. You’ll yield more granular data on customers and can take action accordingly – whether it be feature/product based or the content they’re most interested in. It covers all stages of the funnel.

To top it off, they also have various marketing automation features. You can set actions based on the activity an individual customer or user takes. So not only do you yield insight automatically, but actions are triggered automatically too.


Remember earlier where I said listening is important? Mention allows you to monitor what people are saying about you and your brand in every corner of the web.

From Twitter and Facebook to communities and publications. Mention literally tracks “mentions” of your brand online. This allows you to be reactive in your engagement with these customers, even when they’re not coming to you directly.

Remember when we talked about the importance of listening? This tool makes it possible.

On top of these features, Mention comes with some great competitor and marketing research tools. It’s a tool that allows you to act reactively to conversations about your brand, before it’s too late.


While listening to your customers is important, you also need to know what they care about.

BuzzSumo allows you to discover the challenges and desires of your customers based on specific interests. Traditionally used as a content marketing tool, here we’re going to use it to inform our relationship building efforts.

Type in a broad topic and you’re given a list of the most shared articles across the web. This insight can help inform your value proposition and messaging – not just content efforts.

For example, if you sell camping gear, searching related keywords to learn what people are most receptive to yields results like these:

customer relationships buzzsumo

In this example, the top articles for “camping” involve recipes you can cook while in the great outdoors.

Align your messaging and content to these results if it makes sense for your brand. It will contribute to loyalty because you’re demonstrating that you “get” your customers.


While I’ve covered several tools and tactics in this article, it’s important to remember the foundations.

Keep in mind that relationships are built 1-to-1. Your emails, website copy and content must act as a medium to create a connection.

Common interests and desires are what these connections are made of, in business and in our personal lives. The techniques I outline are simply there to help you prove that you share these desires to your customers and audience.

How are you currently building strong relationships? Are there any retention strategies you’re using I’ve missed?

About the Author: Tom Whatley is a digital marketing consultant, helping businesses in all industries to grow using proven, scalable marketing systems. He is currently focusing on Content Marketing and Growth Hacking, teaching his lessons on his blog along the way.

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