Creating personal connections with your customers is one of the most impactful things you can do to be successful—even more impactful than improving your product’s quality or credibility.
Why? Because people don’t make decisions rationally; they make them emotionally. That means if you can develop a relationship with your customers, they’ll be far more likely to forgive mistakes, make additional purchases, continue their subscription, recommend you to their friends, family, and acquaintances, and so on.
To get you started, I’ve rounded up four creative ideas for creating those personal connections.
1. Send Handwritten Letters
My brother was accepted by several highly competitive, well-known universities. But he didn’t choose the school that offered him the biggest aid package or boasted the best reputation—he went for the school that sent him a handwritten letter expressing their excitement over his application and why they believed he’d make such a great fit.
A single letter (which couldn’t have taken more than 20 minutes to write) was able to sway one of the most important decisions of my brother’s life.
With that kind of emotional impact, imagine what a letter could do to your customer retention rate.
There are so many different occasions where you could write your customers letters:
- When they first become customers When they send you feedback
(negative or positive)
- When they haven’t used your product or bought anything new in a while
- When you’re launching a new feature you think they’d love
- When they’ve been a customer for a set period of time (six months, a year, etc.)
And that’s just the short list! It’s hard to imagine a time where a note wouldn’t make someone feel valued and recognized. Even if customers are unsubscribing from your service, you should send them a letter thanking them for their business. Just make sure this isn’t the first letter you’ve written them—it’s a common complaint that businesses don’t care about you until your money is gone.
2. Host Events
Hanging out with your customers is one of the best ways to develop personalized connections with them; after all, it’s hard not to feel like you know someone after you’ve talked, laughed—and maybe even swigged some beer—with them.
Depending on how many customers you have, you can invite them all to a locally-hosted event or send invitations to only your “VIP” customers.
Cisco, the multinational IT company, pulls out all the stops for its annual Customer Appreciation Event. This year, attendees will get to hang out in Petco Park while enjoying gourmet food, artisanal wine and craft beer, and listening to live music—including Aerosmith.
Of course, this is an extreme example. Your customers will be more than happy with less extravagant gatherings like BBQs, park picnics, themed parties, happy hours, wine and cheese nights, and sporting events.
Just make sure you offer some sort of incentive to come, whether that’s free food, free alcohol, or both.
And although these interactions are designed to give you and your customers a chance to get to know one another, they’re also a valuable opportunity to gather feedback. While you’re face-to-face with your customers, ask them what changes they’d like and what they already love. Use the insights they give you to refine and improve your product.
Bonus: Soliciting their opinion will deepen that personal connection!
Maybe your customers are scattered around the country or globe. Good news: You can still “celebrate” with them. Look up what events are taking place in their local areas and send them complimentary tickets or themed gifts—for example, if you see there’s a Shakespeare in the Park festival, you could mail them a picnic basket and blanket.
This idea may be out of your budget. In that case, consider simply writing a letter saying, “Hey, Saw there’s a cool St. Patty’s Day parade in your city—would love to hear how it is if you go!”
Even though you haven’t spent any money, your customers will be wowed by this level of personalization and effort.
3. Get to Know Their Interests
Thanks to social media, it’s unbelievably easy to discover what people like. And once you know what your customers are into, you can use this knowledge to make every interaction feel special.
For example, let’s say you sell big data enterprise software. You’ve been negotiating with Mike, who’s buying the software for the company he works for. Mike finally commits. Rather than sending the traditional “thank you” email, you do a quick Google search to find his Twitter, read that he loves chocolate, and arrange to have a couple bags of M&Ms sent to his work address with a note saying, “Thanks for the sweet new deal!”
The time, energy, and costs associated with this delivery are fairly minimal. In return, you’ll not only get Mike’s goodwill, but you’ll probably get some new customers after Mike tells people about how well your company treats him.
Taylor Swift uses this technique to great effect. Last year, she combed her biggest fans’ social media profiles to get a feel for their personalities and interests, then hand-picked and hand wrapped gifts for them. When news of “Swiftmas” broke out, the press (and the general public) went crazy, saying “even Ebenezer Scrooge would be touched by this generosity” (People)and “Taylor Swift’s year-end gift video will bring all the feels” (CNN). It’s pretty clear that people really respond to this gesture.
You may be trying to stay as lean as possible—in which case, buying gifts for your customers probably isn’t feasible. So leverage their interests in a different way. Imagine you find a customer’s GoodReads profile and see she loves historical fiction: Send her an email recommending your favorite choices from the genre.
And if the problem isn’t money, it’s scale, pick your most active, loyal, or profitable customers, and reward them rather than gifting everyone in your database.
4. Document Your Startup Journey
Many startup founders have gone “fully transparent,” which means sharing traditionally undisclosed information such as salaries, monthly revenue rate (MRR), customer churn rate, employee acquisition and attrition, and so on.
Going public with this data is a frightening thought to most entrepreneurs. However, it’s a powerful strategy—it shows current and potential customers you’re authentic, honest, and (most importantly) human.
Buffer, the social media scheduling app, is one of the most well-known companies practicing radical transparency (also called full or extreme transparency). On its Open blog, team members discuss everything from their favorite apps to how much equity a customer service representative gets. Notably, Buffer’s user base is incredibly passionate and loyal to the startup; blog posts typically receive several thousands shares and 15-plus comments.
To inspire this kind of devotion in your customers, consider starting your own blog about your growth.
Sample post ideas:
- Financials (average customer cost of acquisition, monthly/yearly revenue, monthly/yearly operating costs, advertising budget, runway, etc.)
- Culture (how you’re defining your culture, what you’re struggling with culture-wise, what’s changed, what an average day at the office is like)
- Startup life (things you regret, feedback from your customers or team members, unexpected challenges, what you’re really proud of)
For another example of a full transparency, check out Groove’s blog.
If you love this idea, but don’t have the time, energy, or writing ability to compose periodic posts, consider opening up the project to a senior employee. Alternatively, you could join the Bare Metrics Open Startups Movement. So far, 13 companies (including ghost and Hubstaff) have committed to sharing their MRR (monthly revenue rate) and number of customers on the Bare Metrics dashboard.
The era of the nameless, faceless corporation is over. Get to know your customers with these four techniques, and every aspect of your business—from marketing to sales—will reap the benefits.