Instead of asking the right question: How can you build a relationship with customer online. Conventional business owners don’t believe you can build a relationship with a customer online.

If we were around a table having a debate, there’s a valid argument to say in some situations; you can’t forge a connection with a person offline.

Because how often have you walked into a physical shop of a large brand name and felt no connection whatsoever?

And similarly experienced service from an individual vendor (who’s having a bad day) and felt like you were just a number on a list.

Whereas if you look at the changing trend. Thanks to social media, gaming culture and forums like Reddit, more people are finding connection online. In fact, an entire generation of children is finding deeper connections online than they are offline.

So, in essence, you can build a relationship with your customer online and offline. And each come with their own challenges. (Especially when your business gets to scale).

If you still have doubts. Just look back to events in 2020 where most businesses had to pivot online, thus had no choice but to build a relationship online.

The question then is – how can you build a relationship with a customer online.

I thought on today’s post I’d explain how you can do regardless of where your customer is in your business funnel.

To help me out, let’s look at the BATON framework. The BATON framework is what we use to teach budding online business owners how to start, operate and grow their business. It has 5 distinct stages. A customer will go through each of these stages, from aligning with your product right through buying your product/service.

Within each stage, there is an opportunity to build a relationship.

With the idea that as a customer moves through each stage, the relationship gets stronger.

(B) Business

This is where all businesses start as an idea. When you’re at the idea stage, set out the intention to build a relationship from the get-go.

This is done firstly by identifying what value you can bring to the marketplace.

In other words, solving someone’s problem. By solving their problem, you are helping them.

At the base level, by helping someone (regardless of if they are paying you), a relationship forms.

It may not be a deep bond just yet, but there’s certainly a glimmer of a flourishing relationship on the horizon.

To help paint the picture from this point on, I will use the analogy of – dating.

build relationship with customer
Would you like to build a relationship?

So another way to think of this is like finding a match on a dating app.

In the description (your bio), you set out what you’re looking for in a partner.

They’ll do the same thing on their side.

The app does its algorithmic magic and matches you both up.

You don’t yet know the person, but a basis of a relationship has been formed because there’s an alignment.

(A) Audience

In the first stage of BATON, you’ve established that you’ve got something someone wants. (Problem-solution match).

In the next stage of BATON (Audience),  you need to bring it to their attention.

Getting back to the dating analogy.

It’s all good having a match, but now you have to do something that captures their attention. Otherwise, they’ll move on to the next match (in business, we call this – shopping around).

Capturing their attention further builds on that fundamental relationship.

In online business, typically in this stage, we would engage with our customers on channels that they use.

Social media is an obvious example here. Which in practice looks like – replying to comments on your content or replying to direct messages through instant chat.

An example of not building a relationship – is using an automatic chatbot.

Worse, if that chatbot has a human face and is obviously a chatbot. In other words, you’re trying to trick your customer into thinking they’re talking to a real human.

Now I don’ know if a chatbot creates a detrimental effect.

But it’s fair to assume that it doesn’t enhance the relationship.

In the dating example, that would be equivalent to you calling your potential date and getting through to their personal assistant who responds with scripted answers:

‘She’ll call you back between the hours of 5 pm and 6 pm unless it’s a Wednesday. She has Yoga on a Wednesday’.

(T) Tribe

We refer to a potential customer at this stage as someone who has opted in to your marketing.

Because they’ve opted in, you’ll have their personal email address, telephone number or address.

So unlike the Audience stage, you’ll be building a relationship in their personal ecosystem.

Please read my post on email marketing to understand how this differs from social media.

With this in mind, we can build a relationship here to use just that – email marketing.

But rather than blast out a cold, impersonal email.

You could (certainly at the start) email every customer personally.

A top tip here would be to have the email, for the most part, scripted. So you don’t have to type the same core message to everyone physically.

But if you really want to add rocket field to building the relationship, you can go beyond just starting the email with their first name.

Got that extra mile and include a personal line that’s unique to them.

In our dating example, this would be the equivalent of stalking their social media profile before the date (don’t act you haven’t done it), notice they are into comic books and send them a comic book with a note that says:

‘Hey, I noticed you’re into comic books, that’s a new world to me, I thought you might like, the guy online said it a must-read, maybe you could fill me in on the world of comic books on our date’.

(O) Offer

So far, you’ve done amazingly. You’re establishing some authentic ways to build a relationship with your customer. Completely online.

Now it’s time to present your customer with your product or service (Offer).

If you’ve done a good job in courting them, the purchase decision will be a no brainer.

Now once they’ve made that purchase, what happens next?

Do you take their cash and never speak to them again?

Or do would you continue the relationship beyond the transaction?

Suppose you want repeat business, happy customers and good reviews. You’ll opt for the latter.

The simplest way to do this online is by checking back in.

A personal phone call to ask how they’re enjoying the product? Do they need any help? Were their expectations met?

In the same way, you’d WhatsApp each other after the date to let each other know how much you loved it (or didn’t). 

A business to customer relationship can play out in the same way.

(N) Network

Once you’ve established a profitable product, you can then think about scaling.

The challenge with building relationship and scale is that it becomes more difficult to personally email or call thousands of customers a week/month.

There’s just physically not enough time in the day, and hiring for this one role may not be viable.

Which, in theory, can undo all your amazing relationship-building work.

This is where my dating analogy stops.

Because I’m happily married therefore not into scaling up my dating game.

But in the context of business, we can still nurture the relationship that’s already built.

You can do this by rewarding loyalty.

Offline businesses do this all the time. For example, if you get 9 coffee stamps, your 10th coffee is free.

You can develop the same loyalty feedback loop within your own product or service offering.

You’ll communicate it online.

In summary: how can you build a relationship with customer online

We’ve covered a lot of ground, and rather than give you a clickbait list of the top 5 ways to build a relationship with customer online. 

I wanted to dig deeper and explain that a relationship can be developed with someone at multiple touchpoints over different stages of a customer journey.

But in the spirit summary sections and ‘top lists’, here are the practical tips you can use within your online business:

  • Be aligned with the customer and market place. In other words, solve a real problem.
  • Engage with your customers. Reply to everything.
  • Do some homework on your customer so that you can personalise your emails.
  • Check back in with the customer after purchase.
  • Reward loyalty as you scale

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