Building relationships in ecommerce

Customers love to be loved. In fact, we tend to shy away from companies who dislike us in some way. Only last week, after 9 years of loyal custom, I cancelled my Annual Membership with the RAC; I had found I could get an equivalent breakdown service for a quarter of the price. I rang the RAC and said I wanted to cancel my membership. I was asked why and I explained I had found an alternative supplier. I was then told my membership would be cancelled in 30 days. I wasn’t asked any further questions, nor was any attempt made to keep me as a customer. In other words, they were just collecting “data” for themselves and I was treated just like a number; I’m glad I left and I won’t be going back. The RAC clearly didn’t love me.

No doubt you have your own examples of poor relationships with business – but in the end they all boil down to the fact that the company did not make you feel you were important or special; you were just a number.

That’s an increasing problem online as companies battle for big list sizes, spend much of their time on SEO, site development and redesign. They are losing customers out of one door as they spend much of their time trying to attract new customers through another door. As ever, you make more money from long-standing customers and it costs you more to attract new customers.

Recent research shows how important the relationships you build online are. This study looked at the psychology of commercial online relationships and it found that on the Internet customer relationships were as important as they are offline. People expect your business to relate to them as individuals, rather than as a number. For many online businesses this is a real problem; every day I expect you receive marketing messages which are clearly not designed for you, but the company sent them out because you are a number on a list. The result is you feel that company is not relating to you well, you feel less loved and as a result you do less business with them.

The research on online commercial relationships from The University of Oklahoma suggests that there are two very important things you need to consider in ensuring you maintain good relationships with your online customers. The first is they expect to be kept informed via email; in spite of everything you have ever heard about email marketing being dead, this research confirms that your customers value it. Secondly, the study suggests the importance of two-way communication. That means if your web site does not offer commenting, forums and so on, your customers have a lower grade relationship with you. And that means you will make less money from them.

Sometimes, business owners think they need more customers. Often, they only need better relationships with their existing customers. To achieve that online you need to email them more often and provide discussion facilities on your web site.

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