In online reputation management, we often focus on putting out fires: a negative review, online slander, or other reputation emergency. But taking a reactive response ignores what may be the most valuable asset your business has: happy customers.

An unhappy customer might get your attention, but are you devoting the same resources to your happy ones? You should be. Sure, you can always get new customers, but customer acquisition is hard work — not to mention expensive. In fact, it’s 6 to 7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep existing ones.

There’s clear value in maintaining happy customers, not just for their continued business, but for the potential they have to improve your reputation. Happy customers are your biggest fans: they’re the ones leaving five star reviews on Yelp, referring friends and family to you, and engaging with your brand positively online. They’re brand cheerleaders, and they deserve a quality connection with you.

“Connecting with customers who are happy can have enormous power to secure them as repeat business and ongoing word of mouth referrals,” says Review Trackers CEO Chris Campbell.

How can you encourage them to keep the party going? We asked experts to weigh in on how businesses can connect with happy customers. They shared that it’s all about connecting with them, building relationships, and showing that you care about them personally and value their business.

SAY THANK YOU

Your customers want to be appreciated. Tell them that you do. Showing your gratitude to happy customers is a great way to keep them happy and encourage them to spread the word about how much they enjoy working with you.

Saying thanks can be as easy as including a note with every order you send out. That’s what Toronto Vaporizer does. “We sincerely value the business of each and every single customer who chooses to purchase their vaporizer from us and, to show them we care, we ensure to include a hand written ‘Thank You’ note in every order that goes out,” says Toronto Vaporizer PR associate Holly Jane B. “Our note is a mere token of our appreciation and we ask that if they enjoyed their shopping experience with us that they spread the word!”

Another great way to say thanks is with unexpected tokens of appreciation. Jitendra Gupta, Punchh CEO shares that one of Punchh’s CRM clients, a sandwich company, randomly rewarded loyal customers with free sandwiches just to say thank you.

And of course, if you have VIPs, be sure to treat them that way. MoneyCrashers‘ David Bakke suggests creating a VIP member status for customers who spend a certain amount of money with your business. For example, they can qualify for free shipping on all orders, or a set percentage of cash back for every purchase.

Professional networker Mary Kurek loves to see businesses treat happy customers to a special event now and then. A cocktail party, barbeque, free passes to your VIP lounge at a community festival, tickets to a free tailgate event before a game, or free cupcake coupons can go a long way, she says. And she suggests that while you’re sharing these special events, you should take group photos to post and share on social media.

Other ideas for saying thanks include offering a small upgrade, throwing a customer appreciation party, surprise discounts, or special perks like early or extended hours for VIP customers.

MAKE CUSTOMER HAPPINESS A PRIORITY

Sure, you can say thanks, but showing you’re thankful for your customers is even more powerful. Walk the talk and do whatever it takes to make your customers walk away happy — and then come back time and time again.

Consider the success of Zappos. They’re certainly not the only shoe retailer online, but one thing is for sure: they’re the most loved by customers. Why? They are fanatical about customer happiness. In fact, Zappos founder Tony Hseih wrote the book on customer happiness.

What does Zappos do that their competitors don’t? They go the extra mile for their customers and will do anything to make them happy, often reaching out to individuals by surprise to solve problems or show they care. For example, Zappos sent flowers to a woman who ordered shoes after medical treatment, and overnighted a free pair of shoes to a best man who made it to a wedding without shoes.

While a Zappos level of customer happiness is certainly something to strive for, any step you can make to improving customer happiness is likely to be noticed and appreciated. Making refunds easy, empowering customer service representatives to offer easy solutions, or offering special conveniences can help you please your customers and connect with them in a positive way.

ASK FOR FEEDBACK

There’s no better way to show customers you care than by asking them to give it to you straight. Requesting feedback sends a message that you value their business, and that you want to do whatever it takes to make sure they continue to be happy with your product or service. And of course, you’re likely to learn important information about your company you wouldn’t find out otherwise — for example, that one of your customer service agents offers enthusiastic support that they could teach to the rest of the team.

How can you get feedback that’s valuable for both you and your customers? “The best way to get happy customers to leave feedback is by just asking for it,” says SocioSquare SEO lead Collin Davis. “And it is crucial that this be done in the quickest possible time frame to increase chances of a successful positive review.”

Davis suggests calling customers to guide them on how to leave feedback, or sharing exact links via email. And it’s a good idea to offer a reward or incentive for those who have taken the time and effort to send you feedback or post a public review.

“Explaining to customers that their opinion truly matters activates their intrinsic motivation to write a review for your business online,” says review concierge David Engel. “Happy customers will go the extra mile for you if you authentically ask for feedback and let them know that their feedback helps other people find you.”

Bakke says that if you’re going the email route, avoid using an auto-responder. “It comes off as disingenuous and might make a client feel unappreciated,” he says. “It should be personalized, thanking them for their business along with anything else you might want to include.

Another option is to send out a survey (with an incentive for completion), says Bakke. But, he cautions, the questionnaire should be brief and to the point so that you’re not taking up too much of your customers’ time.

Make it easy to ask for feedback by automating the process. UsersThink CEO John Turner suggests identifying the ideal moment after purchase time to get in contact. You should ask them about their experience, and if there’s anything you can do to help.

“Not only will this prompt happy customers to let you know how happy they are, it’ll prompt unhappy customers to let you know of real issues, concerns, or gaps that you might not have been aware of, giving you a chance to fix them and turn an unhappy customer into a happy one,” says Turner.

Voice over talent Jason McCoy has identified his best time and place to ask for feedback: right in the download area where his customers go to retrieve files from him. He prominently shares on the download page that customer satisfaction is important, and that he loves hearing from them. Many times, he’s found that clients will send him a testimonial right away from the page.

Kurek agrees that the time of sales or service is the best time to connect with happy customers. This is the time when they’re most in touch with their positive emotions, she says.

Kurek encourages businesses to turn the idea of a suggestion box on its head with a bragging basket instead: the basket includes blank cards where people can drop their kind comments — and leave them out for others to view. She says it’s also a good idea to keep a list of your happiest customers, so that when you have an idea that you want to share, you’ll know who your A-listers are.

Once you’ve heard back from your customers, make sure you go the extra step and let them know how you’ve taken action based on what they shared. “Asking customers for their opinions always means a lot, as long as you follow up and tell them what you did with and how you used the information,” says networking and connecting expert Susan Dench.

BE ACCESSIBLE

It’s not enough to ask for feedback, though — you’ll need to let customers come to you on their terms, too. Make it clear how customers can connect with you, whether it’s on your website, over the phone, in person, or on social media.

“People love to know the behind-the-scenes; those who are creating their product, who can help them, who connect with them,” says AJ Fay, engagement director at Reicura. “That’s why there is such a demand for live customer service, it’s why people tweet celebrities and major brands, and it’s why companies run campaigns to include customers in decisions. Human connection is necessary. So answer questions and complaints, create opportunities to involve your customers in brainstorming and decisions. Invite them to special events. Give back. Incorporating these practices into your framework will provide valuable feedback AND happier customers.”

Promptly returning calls or emails, making it easy to get to a live person on the phone, or working to quickly resolve requests and problems show that you’re open to customers and committed to making them happy.

FORM A RELATIONSHIP

When you’re looking at sales numbers and revenue forecasts, it’s easy to forget what’s behind it all: people. But you remember that your customers are, in fact, people, with lives, families, needs, and emotions. They’re likely to appreciate developing a relationship with you and your brand.

How can you work on relationships with your customers? Non-promotional contact is a great place to start. Say hi, send them a hand written note, or even a book or gift card you know they’d enjoy. Reaching out to them as a person, rather than purely a customer, shows that you value their relationship more than just their money.

RESPOND TO EVERY REVIEW

So often, businesses take a damage control approach to reviews, but the fact is that negative reviews aren’t the only ones that should command your attention. Positive reviews aren’t just a nice pat on the back. They tell you what you’re doing right, what the strengths of your business are, and what you should continue to develop in the future. Every review, especially the positive ones, deserves a response — a thank you at the very least.

Try something along the lines of this response that Engel suggests: “Thank you for your review. It means a lot to us to hear that we did such a good job. That’s what we strive to do here at our business. We look forward to seeing you again!”

“Businesses should respond to each review that they receive, even the good ones as a way to thank the client for taking time to share their experiences,” says Wixon Jewelers director of marketing Jayme Pretzloff. “I also let them know that their sentiments will be shared with your team (or the person who helped them). This is a great way to boost company morale, reward employees, and show clients that you value their opinion. Consumers are more likely to leave reviews if they know that the company reads them; and responding is a great way to show that you are.”

Davis suggests that you can catch more positive sentiments and online reviews by using online monitoring tools like Google Alerts and Mention.net. “If you see a customer who has shared something positive about the brand, see if you could continue the conversation either offline or on email and ask them to leave a review on an authoritative domain,” he says.

DON’T BE AFRAID OF SOCIAL MEDIA

With the potential for disaster, it’s understanding if you’re wary of connecting with customers on social media. But if you don’t, you’re really missing out. Social media is where your customers are, and often, it’s where they really want to connect with you.

DemGen chief empowerment and operations officer Pam Christie suggests using social media websites like Twitter and Instagram to create a dialogue between your company and happy customers. She is a big fan of using hashtags: “Hashtags are becoming wildly popular as not only ways to search for similar posts, but also create trending topics and spread knowledge,” she says. “Create a hashtag that happy customers can add onto their tweets, photos or blog posts that you can monitor for and reply to so that your customers can see you’re continuously checking in on them and their well being!”

Kurek suggests that you use social media to share photos of happy customers. At the moment of sale, ask to take a photo, and then tack post it on social media — or on a visible bulletin board for a wall of smiles.

REACH OUT BEYOND YOUR COMPUTER

While social media is a fun tool for connecting with customers, remember that personal visits or phone calls can speak volumes. Taking the time to connect personally really speaks to customers and lets them know that you genuinely care about them.

3rd Rock Communications’ Bruce Specter takes a three-pronged approach to connecting with customers. He says it’s all about getting out, getting on, and getting it write:

 

Get out: You can’t see eye-to-eye if you’re not face-to-face. Get out of the office and visit your A-List customers/clients at least once a quarter.Get on: Instead of shooting out an email, get on the phone. Your sincere gratitude can actually be ‘seen’ over the phone. Keep a smile going!Get it write: The A#1 crowd pleaser is the hand written note. It doesn’t matter if you can’t even read your own writing, it’s the impact of actually getting a hand written note that floors your customers/clients.

 

Need help deciding when it’s a good time to contact your customers? Right after the sale or completion of a project is always a good idea, but don’t forget about special occasions. Specter suggests using a customer relationship management tool to keep track of special events in your customers’ lives, including birthdays, anniversaries, and kids going off to college.

For small businesses, getting out to see your customers doesn’t have to be a special occasion. Pet chef Lisa Hennessy provides home delivery, and says it gives her instant feedback and the ability to make instant modifications if necessary.

Story Leather community manager Jonathan Ly encourages businesses not to underestimate the power of a phone call. “I’ve learned that phone calls tend to work much better than email allows you to directly connect with the customer and really speak to them,” he says. “Emails tend to be overlooked or filtered out, so many might not see them.”

PUT THE SPOTLIGHT ON YOUR CUSTOMERS

Want to really make your customers feel special? Brag about them! Sharing happy customer experiences or case studies where you’ve contributed to customer success not only makes your business look good, it gives customers something to feel good about and share as well.

“Posting customer reviews and even customer spotlights on the blogging section of your website can be a good way to promote both the business of the happy customer and your own services,” says Christie. “One example is that after completing a project, DemGen works with clients to create a promotional spotlight where the customer discusses the successes of their business in relation to the services we provide. It helps others reading the blog understand how we can help them while simultaneously hearing the thoughts of someone similar to themselves.”

Dench agrees that highlighting customers is a smart move for businesses, and a great way to connect with them. “You can use their story in a white paper, feature them in an ad or website, ask them to speak for your product or service at a trade show,” she says. “So many ways to get them emotionally connected to your brand!”

Whatever you do, you should go out of your way to make customers feel special. Lara August, owner of Robot Creative, shares a great example of highlighting customers in a fun way:

 

“Mama Margie’s is a Tex Mex restaurant chain in San Antonio, Texas. When we began working with them, there were tons of fans posting photos using the hashtag #mamamargies on both twitter and instagram, but very little direct engagement with the brand. We created a campaign called #mamasfavorites and also just generally began promoting user-generated content. We gained photo release permission to use their photos on Facebook, and in some cases we rewarded them with gift certificates that were delivered directly via social media. Several photos were also pulled into table tents on location. The people love being featured, and many of the comments we get are about how excited that they are for their moment of fame.”

 

SURPRISE THEM WITH MORE THAN THEY’VE EXPECTED

Taking the extra step to show your appreciation for your customers with a gift can speak volumes, especially if you’re able to find the right thing to share. For a bakery, it could be as easy as adding in an extra pastry for free, for others, a free product that complements what was originally ordered might be appreciated. Overdelivering is always a great strategy: give your customers more of what they enjoy. Doing more than you’re expected to do is a great way to show your customers that you care.

“Always be willing to offer an incentive,” says Ly. “Everyone likes that extra gift to make them feel special and it’s the little things that count. The incentives don’t have to be big, but a discount or free item can go a long way.”

Intelligence Bank e-commerce director Dominic Gluchowski likes to go beyond the official service level agreement offered by the company, providing extra training and staying in touch to help clients with their needs. This has paid off handsomely, as much of their business comes from word of mouth recommendations, and Gluchowski notes that this lowers their cost per acquisition as well.

While Intelligence Bank doesn’t offer an official referral incentive, they always thank clients with a small gift — a gesture that shows they appreciate how they’ve spread the word.

Photo of Joseph Torrillo
About the Author

Born and proudly raised in Syracuse, NY, Joseph joined the team in 2008 as the Director of Reputation Management after earning his B.S. in Public Policy. He is now the Vice President of the department.

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