As a community builder constantly investing in my learning curve, I felt first-hand the limitless power of relationships. For instance, within Upstairs Community, members help me keep the cadence of publishing new narratives every two weeks. It doesn’t happen out of the blue, that’s for sure. In fact, communication is what opened the gateway to nurture this tribe.
Due to an honest and authentic dialogue, I’ve been discovering new contributors, I’ve been bringing new members on board, I’ve been iterating on the core message. I’ve been keeping things in motion.
“Relationships move at the speed of trust, and social change moves at the speed of relationships.”Jennifer Bailey
At Pixelgrade, though, things are more complex since the entire system looks like a mosaic. We use multiple communication channels, there are several touch-points with our customers, various audiences to serve, and quite a few marketplaces.
Things are not linear nor uniform. For the past five years, we’ve been heavily investing in places where we can control the experience. I know that control can send chills down your spine, but bear with me. I’m talking about the opportunity to get in touch with our customers and initiate a relationship in the best possible terms.
Having the chance to talk directly with our customers and address their needs and interests gives us room to start building relationships.
In this article, I walk you through how we shape relationships on our side of the world. While most of the tactics could be a good fit for your business, make sure you filter them through your own lenses and goals.
Let’s dive in.
Customer relationships: what’s that?
I’ll leave the marketing charisma aside and shape my two cents into a more digestible message.
First of all, there’s already plenty of useless slang out there that brings little value; people got tired of swimming through pre-fabricated concepts.
Imagine all the buzz around unique selling propositions. They’ve been here for a very long time, even though we did not have the language to express it. It does not mean that folks did not know that they need a differentiator. Something that sets them apart from the rest.
Second of all, it’s easy to keep the elitism alive and think of ourselves as those who are, well, different. Often, it implies more capable, more knowledgeable, with a broader intellectual bandwidth. Folks are tired of swallowing divisions and atomizations of all kinds. Just speak plain language, be authentic, and provide real help. You can show off your poshness in other arenas.
Now back to relationships.
We all have some of them. For better or worse, we have a wide range of connections. We’re the sons and daughters of our parents, teammates inside our crew, neighbors to some folks, readers of some magazine owners, fans of some athletics.
We’re wired to connect with other humans.
You can think of a spiderweb as a visual analogy. The threads represent the connections we have with others. The collection of them showcases our current network. It changes with time, depending on how we evolve as human beings.
A customer relationship is a meaningful connection that brings value for both parties in the long haul.
Of course, there’s a variety of flavors — from transactional to emotional and backward. For us, the purely transactional relationship is not what we seek. Of course, we cannot get rid of it 100% because some customers just want the product and buh-bye. That’s super okay. However, our never-ending goal is to make most of our interactions go beyond collecting the money and sending the invoice.
We see every purchase as the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
That’s why most of the relationships we’ve been fostering land in the emotional arena. While this does not mean that we spend our holidays together (hmmm, maybe it’s not a bad idea, after all), it does include a couple of things I’m going to explore further.
An emotional customer relationship goes a long way
First of all, it’s good to know that we’re Latin people. We have a certain passion running through our veins. We put a lot of soul and intensity into what we’re doing. It’s, for sure, a huge chunk of what kept our wheels spinning in the last ten years at Pixelgrade.
Second of all, the understanding of how we want to treat our customers in the long haul evolved as years passed. If in the beginning, we were laser-focused on solving their problems as fast as possible and move to the next one, that’s not the case anymore. Today, we still help them make progress, but we’re interested in gluing the pieces to build a bigger picture, too.
We’re keen to understand our customers’ business, motivations, even their set of values and beliefs.
On a local level, we’ve done that thoroughly with a couple of businesses operating in the hospitality industry. Once the pandemic kicked off, we made a public call offering to them build websites that reinforce their personality and keep things afloat.
To build a relationship with them, we had multiple online calls, tailored our customers’ assistance by offering 1:1 support (Andrei, my teammate, did a fantastic job), and crafted personalized videos to help them understand the intricacies needed to move fast and safe. We genuinely gave our best to help them succeed and stay in business.
On a global scale, here are a few actions that we consistently take to nurture an emotional bond:
- Extra help: we’ve given before getting by offering rock-solid solutions through customer support tickets, even though some of them had nothing to do with our products.
- Video calls: we tried to put a face to the name and run 1:1 discussions about how they make the most out of our work and help them achieve more.
- Educational content: we’ve been writing articles about struggles they’ve been facing to help people get unstuck and make progress in better conditions.
- Interviews: we’ve been showcasing their stories on our blog in a way that’s aligned with our values and overall approach in communication; the interview with Mark speaks for itself.
- Reviews: we designed a system that encourages honest feedback about our digital products to help upcoming customers make the best decisions for their interests.
- Community: every two weeks, we invite them to get some inspiration and plenty of hope by reading beautiful stories about other people’s challenges. They also have the opportunity to share their story and create connections with other community members.
It’s too much, too little? I don’t know. But I’m well aware that’s part of who we are today and in alignment with our mission: to support people who want to make an impact in their communities.
It’s very clear you build up communities, from Oana’s passion when writing to the quality service I’ve received from you & Vlad. Anyone who uses your products has a great chance to make an impact because of your dedication to empowering others.
I’m developing a website right now with Rosa2 for a client who provides the voice-over, video production, and brand building for her Hispanic audience, the site will be completely in Spanish. Her clients need her, my job is to help make that happen because it’s important, and you enable me to do that.
It’s a crazy world, just know that you all are making an impact here in the San Francisco Bay Area, to bring quality products & services to people that need them. Thank you Alin, this is all real, and it does make a difference, great work by all!Jeff, Pixelgrade customer
Outcomes come in many shapes and sizes, but I’ll tackle this area in the next lines, so get yourself comfortable.
Customer relationships bring results that you can’t think of
Have you ever thought of the relationship you’ve been investing in? What do they get you? In which manner do they make you a better person? Do they influence your becoming? Why are you still in the middle of them?
These are essential questions that can reveal eye-opening truths about your current network (remember the spiderweb?).
The thing about relationships is that only by looking back can you tell if it paid off or not. You can’t have this accuracy and clarity while building them. You can have a feeling, you can discover a lot of mesmerizing insights during therapy and coaching, that’s for sure. However, only when you pause, take a clear look in the mirror you can grasp all the intricacies.
I’ve been building relationships at Pixelgrade in the last five years, both internally (via my Chief People Officer role) and externally (as the gal in charge of communication).
There’s no doubt that I failed in several areas. For instance, I have been investing in building solid relationships with our affiliates, and I only succeed with a few. I still believe that the WordPress ecosystem is broken on this side. If you’re keen to dig deeper and find out the thinking behind the saying, I encourage you to read this specific article. It walks you through the entire journey.
I like to believe I’ve also made remarkable progress on other levels.
For example, after we concluded our efforts of helping local hospitality businesses create a digital presence, we realized what strong bonds we created with them. They have no problem in emailing us their struggle or constructive feedback, and we are comfortable letting them know if their www or business strategy lacks clarity.
At the same time, we learned tremendously from watching them interact with our products while also keeping a business alive. All of this effort helped us write a variety of blog posts that help others avoid certain mistakes when building a website. Plus, a handful of features have been implemented into our products to address their needs better.
Another way we feel we made the right choice is through our efforts of consolidating a growing community of story lovers within the Upstairs Community under the mantra of — stories that make us better people. Individuals worldwide took their time and energy to craft a vulnerable and authentic narrative for our tribe. There’s no cash involved, no promo, no promises. Nada.
As you can see, customer relationships created plenty of ripples that brought us consistent wins in the last couple of years. We did not dare to imagine some of the effects, but we’re happy we’ve been surprised in such pleasant ways.
You may think that we’re in a privileged position because we’re selling on a global scale, or we have exquisite know-how internally. That’s not the case. Everyone can learn to nail building relationships. However, few people are up for the challenge. Mainly because you can’t sign in and sign out from a relationship whenever you want. You can’t be the one talking the most and pretending that you’re also a great listener. It’s not credible to look after someone only when you have an interest and ask for a commitment in return.
Please allow me to offer some hints about how you can start nourishing customers’ liaisons on your terms.
Where to start in building customer relationships
While I don’t have any recipes or magic tricks, I have ten years under my belt as a community builder. Creating tribes is all about building relationships, so I hope my expertise is enough to, at least, give the following tactics a go.
1. Know your customers
Every healthy relationship starts with a lively desire to know each other, discover, and find valuable insights. Remember when you first fell in love and felt the need to spend vast amounts of time with your dear one? Well, you don’t need to go there, but make sure you invest time and energy in discovering your customers.
One way to do that is to try to connect on a personal level. Give it your best to find out not only why they purchased your product or service. Go in-depth and learn about how they like to spend time, what their passions are, how they integrate your product or service into their life, how, when, and why they “consume” your product or service.
2. Connect with your customers
Connections come in many flavors, so feel free to choose the one that fits you best. There’s no need to compromise yourself. Get involved in contexts and scenarios where you feel comfortable, on your terms.
For instance, you can behave like a host next time you have a discussion (online or offline) with your customers. Before going wild and asking the hard questions, invest in welcoming and helping them feel comfortable. They, too, are nervous and anxious, do not doubt that. In the end, they don’t do this often. Get some coffee and goodies (if you are doing it offline), ask how their day was, how much time they have at their disposal, and how they feel. At the same time, share what you are going through — once they hear that you are as nervous as them, they will relax more knowing that a real person is on the other side.
Small gestures go a long way.
3. Stay in touch with your customers
Meaningful relationships pass the test of time. The most consistent friendships I have are with people I know a few years back. Thus, time is not the only key ingredient. Doing stuff together, sharing the same interests and passions, contributing to similar causes, having alike values are also necessary.
Your involvement does not have to end once you deliver the service or ship the product to their door. In some ways, it’s just the beginning. You can follow up a few months later and ask how they’re enjoying your product or the changes your service made possible. Learn about the ups and downs, what are the first memories they have with your product. You can also share bits and pieces of your work, including improvements you’re working on, new products coming up, awards you got, or the charitable work you are involved in and how they contributed to that.
There are various approaches to keep building relationships with your customers. In many ways, you are already doing that without even knowing it. Maybe you slipped a bonus product into the shipping box, or sent a hand-written note thanking them for choosing you. It’s precisely the kind of gesture that makes the relationship better.
It does not mean that all liaisons are equal (there’s no such thing) or that you will invest no matter the outcomes. But make sure that as long as you’re there, you give it the best chances.
Sometimes, at Pixelgrade, we’re lucky enough and get the echoes turned into reality. We get heart-melting emails from our customers who told us we’re the best. We get great reviews that make us dance in the office. We get photographs and illustrations as a sign of appreciation. We get flowers and other beautiful gifts that manifest gratitude and camaraderie.
And sometimes, we don’t get any of these. And that’s okay. It just reminds us that building relationships is a long-term investment and way of thinking and behaving. As long as we know that and act accordingly, we’re up for nurturing liaisons that last and grow. In the end, beauty lies in bringing forces together to make a change for the better, right?