Nearly threescore years ago, The Dating Game was introduced to television audiences. Hosted by Jim Lange, the show featured bachelorettes and bachelors asking questions to potential dating partners hidden behind a screen. Many celebrities, including Farrah Fawcett, Tom Selleck, Lee Majors, Steve Martin, and Burt Reynolds, appeared as contestants on the show in the 1960s and early 1970s. Contestants relied solely on the questions they asked to determine if a potential suitor was a good match. The show was television camp at its best.
In many ways, the relationship between brands and consumers is like The Dating Game; except that brands have used data rather than questions to figure out which consumers are a good match. Gregg Ames, Chief Commercial Officer at Act-On Software, explains that in the new era of data collection, brands must court consumers in order to keep relationships alive. He writes, “Marketers are up against a lot in 2022: Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection and Google’s looming ban on third-party cookies have made first-party data more critical than ever. And the best way to gather first-party data is to nurture customer relationships and build trust so you can simply ask them for more information about themselves.” He adds, “Data isn’t the only reason to focus on current customers. Happy customers are far more likely to make repeat purchases, refer other potential customers, and deliver more revenue. That’s why marketers should continue ‘dating’ their customers, just as they would their spouse — that is, continue to put effort into their relationship to ensure mutual happiness.”
Fostering Better Customer Relationships
Without customers, a business has no business. Rhett Power (@rhettpower), Co-Founder of Courageous Leadership, elaborates: “You could create the greatest invention in the world, but it wouldn’t make a difference if you couldn’t find anyone to buy it. Innovation isn’t what drives your business — it’s the customer. Customers ultimately decide whether your company succeeds or fails. However, you have a way to make sure they help you achieve success: gratitude.” Whether you are trying to foster happiness, gratitude, or satisfaction, strengthening customer relationships is an important business activity. Below are few ways experts suggest those relationships can be strengthened.
• Develop a strong first-party data strategy. As Ames pointed out, the importance of first-party data is increasing. Melissa Tatoris, Vice President of retail at Zeta Global, suggests three ways companies can improve their first-party data strategy. First, unify first-party data on a customer data platform. She explains, “It’s no surprise that first-party data sits siloed in most organizations, which prevents a holistic view of customers. Without a unified profile of their behaviors and intent, you’ll fail to relevantly market to consumers.” Second, create a plan to enrich your first-party data. According to Tatoris, “You need to enhance your owned data with other information to execute more targeted marketing campaigns across channels. You can find partners with enriched data sets from other owned and operated properties, digital publishers, and ecosystem partners. The best ones will have a proven track record of using permission-based, first-party data, not third-party cookies.” Finally, be intentional in how you collect data to promote value exchange. Tatoris explains, “New first-party-based identity solutions give brands a chance to boost loyalty and deliver increased value. The great news is that because first-party data is opted-in data, you will have more accurate, permissioned information that helps you establish a direct relationship with a consumer. And at the very root of collecting more of this data is the delivery of value-added content such as surveys, social media and email offers.”
• Connect with customers outside of typical transactions. Power writes, “Take some time to map out a standard customer journey from the top to the bottom of your selling funnel. No doubt you have multiple touchpoints along the way, but do any of those touchpoints not include making a sale? Or are they all just transactional in nature? It’s easy to forget that your customers have a life outside of their engagement with your brand. … Brands that remember and recognize customers during holidays and ‘small-idays’ (like birthdays and personal occasions) give themselves a leg up on the competition.”
• Never stop communicating. According to Ames, “The first step to developing trust in any relationship is to create open lines of communication. Therefore, when a company acquires a new customer, its top priority should be to create an onboarding nurture campaign that establishes those lines of communication. If customers need anything at all, they will already know how to reach out.” Power adds, “Technology has allowed businesses to contact customers by email, texts, social media DMs, and so many other ways. Yet many times, companies use their own preferred channels, not their customers’ preferred channels. This can put brands at a disadvantage.” Ames concludes, “Just as successful marriages are built around communication, so are customer relationships.”
• Capture and take advantage of customer feedback. Are you listening? Reda Chouffani (@healthcareITGuy), Co-founder of Biz Technology Solutions, asserts, “Organizations must be able to capture and act on feedback from their existing customers. Many of today’s top CRM tools such as Salesforce, Microsoft CRM and others are a great way to collect and centralize customer feedback from social media posts, customer calls, email surveys, phone surveys or suggestion boxes. By analyzing that feedback and creating a strategic plan, companies can better understand what they need to adjust to retain those customers.”
• Show appreciation. Power explains, “When you pamper your customers by going above their expectations, you’ll be more likely to earn their commitment. No matter what other changes you’ve resolved to make during the coming year, you can’t afford to overlook your customer support processes. Use this opportunity to truly thank your customers in ways that make them feel appreciated.” Chouffani adds, “While customers may not save tremendous amounts of money by participating in a loyalty program, even small rewards can showcase a business’s appreciation for its customers. Providing discounts or customer-only promotions is an easy way to incentivize those buyers to keep coming back. These programs also give a company the means to gather useful data, such as identifying the most valuable customers and those at risk of doing business elsewhere.”
Although there is an increasing emphasis on the collection of first-party data, brands should not forget that it is the analysis of that data that provides the greatest benefit. Because so much data can be collected, its analysis is, more often than not, performed by cognitive technology (aka artificial intelligence). Journalist Todd Wasserman reports, “A 2021 survey by Talkdesk found 64% of customer experience (CX) professionals expected their companies’ contact centers to prioritize deeper investments in AI tech. The current goal of AI in CX is to remove friction from consumer interactions. As AI progresses, expect it to improve interactions with customers even more.”
Ames concludes, “A good spouse pays attention and takes note of his or her partner’s interests, likes and dislikes, and preferences. Luckily for marketers, marketing automation can gather that data about their customers and help them use it appropriately. Marketing automation can help marketers understand what product or services their customers may be interested in, how they are using the company’s products and services, and much more. … Anticipating the needs of customers helps drive stronger relationships, just as it would in a marriage.”
 Gregg Ames, “Never Stop ‘Dating’ Your Customer: Three Ways to Nurture Relationships,” MarketingProfs, 4 May 2022.
 Rhett Power, “3 Innovative Ways To Show Customers You Care,” Forbes, 2 January 2022.
 Melissa Tatoris, “4 Things Retailers Can Do to Strengthen Customer Relationships in 2022,” Total Retail, 25 January 2022.
 Reda Chouffani, “6 ways to build customer loyalty for your business,” TechTarget, 22 November 2021.
 Todd Wasserman, “AI’s Increasing Role In Customer Relations,” Marketing Daily, 31 May 2022.