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the top tens

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When I'm working with clients and I ask them about the relationships with their customers, I hear the same reply over and over again, "We've got a great relationship with our customers. We provide a 'wow' experience!" I smile and then incredulously respond, "That's fine, but so do the fifteen businesses down the street and so do all your competitors. What makes your relationships different?"

You've got a choice here. You can be like most other businesses and continue to tell yourself that your high service standards are enough to bring them back. Or, you can be like a relatively small number of businesses who decide to take customer relationship building seriously – and profit handsomely because of it.

Here are ten ways to build rock solid relationships with your customers for exponential growth. When your customer realizes there's more to the relationship than just a financial transaction, you both win.

1. Tall, Grande, Venti: Speak their language. Starbucks created a very specific language and lingo that became ingrained in the Starbucks customer culture. How can you develop a language that is shared by your best customers? Language becomes part of the way your customers speak to each other, and the way in which you communicate with them. If you're starting a new business in a well-established industry, then keep in mind there's probably already a certain language in place. Let's say you're selling a product to Real Estate Agents, you better be familiar with certain lingo like fizbos, lock boxes, chattels, etc. You want to be sure your communication with your customers, or prospects, is in a language they totally understand.

2. Don't just build your customer list - segment it. No two customers are the same. Being able to speak to your unique customers, in unique ways, is one of the true keys to building strong customer relationships. When communication with your clients is personalized, it creates a whole new dynamic. Sending daily e-mail blasts is one thing, but sending something that makes a personal connection is a game-changer. Your customers base cannot be viewed as one single amorphous entity. So how you do this? One way is to survey them and move customers to new lists. Another way is to use the tools available. Email Marketing tools like aWeber give you the ability to segment lists based on who clicked what link, who opened what email, and who didn't open it. That's a great start.

3. Increase involvement. Connection matters. How can you further involve your customers with your business? Think about holding special events, gatherings, contests – anything that increases involvement will strengthen those relationship. How can you build a community within your business?

4. Educate and encourage behaviour. Customers don't just automatically come back again and again. Show new customers the behaviours your best customers exhibit. Communicate in a way that reinforces the strong bonds you have with your best customers. Show them how many customers come to your special events. Show them how customers have been rewarded for loyalty. Show customer testimonials. This all becomes great content for blog posts, social media, and newsletters.

5. Any friend of yours is a friend of mine. You can take advantage of other businesses relationships by creating strategic partnerships and alliances. A business focused on retention knows it has an incredible weapon in its arsenal – referrals . When I've built incredible relationships with my own customers, I've built trust. And they're usually willing trust another friend, if I'm willing to vouch for them. Look for ways you can leverage others' relationships.

6. Frequency matters. You know that weird feeling when your old high school fling requests to be friends with you on Facebook? A long time ago there was a relationship, but not anymore. You've moved on. Frequency of communication matters. Some companies fear that communicating too often will annoy customers, but the best companies look for ways to engage customers as often as possible. The secret to not annoying them is ensuring all your communication is relevant, authentic, and valuable.

7. The penthouse suite. I developed a concept which I call 'High Rise Marketing.' As relationships develop, customers should always be ascending within your business. Show them the various levels of customer loyalty and the perks associated with each new level. Show customers where to find the elevator so they know how to get to the penthouse.

8. Meet expectations and build trust. Trust is the glue that holds relationships together. Your customers and clients need to trust you. Trust is built by continuously doing what you said you would do. When you tell a customer you'll call them back, do it. When you promise to follow-up, do it. Trust is the sticky glue of great customer relationships.

9. Authentic communication and character. Why does Jeff Bezos write personal letters on the front page of Because he recognizes that even as CEO of the world's largest online retailer he can create an emotionally valuable connection with his customer. Customers demand authenticity. If Amazon can do it, you have no excuse. You can't be authentic when you've outsourced customer service and social media activities. The Coles Notes? People buy from people they like. Personality matters.

10. Publish a monthly newsletter. The newsletter is the most tactical item on the list. It's also one of the most effective things you can do to strengthen customer relationships. Most businesses sit down each month and say, "What kind of fluff can we fill this with?" The best businesses sit down and say, "How can we use the newsletter to bring incredible value to our customers?" Here are few suggestions to actually make it work for you: customer recognition and rewards, proof and testimonials, pragmatic content, new value offerings, referral generation, events, etc. Look at everything we just covered in points one through nine – that's what should be in your newsletter.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Noah Fleming is a strategic marketing consultant specializing in entrepreneurial growth, community building, client loyalty, and customer retention. He helps create companies people love. He's the co-author of a forthcoming 2013 book on the topics above, and he's worked personally with over 700 entrepreneurs and business owners. You can learn more about Noah