But as the internet has continued to grow into the behemoth that it is these days, we seem to have lost that face-to-face connection that respect is built on. Just look at the types of comments you see on online forums and articles or the way some businesses react to critical reviews – these definitely aren’t the types of civilized things that would be said to someone in person!
More and more it feels like people aren’t neighborly and friendly as they used to be and brands tend to be out to make the quick buck and move on. Essentially, we’ve created a society where people feel forced into independence because they can’t trust that the social fabric around them will respect them as people so they have to look out for themselves. It’s pretty unfortunate from an anthropological perspective, but it also provides a real opportunity for businesses to gain a competitive advantage by restoring the respect that seems to have been mostly lost. So as a business, how do you climb the mountain of consumer perception to restore respect? If you want to attract and retain customers, you have to respect them in the following ways:
Keep Personal Information Safe
Not selling or sharing your customers’ personal information should be a no-brainer, but if you’re keeping customer information in a place that’s not particularly secure, you’re not respecting their privacy either. Never store customer information in a pile on your desk, on a sticky note, in your free email account, in a shared doc online, or anyplace else that makes it susceptible to being seen by someone else. And this advice doesn’t just apply to payment information (in fact, if you have credit card information just hanging out there for someone to steal you’re not being PCI compliant and you can be fined or sued in a heartbeat); it also applies to email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers, order history, and anything else that people don’t want shouted from the rooftops.
Don’t Waste Their Time
Always be mindful of your customers’ time. Stringing people along and wasting their time is incredibly disrespectful! The time that people waste on hold, following up on a problem they experienced, inquiring about their order, or negotiating a return/reimbursement is time that they could have spent with their family or at their job or doing their favorite hobby, and they’re not likely to forget that your company robbed them of that. Make all of your processes as streamlined and efficient as possible to keep customers happy and coming back for more!
Remember Their Preferences
No one likes repeating themselves, especially not to businesses that are supposed to be serving their needs. So when your customers tell you how often they want to be contacted, when they want to be contacted, how they want to be contacted, or what they want to hear about when you contact them, listen up! Not respecting these preferences is a surefire recipe for annoying and frustrating your prospective and existing customers into going elsewhere. (Oh, and asking people to set their preferences and then ignoring their input is much worse than never asking to begin with, so if you don’t plan on respecting people’s preferences, then just save yourself the trouble of inquiring at all.)
Be Understanding of Individual Needs
Each of your customers is coming to you with a unique set of needs and a frame of reference. Not being sensitive to this is disrespectful because it makes people feel like a number rather than a real person. So while you may have policies in place to handle different types of situations, you need to be willing to be flexible as situations arise. This doesn’t mean that you should let people walk all over you, but it does mean that you need some sensitivity for extenuating circumstances. Remember, respect is a two-way street, which means that if you’re not willing to trust and respect your customers, then you can’t expect that you’ll get the same back from them.
Validate Their Opinions
Any business knows that customers can have strong opinions about everything under the sun – literally everything! While your business may not agree with everyone on every point, you have to at least respect a difference of opinion when it’s presented. Validate concerns and disagreements to let your customers know that you can be understanding and stay civil when these situations arise.
Kate Pierce is the owner of LionShark Digital Marketing LLC, a West Michigan internet marketing company. Her areas of expertise include Paid Search, Search Engine Optimization, Business Blogging and Web Copywriting. She lives in the Grand Rapids area with her husband and son and enjoys cooking, watching sports, and spending time together as a family. Like a true digital marketing expert (i.e. geek), she loves talking about current marketing trends… so don’t say you weren’t warned!