Before exchanges and transactions over the internet became the norm, brands were able to foster both physical and sometimes emotional connections and interactions with their customers. This lead to extreme brand loyalty, repeat purchases and other unmeasurable value for the company. Nowadays, most brands turn to social media and other forms of “social” marketing to create such customer engagement as a substitute for never having an actual human interaction with a customer. Knowing that human beings need relationships in both their personal lives as well as when they’re buying things leads to the endless struggle for companies to build relationships with their customers, form strong user engagement and ultimately drive better sales.

Although some brands market to and engage their customers online extremely well, not every company has been so lucky. So how do we stand out over our competitors when trying to engage our customers? There are a few ways small businesses can drive better sales by building stronger customer relationships online.

1. Survey Your Customers and Get Their Opinions

Giving your customer exactly what they want is probably the best way to make sales, build trust and gain repeat customers. It’s pretty much the ideal situation for any business. Creating customer personas is building strategy 101 but how granular can we get with our customer that way? How exactly do you figure out what your customers’ needs and wants are? The answer is simple. Send them surveys.

Before marketers ventured online, market research was conducted by old fashion questionnaires. The whole, “How much do you agree with this statement?” question – I always picked “Strongly Disagree” kind of like how I always chose “C” on multiple choice tests. Regardless of those standard of error metrics that bore most normal people, we can get real good insight from our customers by surveying them.

Customer surveys and feedback can be done through email, on the website or through social media channels. SurveyMonkey is one of the survey platforms available that allows you to send targeted surveys to customers through different platforms such as email and social media networks. Qualoroo is another way to get valuable insight from your customers right when they land on your site.

2. Communication Through Email

Building an email list is probably one of the most important ways a company can stay in contact with their customers, build rapport and make sales – unless you come across as a spammer. If every email that you send out is salesy then you’re doing it wrong. Emails should be able to provide valuable content for the consumer to share. When you provide content that addresses the need and provides a solution to your customer’s problem then you build rapport and foster the digital relationship that you company needs to be successful.

3. Real-Time Video Chat for Customer Support

Real-time video chat is a real hot topic with companies that are looking to build better connections with their online users. Late last year, Amazon introduced their “Mayday Button.” This new feature on the Kindle Fire allowed a user to receive a video connection with a customer support representative. Never before has an online consumer been able to communicate with a company in such an innovative way and at such a scale. Today, Amazon boasts that a user can live video chat with a customer support representative in under ten seconds. That sure beats waiting on the phone and listening to such wretched music while on hold.

Amazon Mayday video customer support

It’s obvious that the way we do business has changed and one of the funniest and most common phrases in business today is, “It’s nice to finally put a face to that voice.” The accuracy of that phrase is astonishing because it actually is quite nice to put a face to that voice especially since meeting someone in person allows you to more easily build rapport and form a better working relationship. As a company that does most, if not all, of their business online this isn't the easiest thing to do. Real-time video chat, or video calling, is the closest way that we can create a “physical” connection online with our customer and it is reported that 75% of all customer contact from the Amazon Fire HDX now come via the Mayday Button. As you can see, adoption of such a technology is evident.

4. Rewarding Your Best Customers

It is human nature to want to be liked so acknowledging your most loyal customers is a great way to continue to strengthen your relationship - do it in front of others and it works exponentially. We all know the 80/20 rule where 20% of your customers make up 80% of your sales so here are so more accurate statistics about how important your most loyal customers are from, “According to global management consulting firm Bain and Co., a 5 percent increase in retention yields profit increases of 25 to 100 percent. And on average, repeat customers spend 67 percent more than new customers.

There are many ways to reward your customers through social media. Whether you’re using gamification, running contests and giving away free prizes or simply saying thanks there are many ways to show your loyal customers that you care. Read here for more ways to engage your loyal customers via social media.

As our society turns to more digital communication and commerce, building strong relationships with your customers isn't easy. Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, said “All businesses need to be young forever. If your customer base ages with you, you're Woolworth's.” The meaning behind that message is to stay adaptive to your business environment and to the ever-changing business landscape. We need to understand that doing business online is the new norm and building quality relationships with your customers online is not only a great business idea, it’s a necessary one.