7 Ways Startups Can Better Manage Customer Relationships


From customer service horror stories associated with changing the terms of service at Instagram to airline lost luggage tweet disasters, too many startups aren't approaching customer relationships well.

Satisfied customers, loyalty programs, and referrals keep your company thriving while lowering the costs associated with marketing and acquiring new customers. But a customer relationship and referral management system must be well designed and skillfully implemented to yield strong results.

Adding social media into the mix has created real potential for leverage; a happy customer can share their results on social media and quickly reach an audience of thousands. But it’s also easy to get wrong. Here are seven core principles of a strong customer retention and lead generation program that makes the most of social media.

1. Be clear on your goals

Every business is different in the way that it’s structured and how it serves its customers. In a high volume, low touch business, successful customer management is focused on clear offers, smooth transaction fulfillment, and exceptional customer service when an issue arises. In a high touch setting, such as professional services, different metrics will come into play. It’s also important to know exactly who you’re marketing to: for example, do you do activities that focus on especially marketing to women or capturing the attention of CEOs? However you define a successful customer relationship, develop measurable goals around that and regularly monitor these metrics to see how you’re performing.

2. Open up feedback channels

What kind of feedback loop does your business currently use? If customers have adequate means of outreach to customer service or other parts of your organization when needed, they’re less likely to take complaints public via social media. Open feedback channels also give you the power to identify and fix problems before they blow up. In addition to maintaining active social media accounts, other methods that can work include periodic outreach to clients by account managers, regular surveys, and post-purchase emails or calls that invite feedback.

3. Assign ownership 

Customer retention and referrals can be a challenge to manage well when no one has ownership. A professional with a background in customer service or marketing can be an excellent customer loyalty manager.

Empower this person to work across your organization to take specific steps such as improving thank yous, adding bonuses to purchases, developing new loyalty incentives, and implementing feedback plans. Encourage the person to work cross-functionally; their input can help departments ranging from sales to customer service to be more effective. Depending on the size of your organization, this can be a dedicated position or an opportunity for growth as a part time allocation.

4. Employ social listening 

Social media provides the platform to have a meaningful dialogue with your customers. As you develop high-value content, you can push it out to your networks to educate customers and get the word out about your products and services. But another valuable aspect of social media is listening. Who is talking about your brand? Is the sentiment positive or negative? Are you on top of problems when they’re mentioned, and actively thanking customers and advocates for recommending your brand? Social listening also helps you identify trends in your space by monitoring general conversations.

5. Establish the expectation early that you’ll ask for a referral 

If you’re asking for referrals – and you should be – it’s helpful to set that expectation early in the relationship. On your landing pages and web copy, be clear that your goal is to serve clients so well they’ll refer you to friends and colleagues. Then, once you’ve delivered on your promise to the client, follow up and ask for referrals. This is a great time to make a personal call and thank the customer for their business. Remember, never feel bad about asking for a referral; it’s just a highly personalized call to action!

6. Use online referral tools and social proof 

If you’re in a digital heavy industry, using online referral tools can be a great way to streamline your process. Depending on your field, consider a system like Referralkey that allows you to track referrals from clients and from other professionals in your network. Other systems that are worth checking out include ReferralCandy and Marketo.

7. Seal the deal with social proof 

Customer referrals are an extremely valuable currency in your client relationships. Each time a customer refers you to someone they know, they are putting their own reputation on the line. Ensure that the foundation is there by over-delivering in your relationships with customers. Help lend credibility to their recommendation by providing social proof. Do you have a large social media following? Share it. Do you have great customer testimonials? Make those available on your website with names and pictures whenever possible. In a recent client meeting, I learned that the company had developed over 50,000 logos since they opened. This is tremendous social proof that the business is active and thriving!

The dimensions of word-of-mouth marketing have changed in the last few years. With social media, the power has shifted to the consumer. But a bit of planning and the right tools can put you on the path to cultivating great customer relationships that yield referrals and create a regular pipeline of new leads for your business. What else do startups need to be doing better? Let us know in the comments!