Written by our friends at Fundera.
Whether your business is a long-standing brick-and-mortar store or a new digital startup you’re still financing, you might not think that you have too many outlets to communicate with your customers outside of the usual staples—email, phone, and face-to-face. Which just feels odd, right? Especially since everything else about how we communicate has evolved.
If your intuition is that there are plenty of other ways to reach out to your clients, there are. They’re less conventional—or at least less obvious—methods, but certainly outside of the traditional approaches.
Almost any online presence provides you with a tool to connect with your customers. Sure, contact forms on your page, or email inboxes for inquiries may seem like the most obvious picks, but there are heaps of other
conduits to chat with would-be or existing clientele.
And better yet, most of these platforms cost little more than your time. Here are a few unexpected places where you can connect with both loyal and potential customers.
1. Strategic Company Blogs
A lot of people think they want a company blog—but have no idea what to do it with.
Yet a well-curated and maintained blog is among the best ways to connect with customers on lesser-known platforms. Creating a business blog post with modern tools allows you to delve deeper into what you and your company offers potential clients, show off your unique perspectives, and foster a running conversation with your audience.
Let’s say that you own a bike shop. You might develop detailed blog posts on how to properly inflate new tires, change brakes, or tune up a ten-speed for Spring. These posts demonstrate:
- Expertise on subjects related to your business, which serves as an indirect way of promoting your company
- Willingness to provide free help and advice, which can boost your potential to show up in search engine results.
- A place can answer questions directly on-site if you maintain a comments section, which shows that you’re willing to take the time to speak with individual customers and visitors
And speaking of search engines, we’d be remiss not to dive into Search Engine Optimization (SEO, for short). SEO can terrify even the savviest small business owner, but the basics are actually pretty straightforward.
What questions do your customers ask often? What kind of work do you find yourself doing the most? Once you have a sense of these details, try running a few searches on these topics and see how many useful results show up. If you feel as though you offer better advice than any of the existing search results, consider writing blog posts about these topics.
Make sure you’re using the lingo that you see in your industry, or mirror the language you used in your search—that’ll help you make sure you’re putting your content in the best position to be picked up in search, and to get people to come to your site for answers. And, of course, don’t forget the gorgeous photos to keep people on the page.
2. Real-Time Customer Chat
Live customer chat is one of the newest, most exciting ways for business owners to communicate directly with customers in real time. Or, if someone reaches out to you when you’re not available, you’re able to answer questions from would-be clients once you’re able to get back in touch.
On-site live chat is easy to set up, relatively easy to maintain, and helps your customers reach out even if they don’t want to write a lengthy email or call you. According to recent research, 42% of customers polled preferred to use a site’s live chat function instead of calling a company and facing the potential of being placed on hold.
Better yet, 51% were more interested in using live chat versus other means of communication because it allowed them to continue shopping uninterrupted while asking questions. Now that’s a great stat.
No matter your industry, chat functionality shows that you’re approachable easily and often. And by talking to your potential clients via chat, you avail yourself to less formal, deeper conversations with your clientele as well. All great things when growing your customer base.
3. Informative Newsletters
The right kind of newsletter can also help small business owners deliver unique expertise to customers and promote sales and discounts—all while keeping your company top of mind. Here’s how:
Stick to a regular schedule. Valuable subscribers will appreciate consistent updates. A publishing schedule also lets you make sure you’re not overwhelming your subscribers with too many messages, since you can keep track of when you’re sending updates. And you’ll have better data on what works and what doesn’t, since you’ll have a consistent metric to measure your success against.
Offer perks for your subscribers. This means coupons, discounts, invitations to exclusive events, or sneak previews of new product launches. Give people a reason to stay subscribed—better yet, give them perks that make them want to forward your newsletter to non-subscribers, too.
Craft a unique voice. The best way to keep your newsletter interesting is to create a style of writing your newsletter that’s unique. Be yourself, whether that’s relaxed, funny, or something else. No matter what your strong suit is, make sure it shines through.
Keep it conversational. Even though newsletters aren’t inherently two-way conversations, show that you’re listening to your customers by addressing their questions or interests with your topics. This shows that you’re in touch with your customer base, which goes a long way toward adding value.
4. Social Media Customer Service
One of the most underused benefits of having an active presence on social media is the power of direct messaging. DMs provide customers with a sense of immediate, direct contact with a company.
When speaking to you directly and privately, customers can feel less encumbered to ask you a broader array of questions. Better yet, DMs allow you to do damage control with unhappy customers and negative feedback.
Of course, once you open your accounts to DMs from customers, make sure you’re consistent with replies and don’t take too long to answer queries. Otherwise DMing might do more harm than good—especially if you’re dealing with unhappy clients.
5. Q&A Forums
Driving customers to your site is well and good. but you should meet customers where they go to find answers, too.
Consider using your subject-matter expertise on a question-and-answer forum like Quora. The site, dedicated to answering crowdsourced questions on nearly any subject, can establish you as a go-to industry expert—and build your company’s reputation online for being informative, friendly, and communicative.
This could help drive traffic over time, and build trust from potential customers. Depending on your industry, you may find it helpful to browse Reddit communities (known as subreddits) that align with your business. But be careful not to self-promote: your best asset here is the knowledge you bring to the conversation, not your best sales pitch.
Rely on Your Knowledge to Guide You
The most important thing here? You’re the expert in your field—and people love to interact with friendly authorities who’ll engage and help them. Build relationships and communicate through lots of different channels, and loyal customers will follow.
Meredith Wood is the Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business loans that matches business owners with the best funding providers for their business. Specializing in financial advice for small business owners, Meredith is a current and past contributor to Yahoo!, Amex OPEN Forum, Fox Business, SCORE, AllBusiness and more.