4 Surefire Ways to Build a Connection With Customers

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Superfans" by Pat Flynn. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why should you make a meaningful connection with customers? How do you connect with customers on a personal level?

Superfans by Patt Flynn asserts that your customers will have a positive experience with your brand if they feel a sense of personal connection. This includes feeling like the company and its staff understand them, want them to feel welcome, and even want to get to know them as people.

Read below to learn how to make connections with customers that they’ll cherish.

Providing a Personal Connection

When people feel like their relationship with a brand is more like a person-to-person relationship and less like a strictly business relationship, they will be more willing to come back to the brand for more positive experiences. This creates opportunities for positive emotional experiences that will help them ascend the levels of fandom. Flynn provides four strategies for creating a personal connection with customers: learning their language, sharing authentically, reciprocating when people reach out, and getting to know your regulars.

(Shortform note: While it might be surprising that Flynn suggests a relationship with a brand can feel like a personal relationship, this is actually quite common. Psychologists have even given this phenomenon a name: a parasocial relationship. This is when one party invests time, effort, and emotion into the relationship, while the other party is scarcely aware of the other’s existence. People typically enter into parasocial relationships with celebrities, social media influencers, or content creators. However, parasocial relationships have become much more widespread as social media has made it easier for people to follow others online, and many companies have learned how to leverage the potential of these relationships for their brands.) 

Connection Creator #1: Learn Their Language

Flynn’s first connection creator is to match your language and word choice to your desired customers. Recall that Flynn advises you to solve a problem for your customers. As you research, he advises you not just to find a problem, but also to find out what language your potential customers use to talk about this problem. Using the same language as your customers demonstrates that you understand their needs—because you create a more personal connection with someone when they feel their problems are understood. Recall that Flynn asks you to search for problems to solve online. As you conduct these searches, pay close attention to the specific language people use and the main themes of their discussion. 

For example, let’s say your brand’s value lies in providing a service faster than your competitors. When customers complain about the time this service generally takes, how do they refer to the problem? Do they typically call it “lag-time,” “down-time,” “wait-time,” or maybe “delay?” If you notice a pattern, try to use their terms. This will not only make it easier to market your product or service, but it will signal to your customers that your brand really “gets” them, creating a positive impression.

(Shortform note: Research in sociolinguistics sheds light on why it’s so important to use specific wording—like slang, jargon, regional dialects, or educated diction—when connecting to others. Humans use word choice to interpret whether a message is coming from within their “group”—their tribe, so to speak—or outside of it. People are much more likely to trust messaging that sounds like it’s coming from within their group. Therefore, word choice plays an enormous role in whether customers will trust your message.)

Connection Creator #2: Share Authentically 

Flynn argues that sharing your authentic self and interests online can foster a strong connection with your customers, leading them to treat their relationship with your brand as a personal relationship. This happens because when you share your interests—even those not related to your brand—your customers are more likely to find something they have in common with you—or whoever is the face of the brand. For example, sharing things about your background, like your hometown, extracurricular activities in high school, or favorite childhood movie could all provide points of connection with your customers.

How Sharing Builds Trust

Psychologists have found that, as well as highlighting commonalities, sharing authentically creates connections because it builds trust. In The Power of Vulnerability, Brené Brown explains that being open with others creates trust because it gives others a sense of your feelings and motivations. The more someone else feels like they understand these feelings and motivations, the more likely they are to consider you trustworthy, and therefore buy into your messaging and brand. However, you should decide for yourself how personal you are willing to go in sharing things with your audience. Some entrepreneurs have successfully made personal struggles part of their brand, but business experts caution this works best when the struggle is somehow aligned with the goals of your fan community. For example, someone selling fitness advice might discuss overcoming their past struggles with weight loss.

Connection Creator #3: Reciprocate When People Reach Out

When customers make an effort to reach out, Flynn argues that it is very important to acknowledge them. People experience a personal connection when they feel seen and heard. If someone reaches out to your brand and their attention isn’t reciprocated, this can leave them feeling rejected and ignored, decreasing their willingness to emotionally invest in your brand. Your reciprocation could take the form of a handshake in a conference, a response to an email, or simply a “like” or comment on a social media post. 

As your brand grows, you may not have time to do this for everyone, but you can also hire people to help manage the load. However, Flynn warns against having your staff members pretend to be you, if you are the face of your brand. Your fans may experience this as a betrayal of trust and turn against your brand.

(Shortform note: Psychologists have found that one of the most important reasons to reciprocate attention is not just the positive feelings you can instill in your customers, but also the deeply negative feelings you can avoid. When someone reaches out to you and their attention isn’t reciprocated, this can leave them feeling ignored. Psychologists have found that feeling ignored can be profoundly painful, causing feelings of self-doubt and a questioning of personal worth. They find it can even change your sensory perceptions, causing the world to feel “quieter,” and that many people even prefer confrontation and argument over being overlooked. Clearly, these are not feelings you want people to associate with your brand experience.)

Connection Creator #4: Get To Know Your Regulars

Flynn recommends you identify customers who keep coming back and learn about them to show them what they mean to the company. People feel especially seen, heard, and welcomed when someone remembers who they are. When people are already loyal to a brand, recognizing and remembering them will create the positive experience of a personal connection that may help them continue up the levels of fandom. If you’re running a store or a restaurant, you’ll know who keeps coming back. However, if your business is online, keep an eye out for customers who frequently engage with your social media or respond to surveys. Of course, you won’t be able to get to know every customer on a one-on-one basis, but you can still make the effort to remember regular customers.

How Do You Remember All Those Names?

Dale Carnegie (How To Win Friends and Influence People) explains why remembering someone’s name can have such a powerful impact on their loyalty to your brand. He argues that everyone wants to feel important. By remembering someone’s name and small details about them, you show that they are important to you. This gives them a positive emotional experience, which—as we’ve discussed throughout—can accumulate with other positive experiences and deepen their loyalty to your brand.

However, remembering all those names and details can be challenging, especially in industries where you have a high volume of customers, or sell something purchased infrequently. Therefore, customer service experts recommend these four tips for remembering your customers’ names.

  1. Make an effort to notice people’s names. You can’t remember it if you don’t notice it.
  2. When you first hear a customer’s name, repeat it back as soon as possible.
  3. Associate each name with something your customer tells you about themselves.
  4. Write the names down. Keep a list of names you’d like to remember.
4 Surefire Ways to Build a Connection With Customers

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  • How to turn ordinary customers into passionate, lifelong fans
  • The importance of creating a product or service with value
  • Why you should make fans feel like they're a part of your company

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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