Consumers today have more choice than ever when it comes to the vendors and retailers they decide to work with.  Because everything from groceries to clothing to home repair supplies and more can be purchased online, businesses of all sizes must compete against their counterparts around the world in order to maintain their customer bases and overall sales.

So how can your business stand out from others who are offering similar products and services in order to maintain your market share against online and real-world competitors?  Consider any of the following strategies that show your customers you care about them:

Strategy #1 – Reach out personally

Automating the thank you process using email and other digital message delivery systems is certainly easier, but it lacks the personalized touch of a phone call or hand-written message.  Believe me – if you reach out in one of these ways, your customer is guaranteed to take notice!

Obviously, the time required for these alternative contact methods means that you can’t reach out to every customer in a personal way (unless your customer base is made up of a small number of high-dollar clients).  However, taking the time to recognize repeat customers or others who have contributed to your business’s success in some meaningful way will absolutely show your clients that you care.

Strategy #2 – Ask for feedback… and then listen!

These days, it’s common for businesses to include some type of feedback form on their websites.  But how many times have you left a message using these services, only to see nothing done about your complaint?

To show your customers that you care, let them know that you’ve received their feedback and what specific changes you intend to make as a result.  Even if it’s something as simple as clarifying a piece of text on your website to prevent future customer confusion, demonstrating that you’re willing to take action in response to customer feedback will set your business apart from other nameless, faceless companies online.

Strategy #3 – Give away knowledge for free

Plenty of businesses are afraid that giving knowledge away for free will result in a decline in sales, but I’ve found that the opposite is true.

Even if there are some people who will use this information instead of purchasing products that cover the same content, there are plenty of others who will either pay you for further information or to implement any actionable content as a paid professional.

At the same time, though, you establish yourself as both an industry authority and as a generous figure who cares about his customers.  In terms of improving your brand recognition within your industry, this strategy simply can’t be beat.

Strategy #4 – Recognize top customers

No matter what industry you’re in, you likely have a small group of customers that stand out from the others.  These customers might be your top buyers, your top affiliate referrers, your top reviewers or even your top blog commenters.  However they choose to engage with your brand, these customers go above and beyond when it comes to building your business’s public image – and, as such, they deserve to be recognized in some way!

There are dozens of different ways that you can recognize top customers, but a few of my favorites include:

  • Specialized “VIP” coupons that aren’t available to customers at large
  • Individual training or coaching opportunities provided for free
  • Recognition in blog articles (especially effective for customers that review your products regularly or comment on other website posts)
  • Free gifts mailed directly to customer homes

Really, there are tons of different options for customer recognition, so go with whatever strategy suits your business personality and the investment level of your customers.  If possible, made the recognition strategy you choose public to encourage other customers to engage at higher levels.  Just be subtle so that the focus remains on how much you care about your customers, and not how much you’d like others to step up their game!

Strategy #5 – Contribute to industry charities

Very few actions say “I care about my customers” more than contributing to the charities that are meaningful to their lives or interests.

However, be aware that businesses walk a fine line between genuine giving and being perceived as giving for the sole benefit of enhancing their public perception when it comes to corporate donations.  When done correctly, charity contributions convey a business’s legitimate efforts to improve the world in some meaningful way.  But when carried out indiscriminately, they can actually do more harm than good to a company’s reputation.

To prevent this from happening, make charitable giving a regular part of your company’s public outreach programs and tie your donations to causes you have a personal connection with.  Share your giving relationships with your customers and tell them why your chosen cause is so important to you – with time, they’ll come to see you as a company that does much more than just sell products.

Strategy #6 – Host an industry event

Now, if public charitable giving isn’t appealing to you, be aware that you can achieve many of the same benefits by helping host public events within your industry.  For example, you could offer to set up for a local networking event or sponsor a panel at an industry conference, depending on your connections and stature within your company’s niche.

Even if your company doesn’t have the extra cash available to pay for expensive sponsorships, be aware that many of these same events need help with both set up and event management.  By working directly with event organizers, you may be able to earn the same type of recognition for volunteer commitments, rather than outright spending.

The more events you participate in, the more your target customers will begin to recognize your company’s name and associate it with both industry leadership and care for the advancement of your field.  It’s a great way to demonstrate to customers how committed you are to your industry.

Strategy #7 – Provide your personal contact information

Finally, if you really want to go the extra mile and show your customers that you care, give them your personal contact information and ask them to contact you directly whenever they need guidance using your products or services.

Clearly, this isn’t a solution for every industry.  Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos, would have to change his personal cell phone if it was made available to all of the company’s customers.  However, if your customer base is smaller, it’s a great way to show your customers that they’re your top priority.

As an example, AJ and I have always given our personal cell phone numbers to our Single Grain clients as a way to demonstrate that they’ll always have access to industry experts throughout the duration of their SEO campaigns.  Since we only ever have 10-15 clients at a time, the call load is manageable and helps show our customers that they’re always our top priorities.

Again, this strategy doesn’t work for everybody.  If the thought of giving out your cell phone leaves you fearing for your free time, try any of the other techniques listed above.  The important thing is that you make an effort to show your customers how much they matter to you and your business.  If you don’t make their value clear, you risk losing them to any one of your company’s online or real-world competitors!