Want to deliver extraordinary customer care that leads to client retention? Wondering how your approach to customer experience leads to tangible outcomes like increased sales, customer retention, and referrals? 

In the article, you’ll discover practical ways to improve relationships with your clients.

Beyond Transactions: How to Build Lasting Client Partnerships by Social Media Examiner
This article was co-created by Dan Gingiss, Brooke Sellas, and Lisa D. Jenkins. For more about Dan, scroll to Other Notes From This Episode at the end of this article.

Keeping the Customer First: Insights from “The Experience Maker” 

Providing a remarkable customer experience is imperative for companies to gain loyal, vocal fans who drive growth through referrals and repeat business. With competition fiercer than ever before, customer-centric organizations have a clear edge.

Keynote speaker, author, and leading customer experience authority Dan Gingiss offers invaluable insights on how companies large and small can shift to a customer-focused mindset. He also discusses common mistakes companies make around data and customer feedback and key considerations for marketing agencies.

Building Long-Lasting Client Relationships Through Extraordinary Customer Experiences

With over 20 years of experience working with major brands like McDonald’s, Discover, and Humana, Dan explains his “extraordinary” approach to customer experience and why small gestures can have a significant impact. 

#1: Define Extraordinary Customer Experiences  

Dan emphasizes that in truly customer-focused companies, leaders continually stress that customers constitute the business’s most valuable asset. Without customers, you don’t have a business.   

So, with customers being the heart of any business, the question is, why don’t we spend more effort delighting them and earning their loyalty? If we genuinely recognized their value, we’d prioritize making their experience with us smooth, fast, enjoyable, and fun through personalization.

Extraordinary customer experience starts by deeply acknowledging and appreciating that customers drive everything. Losing sight of that means losing sight of opportunities to serve them better. Dan says you must view each person as an invaluable asset to your company’s existence. That mindset shapes everything else.

This mindset should then permeate throughout your organization. Dan says providing exceptional customer experiences should be a part of your business’s culture, and every employee should feel enabled to have it as part of their job.

He believes that “extraordinary” doesn’t have to mean over-the-top gestures like hiring Beyonce for a private concert. Instead, he says, “extraordinary simply means a little bit better than ordinary.” The reason? Most of the time, your competitors are ordinary. Thus, going above and beyond doesn’t require massive investments; it’s about finding ways to stand out from a client’s typical experience with a rival brand.

Personalization is vital to building extraordinary customer experiences, and it’s easier to do than it seems. 

For example, Dan’s bank used to greet him online by his legal name, Daniel—a name only used by his mother when she was angry. So, the bank using that name convinced Dan they didn’t know him—it had the opposite effect of personalization. But they eventually asked for his preferred name. When he logs in, it says, “Good Morning, Dan.”

Agencies have the advantage of a smaller client base. So, it’s possible to know each client individually. This understanding can help in areas beyond how you address people. For example, when sending holiday gifts, you could choose a gift meaningful to each client rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. With a smaller roster of loyal customers, taking the time to personalize for each person is doable.

#2: Make Word-Of-Mouth Marketing the Goal 

Dan says positive word-of-mouth should be every brand’s goal, as ordinary experiences don’t get shared. He notes that throughout his marketing career, the most potent driver of word of mouth has been creating remarkable customer experiences. Brands that give people “something to talk about” benefit from free advertising when happy customers spread the word.

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While traditional marketing has its place, Dan argues that nothing beats the impact of clients voluntarily advocating for your product. He says providing experiences worthy of word-of-mouth promotion should be a key goal for all customer-centric brands.

#3: Adopt a Customer-Focused Mindset

The key to a customer-first mindset is constantly wearing the “customer hat” in all decisions. 

Early in Dan’s career, MasterCard recruited him to head digital customer experience and social media because they noticed he already naturally considered business problems from the customer perspective, even though he’d only been a marketer for the company for 10 years. Dan realized that not everyone thinks that way by default, but customer-centric decisions yield better results.

Imagine an airline executive suggesting charging bag fees just to make billions in extra revenue without any client consideration—despite customers being a company’s #1 asset. This contempt can breed resentment. Instead, they could have provided value in return for a fee, like guaranteeing a convenience like faster bag delivery. Customers accept reasonable revenue needs but expect value in exchange for higher prices.

Dan says to approach every choice by thinking, “How would our customers react?” That’s wearing the customer hat. Consider your own everyday brand interactions, too. What frustrates you or delights you as a consumer? Apply that first-hand customer empathy to your own business decisions. 

An action that doesn’t offer clear value will degrade loyalty and trust. But choices driven by customer benefit also drive growth, retention, and referrals.  

Experiencing Your Business as Your Customers Would

Delivering a standout customer experience requires both empathy and an external orientation. 

Dan believes businesses should experience their own company as a customer would. For example, most dentist offices typically place their entrance in the back of the building so dentists can arrive right before appointments without walking through waiting patients. 

But avoiding the front door day-to-day prevents them from noticing issues like fingerprints on the front door or outdated reading material—problems a patient would observe. Suppose your agency doesn’t have a physical location. You still need to view your website, app, contracts, invoices, etc., through the eyes of a customer rather than an owner. When you get too close to your own materials, Dan says you miss opportunities for improvement. 

So, thoroughly explore your website or have someone else do it objectively. It’s hugely valuable to see your business from the outside rather than assuming your existing client perspective is enough. “Become a customer of your own company” by observing your materials fresh or through someone else’s eyes. It will uncover personalization opportunities you can’t see otherwise.

Dan also stressed examining every client interaction or touch point—no matter how small—for improvement opportunities. Not everything has to be exceptional, but take note of interactions that feel “blah.” Turning something unremarkable into something special can greatly enhance perceived personalization.

Little personal touches make a difference, like when a meal delivery box includes a surprise joke or note or when Snapple prints quotes inside their bottle caps. It likely took minimal effort to add and cost nothing extra, yet it’s part of the experience and delights the customer. Those little wow moments demonstrate true client understanding and make your business stand out.  

Thinking Creatively About How to Combine AI and Your Customer Experience

Dan believes the key is viewing technology as complementary to humans rather than a replacement. Early chatbots aimed to eliminate service reps but couldn’t match human engagement. Today’s best automation tools hand off to a person when they get stuck.

So, think creatively about how to combine artificial intelligence (AI) and people. Dan uses ChatGPT to rewrite his existing content for new industries rather than saying, ” Write this for me.” For example, he might write something for a retail client. Then, he’ll ask AI to help reword it for a construction industry client so they can understand it.

AI enhances human work rather than substituting it. Keep that human+tech partnership in mind; AI can elevate customer experience instead of damaging it. Treat it as a tool to assist and empower employees, not replace them.

#4: Actively Seek Customer Feedback

The most insightful feedback comes straight from the source—the customers themselves.

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Communicate effectively and have meaningful conversations with clients. Ask them to share everything they love about working with you and everything they wish you did better. Then, listen carefully and take notes. Clients will provide honest, constructive feedback if you ask for both positive and negative feedback.

Don’t fear complaints— that means your clients care and want you to improve. For example, if a client says, “It annoys me that our meetings always start five minutes late,” don’t get defensive. Thank them for the insight, apologize, and commit to changing that moving forward. Small frustrations often add up over time, making customers open to competitors’ offers.

So, have in-depth discussions to uncover those little pain points. Don’t accept generic “everything is fine” responses. Keep probing because the details matter regarding true personalization and improving customer loyalty.

#5: Incorporate Customer Feedback

Dan stresses three key steps when incorporating customer feedback:

  1. Collect it through conversations, surveys, reviews, social media comments, etc.
  2. Analyze it to identify trends—one piece of feedback doesn’t necessarily represent everyone. For example, while one customer might not like that you are always five minutes late for meetings, another one might enjoy that you start late because they are never on time. Look at what comes up repeatedly as pain points.
  3. Take action based on what you learned. This is the critical step most companies forget. Don’t just compile analytics reports; implement changes to solve customer problems.

Quantifying the Business Impact of Your Customer Experience Efforts 

Dan cautions companies against over-indexing on metrics without understanding the reasons behind the numbers. 

For example, he’s seen leadership teams celebrate an improved Net Promoter Score (NPS) one month, then immediately blame external factors if it declines the next month. The problem? There’s no context around what’s driving the metric up or down. He advises using tools like NPS and customer satisfaction surveys as inputs, not final analyses.

The fundamental goal of collecting feedback should be taking action to improve customers’ experiences. This means closing the loop and letting clients know how their feedback has impacted policies, products, or services. Loyalty grows when customers feel genuinely listened to, understood, and valued enough to drive real change. 

Without taking action, data collection is essentially meaningless, Dan says.  

Executives ultimately care about dollars and cents. So, when presenting customer experience metrics, translate them into financial impact. For example, show how efforts increased sales or clients rather than discussing social media sentiment.

On the revenue side, a great customer experience yields more new customers and referrals. Customers want to work with companies that treat them well. Dan urges connecting the dots to quantify, in financial terms, the business benefits from heightened customer loyalty. This includes rigorously measuring increases in referral business and repeat purchase rates as critical indicators for business growth.

Retention rate also matters—calculate the lifetime value of retained clients. If 10% more customers are staying, show your CEO the total dollar amount you saved in client churn.

“Customer service is what happens when customer experience breaks,” Dan says. We never call service reps to praise them—we contact them when something goes wrong. If we eliminate problems, service costs decline.

Money spent on customer service indicates failures in the customer journey. Fewer calls equal savings you can reinvest elsewhere. Good experiences also decrease marketing costs through unpaid referrals. Better meeting client needs saves money directly through less service overhead and indirectly by driving organic growth instead of paid acquisition like Google ads. Doing things right generates revenue and cuts costs.

To prove the business value of customer experience, connect improvements to revenue expansion, cost reduction in service calls, and lower marketing costs from referrals. Essentially, document the complete financial picture—more money in and less money out, Dan says. That shows the concrete ROI of better meeting client needs.

#6: Focus on Building Strong Client Relationships, Not Transactions

Dan flags that companies can unwittingly diminish client focus when viewing interactions through a transactional rather than relationship-building lens. For example, marketing agencies may become over-reliant on continually churning out content and “creative aspirations” to showcase their value.

While some degree of self-serving content is acceptable, Dan advises evaluating whether each piece of content serves your existing customers or your customers’ clients rather than your agency itself. Shifting to a strong client relationship-based mindset is crucial. Transactional exchanges must give way to creative solutions that provide real value. Creativity that delights clients isn’t limited to content volume.

Ask your customers regularly what they need to make their lives easier. This is about deepening the relationships rather than billing for work. The goal should be to more holistically understand clients’ needs to determine how best to support them long-term.

Dan points to Amazon’s ever-easier return process as an illustration. They enable returns at Whole Foods, Kohl’s, etc., without boxes or labels, making things more accessible because they value loyalty over one-off transactions. What began as a necessary evil has become a competitive advantage thanks to simple innovations that improve the customer experience. Once, when a pan arrived damaged, Dan got a full refund and free pans from Amazon. They likely lost money but have gained his loyalty for 500+ orders since.

Building ongoing value and trust leads to loyalty and continued business. Excellent customer experience companies lead with creative thinking focused on the complete customer journey versus maximizing transactions. Keep advancing the partnership, and you will reap the rewards of positive word of mouth.

Brooke B. Sellas is host of the Marketing Agency Show, a Social Media Examiner production. She is founder and CEO of B Squared Media, an agency that helps people connect, converse, and convert on social media. Her book is called Conversations That Connect. Find her on X/Twitter and LinkedIn.

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