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Customer Service Is Dead. It's Time to Focus on Building Real Relationships. For decades, we've associated customer service with having people on the line to answer questions and provide assistance. It's time to change that mentality if you want to see real results.

By Nick Gilmour Edited by Amanda Breen

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Our customers are one of our greatest assets. Without them, we're simply just a person sitting next to a sidewalk with a bunch of cups of unbought lemonade. Our ice has melted, and the drinks are going warm, so we try to think of strategic ways to bring people over.

We invest in marketing, persuasive sales staff and more. As entrepreneurs, we focus on measuring the ROI of financial investments or money spent to increase sales, but we can miss the most important factor when growing or starting a business: the customers themselves.

What does customer service even mean?

For decades, we've associated customer service with having people on the line to answer questions and provide assistance. We hire customer-service agents and put them behind a computer, giving them an earpiece and a list of standard responses to frequently asked questions. The point was to help without getting too personal so you could move on to the next person in line as quickly as possible. As long as we managed to sell a product or service, our job was done.

Now, customer service has evolved into customer-relationship management. Still, though, a lot of CRM is about collecting and storing huge amounts of data on our customers with the hopes of picking up something good so we can better personalize their shopping experience, predict buying behaviors and promote loyalty programs.

Related: 3 Brands Crushing Instant Customer Service

Where are the actual relationships with our customers?

Customer relationships are important to your business because they build a connection with your customers and establish loyalty between them and you, which in turn leads to recurring sales and long-term business growth. But it takes more than data analysis.

The fact is that we need to cherish and care for our customers as more than just potential sales. The cost of customer acquisition has increased by 60% in the last six years, which means we don't have a choice but to try to keep the customers we already have because finding new ones could make or break our business.

Go back to a micro-level of customer-relationship management

On a micro-level, focus on those face-to-face interactions that Mom and Pop used to love. If you have a storefront, learn your customers' names and ask them about their lives. Greet them when they come into the store and genuinely be happy to see them. Much of this interaction is gone, but it's time to bring back the original customer relationships before we had intricate systems and machine learning to do it for us.

If your business is solely online, how can you evolve your customer relationships to still embrace that personal touch? Without that face-to-face interaction, it may seem more difficult to establish trusting relationships, but it's about simply just finding a way to interact differently. Use social media to communicate with your customers and audience, strategically gather information on your customers using CRM and use data analytics to discover new ways of reaching your customers on a personal level, and offer customer accounts and rewards programs to advance those relationships that customers want. There are so many possibilities.

Solely doing business online doesn't excuse you from building relationships.

Related: 7 Essentials of Great Customer Service

Don't forget your employees when building relationships with customers

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts went from a small motel in Toronto, Ontario to a massive chain that operates over 100 hotels and resorts worldwide. That's a lot of customers to remember. With millions of customers, they still manage to deliver that "hometown welcome" every time, which has amassed a huge loyal customer base.

Owner Isadore Sharpe focused on the customer experience from the very beginning, using it to set the company apart from the competition. In fact, it was Sharpe's dedication to each guest's experience that led to hotels offering toiletries in their bathrooms he started it all!

Four Seasons strategically uses CRM to gather the right data (instead of all the data) to allow its staff to welcome guests and provide a personal touch to their stay to make them feel at home. They go above and beyond their customers' expectations, and that's how they continue to deliver an incredible guest experience.

Every point of contact from bell person, guest services, housekeeping and more have all been provided with the tools and motivation to enhance the customer experience. And, by keeping employee relationships happy, that sense of purpose translates to their interactions with the guests.

Related: It's All About the Customer Service

Don't lose focus on your customers to satisfy your bottom line

Amid the cloud of success, as we see more customers coming in, we may lose sight of the relationship-building we did to retain them. We might pull back some of the money and time we invested into customer relationships to increase the profits of our business in the short term.

Losing focus on customer relationships to satisfy your bottom line will result in a loss of sales and impact the level of loyalty that your customers have for your brand. Just because you've kept customers loyal doesn't mean they won't leave.

Increasing focus on customer relationships may be costly at first, but, if implemented and executed correctly, then you will most definitely realize the increase in sales while continuing to maintain the overall happiness and satisfaction of each customer.

Nick Gilmour

CEO of Gilmour Group

Nick Gilmour is a serial entrepreneur with over 10 years of experience with business startups in the retail, real-estate and manufacturing industries. He has an accelerated-growth mentality with a "grassroots" business approach.

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