People usually tend to trust their friends and families more than anybody else in the world. While there are no doubt exceptions to this rule, wouldn’t it be a smart move to get as close to the customer as reasonably possible (without getting creepy about it).
As James Nemley says in his article about increasing your referral business, "See your clients NOT as just mere ‘business’, but as a budding friendship."
Although strategies would differ among different types of businesses, there are subtle ways to do this.
It starts with courtesy. Treat customers with respect and simply be nice to them. It seems like a no-brainer, yet you can go out to a store at any given time and get dirty looks from employees, and be made to feel as if you are putting them out by asking for their assistance.
On the flipside, don’t overdo it. This is also a matter of respect. Respect their personal space.
In the online world, you have social media to make friends with. This is a much easier venue to engage in conversation with potential customers because that is what it is made for in the first place – conversation.
You can’t rely on existing customers to find you on social networks. You have to go out and explore your niche. Get involved with conversations with people that appear to be in the market for what you are offering. The key thing to remember is that this is not a sales call. You’re looking for friends. You’re gaining trust. This is not limited to social networks. Blogs are great for this as well; particularly niche blogs that typically get a fair amount of comments.
Like I talked about regarding earning trust online, you need to humanize your business. You can contribute to this concept with your site, by including photos, bios, and the like. This is another area where social media is a great tool, because you can share as much about yourself as you want through your profiles, where such information is appropriate – personal stuff that would seem unprofessional on your business site, but stuff that your customers (humans) may nevertheless be able to identify with.
Personalizing your contacts with customers is huge for befriending them. If you show them you are taking the time to write them a personal email rather than send them some bulk business message that is clearly going to all of your customers, they will appreciate it.
You’re not going to become best friends with all your customers, but the closer you can get to as many as possible, the bigger impact it is likely to have on your business, because if they are still in the market at a later date, they will come back, and they will also refer others to you.