Most retailers rely on repeat business.

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Poor customer relations could not only cost a business millions of dollars, but good will as well. After New York consumers complained that AOL customer service representatives either ignored service cancellation requests or made it difficult to cancel, AOL agreed to pay $1.25 million to the state of New York. It also agreed to reform its customer service procedures. [source: CNet News.com].

Most retailers and businesses rely on repeat business. They look for ways to bring customers back. This includes informing buyers of the latest products, specials and sales. Technology has made it easier to stay in touch. Besides radio, TV and print ads, companies use e-mail newsletters, text messaging, online ads and other tools to keep customers informed. The first Internet mailing list began in 1973, according to The Center for Interactive Advertising, and 1994 was the first year of online banner ads featuring AT&T and Zima. Since then, Internet marketing has exploded, with more than $2 billion in online ad sales in 2004, up 42.7 percent from the previous year.

Customer relations also offer customers a way to reach the company. Do you have a complaint about a recent purchase? Do you need to make a return? Do you want to write a review of a product you just purchased? Successful companies have long recognized customer relations as a two-way street, and customer relations technology has improved greatly since the early days of the "Complaint Window" at the local five-and-dime store.

Case studies like the one by TowerData.com show retailers are interested in participatory customer relations programs like e-mail newsletters and surveys: every message sent goes to a customer who wants the information. Heidi Cohen, president of Riverside Marketing Strategies, tells retailers to respect the two-way street of customer relations by paying special attention to customer needs, especially when it comes to returns, complaints and e-mailed questions. That advice may seem obvious to some, but according to a 2006 E-Consultancy.com report, nearly half the retailers surveyed admitted to a failure to respond to e-mailed customer questions. Retailers who do respond have a much better chance to keep those customers coming back.

In this article, we'll explore specific examples of how customer relations programs work from company-to-customer with e-mail, account registration and other services. We'll also examine how customers can provide valuable feedback on their experiences, write product reviews and take advantage of company chat rooms and forums for product help and advice.