life preserver rise above competition small businesses Companies that earn the loyalty of customers are those that treat sales transactions as part of an ongoing journey, not as the finish line. Such companies focus on relationships that go beyond selling and focus on adding value to the products and services they offer their customers.

As part of a series of blog posts we call Customer Media Basics, here are six things almost any business or organization, large or small, can start doing that will help turn customer transactions into long-term customer relationships:

1. Create better instructions and user manuals.

After investing so much in product development, marketing and sales, many companies — even ones selling us expensive products like TVs and cars — ignore the importance of the first message customers experience after they take ownership of the product. Even if you’re in a professional or business-to-business marketplace, the communication materials developed for the “on-boarding” period of any new product or service will set the tone and expectations for all that comes after that. When you treat such media as an afterthought, you’re communicating to the customer that you valued them more before the sale than after.

2. Create multiple channels for customers to receive product updates, tips, notifications and … anything but hype.

Picture this: You have a customer who spends a lot of money on your product, which they expect to use to accomplish a task they deem important, even critical. Because they believe this product is essential to their fulfilling that goal, they voluntarily say to you: “Please keep me up to date on all the developments taking place with this product I just purchased.” The highest ROI on any marketing dollar you will ever spend is to treat that invitation as a company treasure. This customer is saying to you, “Help me be a better user of your product.” Do that. Help them.

But don’t do this: Add that customer to a general distribution list so that they receive email from you that has nothing to do with that product. If you do, you’ll generate nothing but an unsubscribe response. You’ve squandered the company treasure. When it comes to a customer who asks for specific information about a specific product, send them only the information they request. Help, not hype, is what that customer wants.

(It’s okay to offer them additional subscriptions to other, more generalized, mailings. But let them decide if they want to receive those.)

3. Create a knowledge bank, not a FAQ.

We’re often disappointed at how little information we can find on the websites of companies that make some of the products we use at work or home. One of our favorite authors on the topic of building customer relationships, Kathy Sierra, says that companies should realize that by the time frustrated customers visit a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page, they are screaming profanity at their computer screens. If you have a product supported by a call center or other customer support resources, regularly review the common issues and confusion your customers face — and determine how your website can put the help customers need at their fingertips. Some web-based services (ZenDesk, for example) have developed platforms that seek to expand the idea of customer service into “customer knowledge sharing.” As with everything else, the success of a company’s use of such a service is in direct proportion to the company’s emphasis on its importance.

4. Add some form of “situational taxonomy” to your website.

Even the best customer-facing websites tend to be organized in ways that seem inspired by auto-parts catalogs or the Dewey Decimal System. Such classification systems work great for customers who know precisely what they are looking for, or even sort of know. But often, a customer heads to the web to find answers to questions they may not even know how to ask. (How many times have you been at the corner hardware store and asked for that thing-a-ma-gig that goes on a do-hickey?)

If you think about your company’s products as SKUs or individual parts and pieces, that may be why customers searching for help to use the things you sell are led to a website other than yours. We’ve worked with clients to augment their existing taxonomy with clusters of content built around the types of situations — good and bad — that may be encountered by customers. Not only does such content lead to sales, it’s the type of content that is craved by customers — and loved by Google.

A simple way to envision situational content is to explore how the websites of large home-supply stores organize customer media around projects and situations, as well as products. Here is Lowes’ How-to Library — a simple example of a situational taxonomy approach.

5. Create the “Wikipedia of Your Market Niche.”

We have this tip on our personal to-do list for Over the years of creating and maintaining the wiki and developing wikis for others, we’ve learned that creating the encyclopedia of a large topic can be a daunting and never-ending task. We’ve also learned why Google nearly always has a Wikipedia entry on the front results page when someone searches for just about any topic. If something on your website is recognized by your customers as the “go-to” place to turn when they need to know something about your industry, doesn’t it make sense to invest in that resource?

6. Shift your company’s post-purchase customer strategy from “customer-support” to customer-coaching, teaching, helping, inspiration and collaboration.

Don’t sell customers hammers and nails: Teach them how to build something. As the companies customers love have discovered, ongoing after-the-sale resources, interaction and activities will solidify relationships. This strategy can lead to a wide array of additional, revenue-generating service and product lines.

See more: Customer Media Basics