What Is a Customer Relationship? Definition + Business Strategies

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn more about customer relations as a business process and career path, and how to build positive customer relationships.

[Featured Image] A customer service representative answers customer questions over the phone. They are seated at a desk facing a computer monitor and wearing a telephone headset.

Definition of customer relationship

Customer relationships are very important to your business. An individual customer relationship consists of all the customer interactions along their journey. Customers interact with your business when they:

  • Discover your brand through various marketing channels. 

  • Make a purchase.

  • Reach out to customer service or technical support.

  • Post a review or testimonial. 

  • Refer your brand to others. 

What is customer relationship management?

Customer relations, also referred to as customer relationship management (CRM) or relationship management, is a set of business processes devoted to increasing customer loyalty and satisfaction. A key element of customer relationship management is getting to know your customers and creating experiences for them based on that knowledge. You can do this by collecting relevant data such as their goals and challenges, their values, and their motivations behind making purchases. You can then manage that data in a customer relationship management system. 

Specific processes that a customer relations or CRM team might perform include:

  • Providing customer service

  • Providing customer support

  • Offering loyalty and rewards programs

  • Managing and interpreting customer data

  • Upselling and cross-selling

  • Training customers how to get the most out of products   

  • Connecting marketing and sales teams 

Read more: What Is a CRM? And How Does it Help Businesses?

Customer relations vs. customer service  

In your research into customer relationships, you might come across related terms like customer service. You can think of customer service as one component of the broader field of customer relations. The table below lists some additional distinctions to keep in mind.

Customer relationsCustomer service
Broad scopeNarrow scope
Proactive approaches; seeks to create experiences to attract and retain customers.Reactive approaches; seeks to help existing customers
Includes recruiting customers, optimizing customer experience at every checkpoint, analyzing customer feedback, and maintaining brand credibilityIncludes everyday tasks like helping customers find and use products, creating solutions to customers’ problems
Data analysis and visualizationCollaboration skills
Cloud computingTime management
AI & machine learningProblem-solving skills
Network protocolsPatience
EncryptionAttention to detail
Debugging and troubleshootingOrganizational skills
SQLVerbal communication
Git and GitHubLeadership

Read more: What Is Brand Equity? (+ How to Build It)

Benefits of improving customer relationships

When a business’s customer relationships are strong, the business can increase customers’ satisfaction and inspire their loyalty. When customers feel that a brand cares about their experiences with a product, they are more likely to continue shopping with the brand and may even encourage their friends and family to shop with them, too. This can help increase sales. 

Here are four additional benefits. 

1. Improving competitive advantage

When your business becomes known for superior customer experiences, you may be able to outshine competitors. Unique customer experiences that deliver value and novelty can serve as effective differentiators. 

Read more: What Is Competitor Analysis? Definition + Step-by-Step Guide

2. Collecting actionable feedback

When you take the time to find out how customers experience your products and services through a customer relations initiative, you can gather valuable insights for your business. Find out what challenges your customers encounter,  what they love about your product, and why they choose your brand over others. You can use this information to enhance products, develop new ones, and improve your marketing message.

3. Growing your business sustainably

With a large base of satisfied, loyal, and repeat customers, you can experience steady growth over the long term. You may also be better positioned to bounce back from economic downturns or pivot when necessary. 

4. Reducing customer acquisition costs

Acquiring new customers usually comes with a cost when you factor in the marketing and advertising it takes to reach potential customers and lead them toward a purchase decision. With good customer relations, you can inspire more of your existing customer base to make future purchases and refer others to your brand, potentially reducing your marketing and advertising investments. 

Additional tactics for building strong customer relationships and improving customer satisfaction include:

• Providing a community experience that allows customers to collaborate and connect with one another

• Offering customers personalized recommendations based on their interests and purchasing behaviors

• Exceeding customer expectations by offering surprise gifts along with their orders.


3 customer relations jobs

Customer relations as a business process offers a variety of career opportunities. If you enjoy interacting with customers, enhancing customers’ experiences, and helping companies achieve their goals, consider finding employment in a customer relations role. If you are starting a business, consider using customer relations strategies to grow and nurture your customer base. If your business is established, it might be time to build a team to scale your customer relations efforts beyond your current capacity. 

Below, we explore three customer relations jobs at different levels of seniority. Use this list to get a sense of roles you might pursue, strategies you might use, or people you might hire. For each role, we include typical duties, qualifications needed, and similar job titles, as well as the average total US salary from Glassdoor, as of October 2023. Average total pay includes base salary and additional pay such as commission and bonuses. 

Customer relationship manager

What they make: $78,254

What they do: Establish protocols for interacting with customers; lead a team of customer relations specialists; develop tools and programs for dealing with customers.

Qualifications they need: bachelor’s degree in business or related field; experience in customer-facing roles; leadership experience; understanding of customer relations strategies 

Similar job titles: customer care manager, client relationship manager

Customer success manager

What they make: $98,633

What they do: Manage customer interactions with a brand; manage and train customer service employees; review customer data to help improve customer satisfaction. 

Qualifications they need: bachelor’s degree in business or related field; customer service experience 

Similar job titles: customer experience manager, client manager, implementation manager

Read more: Customer Success Manager: Duties, Pay, and How to Become One

Customer service representative

What they make: $38,840

What they do: Interact directly with customers; resolve product issues; close sales; grow customer accounts.

Qualifications they need: customer service experience, high school diploma (or GED), inbound and outbound sales experience, communication skills, proficiency with Microsoft Office and other customer service software programs  

Similar job titles: bank teller, customer specialist, customer support specialist

Read more: What Does a Customer Service Representative Do?

How to improve customer relationships

Now that you have clarity on customer relations, why strong customer relationships are important, and different career paths in this field, let’s go over some actions you can take to improve customer loyalty for your business. 

1. Invest in customer relationship management software.

A CRM software program can be important for collecting, tracking, and interpreting customer data. What products are customers purchasing? How long is the typical sales cycle? How do different customer segments behave?

In addition, you can typically use CRM tools to automate marketing and communication. For example, the Salesforce CRM platform can be connected to your social media and email accounts so that you can set up workflows comprised of different tasks. 

Besides Salesforce, there are many customer relationship management softwares you can choose from to handle customer data. Examples include:

2. Collect customer feedback at every touchpoint.

Understanding the level of customer satisfaction with your brand and products can make optimizing customers’ experiences along their journey easier. Collect feedback from online surveys, at the point of sale, website heat maps, customer interviews, social listening, and user experience testing. 

When collecting feedback, make it easy for customers to offer their opinions. For example, you can design simple, user-friendly survey forms or ask questions during the sales process. Some feedback collection methods might work better than others, depending on the type of business. 

Use the feedback you collect to design better products, improve communications, and market your brand more effectively. 

3. Create a customer relationship strategy.

Using customer feedback and your CRM tool, create a customer relationship strategy to guide your next steps. Think of this strategy as a plan for executing the exact processes and procedures you’ll use to build relationships with customers, nurture loyal customers, and increase customer retention. Processes and procedures might include:

  • Creating a unique customer onboarding process

  • Using an omnichannel marketing strategy to create an integrated customer experience 

  • Creating partnerships with other brands to benefit customers

4. Show your appreciation for customers. 

Customer appreciation can go a long way in fostering genuine affinity with the people who follow, subscribe to, or purchase from your brand. It’s your brand’s way of expressing gratitude for customers and investing in relationships for the long term. 

Unique ways to show customers how much they mean to your business include:

  • Celebrate the success of individual customers on social media, your website, or in your newsletters. 

  • Reward long-standing customers with a VIP experience. 

  • Host customer appreciation events. 

No matter which customer appreciation method you choose, it’s important to be authentic in your messaging. What do you truly admire about customers? What value does their presence add to your brand besides revenue? You might also reference customers’ specific purchases, past communications, or overall history with your business when you reach out with a customer appreciation message or offer. 

If you are ready to grow your business by hiring a customer relations team, it’s a good idea to invest in their training, career development, and employee experience. For example, you can help your team build active listening and professional communication skills to be more effective at handling customers’ requests. 


Get started with Coursera

Taking online courses can be a great way to build customer relations skills and discover career options. In the beginner-friendly Salesforce Sales Development Representative Professional Certificate, you’ll build job-ready skills for in-demand jobs like Sales Development Representative (SDR). 

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