While small businesses are well acquainted with adversity, the past may have been their most formidable adversary yet. The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected them, with more than 100,000 shutting their doors for good, according to estimates. And the ones who’ve powered through also face any number of additional intense variables — wildfires, hurricanes, and social injustice, just to name a few.

What will it take for small businesses to overcome everything thrown their way and emerge in the second half of 2021 stronger than before? The most pressing action is to return to the foundational principles of trust, loyalty, and customer service. Small businesses must work to establish a genuine human connection that goes beyond lip service and becomes a real North Star.

When small businesses think about reactivating revenue, they need to start by building and reinforcing relationships. That means they need to know not only who their customers are, but also what they’re buying and how often, as well as the underlying analytics around each customer. Having a true connection with customers will not only keep them loyal over the years, but it can even impact how often they come back to shop with you. If you’re at a small business looking to build the kind of trust that generates long-term loyalty, start with these three principles:

1. Be proactive about relationship-building.
Don’t wait to engage. Nurturing long-term relationships with customers has to happen more often than just when they buy or need to renew.

Regular check-ins benefit both sides — often leading to greater adoption, helpful product feedback, and a more connected (and positive) customer experience. For example, I frequent a flower shop called Flowers of the Valley in San Francisco and recently received a bouquet of my favorite flowers from the owner for my birthday. Well, color me loyal. This simple, proactive gesture not only reinforced my drive to do business with this shop again, but also made me think about returning to make another purchase sooner rather than later.

Relationships are a long game, so touchpoints matter. So does attention to detail. If companies never touch base until five days before renewal and I still don’t know how to use their product, there’s no way I’m going to re-up. Someone from the company should have called me six months ago to ensure I was set up properly and having a good experience. In order to create long-term loyalty, companies need a regular cadence of communication with the customer so they can quickly solve any issues that arise.

2. Take advantage of technology and automation to maintain relationships.
Barriers to capitalizing on proven technology tools are lower than ever for SMBs, and when it comes to customer information, they’re worth the investment. Storing all of your customers’ data in one place is increasingly important now that we’re all working remotely.

Centralizing your customer data also comes with the added benefit of more visibility into pipeline, cash flow, forecasts — not to mention the customer base in general. Using a CRM can yield so many valuable insights, such as how often customers open your emails and what topics they want to hear about from you.

Understanding and communicating with your customers doesn’t have to be a manual process; after all, you have limited resources and time. Lean on tech and automation tools to help create regular touchpoints with each customer. You’ll amplify the impact of your time spent refining the connections you have and keeping customers loyal to your business for years to come.

3. Listen closely and personalize the customer experience.

Determine how your customers like to communicate and how they prefer to buy your products. Adapting your operations and practices to meet the current needs of your customers will help their loyalty blossom.

In response to recent challenges, 47% of growing businesses have expanded the ways their customers can reach them. Listen intently to what your customers are telling you and adjust accordingly — it will make them feel heard and even help encourage repeat business or a friendly referral.

Utilizing the customer data stored in a CRM tool can help you create customized offers and personalized messages to forge deeper relationships, too. Following up on a recent purchase to check in and see how they are enjoying it can make a world of difference in their overall experience and help them feel more connected to you. Even if they aren’t entirely satisfied with the product, your care and consideration will help boost their satisfaction over the moon.

Looking to find new ways to connect with customers in the new normal while reopening your doors safely in the coming months? Check out Salesforce’s complimentary step-by-step guide for returning to the office.