A combination of the phenomenal growth of the internet over the past couple of decades, coupled with the more recent explosion in mobile communications in the form of smartphones and tablets, has brought with it an opportunity for businesses of all sizes to reach a global audience.

Today, if your company does not have a website, even a basic one, it is at best in danger of missing out on a potentially huge market and at worst failing completely as your competitors erode your existing customer base.

In addition, more companies than ever are reaping the benefits of using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to engage with the public on a more personal level.

Think about it; your business is most likely to be open eight hours or so a day, but search engines are available 24/7, so straight away you are missing out on a significant opportunity to reach new customers. There is also the issue of how you go about marketing a new product or service you are launching. You can still advertise in newspapers, on local radio or perhaps even TV, but all that costs money and may still only reach a small percentage of your target market. If you have a website, you can achieve the maximum possible exposure and it doesn’t need to cost a penny.

The most successful businesses tend to be those that build up a long-term relationship with their customers by providing a high quality product or service and getting to know the customers as individuals. Of course, it is impossible to interact at a personal level with thousands of clients, but thanks to social networking sites, you can engage with them at a deeper level than previously been possible. For example, you might want to offer special deals to people living in a specific area or perhaps give a discount to customers who have made a purchase from you in the past six months. You can also provide a conduit that enables customers to provide feedback on their experience of dealing with your company, ask for suggestions on future products or give regular customers the opportunity to purchase newly introduced products in advance, before they are launched to the general public. There are almost endless ways in which you can engage with customers and improve brand loyalty.

When planning your website, it is essential to remember that it is your shop window to the world and that, as with a real shop window, people will only stop to take a look if there is something attractive and interesting to see. You should therefore be careful to ensure that the site’s homepage explains clearly what your company does and presents it in a way that engenders a feeling of trust. There should always be a ‘contact us’ page and an ‘about us’ page, both of which help enhance of feeling of trustworthiness; customers get to learn a little about the company and know how to contact you if they need further information or encounter a problem.

While it may be time consuming, there is a growing belief that blogging is one of the best ways to boost customer loyalty. Writing regularly about what your company is doing, what new developments are in the pipeline and particularly what interests you, as the owner, has been proven to significantly boost customer loyalty. Take as an example Mukesh Valabhji of Seychelles-based Capital Management Group, who makes use of various forms of social media to promote himself and his company.

Today’s customers want to get to know the person behind what was previously an often distant and detached company executive. They want to feel they are being treated as individuals who are valued and cared about. Online customer engagement is now crucial in today’s high-tech marketplace.