Guitar shop storefront

Building Customer Relationships in an Online World

I never thought I’d do it, but I ditched my local guitar shop. That’s right. I committed a cardinal sin among musicians. But I didn’t do it out of laziness or to save money. Instead, I abandoned them because the store forgot the importance of building customer relationships.

People remain loyal to businesses when they receive excellent treatment, and contributing to the local economy is a plus.

Customers and merchants build these bonds with common courtesy and respect like any relationship.

But my local guitar shop failed me, and now I shop virtually instead of my nearby brick-and-mortar store.

Here’s why.

What Happened?

Store open sign on door
Image Credit: Tim Mossholder

On my way home from work, I stopped to grab a couple of humidifier pouches to regulate the moisture in my acoustic case.

But after an employee greeted me, he didn’t walk me through the merchandise or make a recommendation.

Instead, he opted to talk politics.

Had we known each other well, this might not be a big deal.

But we didn’t.

I tried to remain friendly yet neutral, but he insisted on a touchy subject I wasn’t interested in discussing.

When I go to the guitar shop, I want to talk about guitars and music. Not what’s happening in DC.

Finally, the employee asked me what brought me in, and he didn’t even have what I needed.

Thanks for wasting my time.

So I walked back to my car, annoyed, and considered alternative options.

Then I thought to myself: Am I overreacting?

After all, the thought of driving 45 minutes to the next closest store, or worse, buying from a faceless online dealer, didn’t appeal to me.

But then I had a second thought. Why should I dutifully support a business that wastes my time and pushes controversial topics on its customers?

So I searched online for other options, and it didn’t take long to find Sweetwater Sound.

The Easy Way to Improve Brand Loyalty

With so many companies participating in loyalty programs, most people think of points and rewards when they think of brand loyalty.

And those things pay off in industries such as quick service restaurants and retail.

But Sweetwater doesn’t rely on gimmicks or freebies to improve brand loyalty.

Instead, they use an old-fashioned trick many people seem to have forgotten.

Let me show you what I mean.

The Order

Person on phone in car
Image Credit: Erik Mclean

After a few minutes of online research, Sweetwater Sound continued to show up in my results.

Based on reviews and articles, the company appeared legitimate, so I kept looking, and they had tons of equipment, including things I’ve never heard of.

I still don’t know what a Silent Electric Upright Bass is.

I continued my search and found Sweetwater wasn’t just a website. Their Fort Wayne, Indiana campus includes stores, workshops, a theater, and even a cafe and spa.

After taking a virtual tour of the facility, I didn’t feel bad about not buying local.

It was still kind of local, just a couple hundred miles farther down the road. I was buying “regional.”

So I looked at a few guitars I couldn’t afford, just for fun, and found my humidifiers.

The price was right, and I knew my order would arrive quickly as it shipped from a neighboring state.

After I confirmed my purchase and browsed the acoustics for a few minutes, my phone rang.

Expecting another spam call about a car warranty, I was surprised to see ‘Sweetwater’ scroll across my screen.

After the caller politely introduced himself as Jordan Firstenberg, my “Sales Engineer,” he said, “I noticed you ordered the humidifier bags but not the felt pouches that cover them. I just wanted to make sure you didn’t need them.”

Uhhh, no, I thought to myself with a sense of hesitation.

I didn’t need them because I already had a couple, but I was surprised that he took the time to call and ask.

My hesitation was my brain reacting to a level of customer service that’s an alien concept these days.

How many companies do that?

At that point, I was impressed, but Jordan was just getting started on building a new customer relationship.

The Delivery

Man delivering package
Image Credit: Kindel Media

As expected, my order arrived in a couple of days. By the way, they don’t charge for shipping for most orders.

When I checked the package, it contained exactly what I needed and more.

At the time, I hadn’t eaten popular old-school candy such as Atomic Fireballs or Smarties in years, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a handful of the legacy sweets with my order.

Get it? Sweetwater? It’s the little things, folks.

As a happy customer, I popped in a Fireball and went about my business as childhood memories filled my head.

Later that day, my phone rang, and again ‘Sweetwater’ danced across my screen.

“Hey Greg, I see your order shows as delivered. Just checking if you got it and if you had any questions or issues.”

I assured him a porch pirate didn’t get my package, and I appreciated the follow-up.

After we hung up, I pondered the whole experience and how I was completely wrong.

Excellent customer service is possible online.

That evening, as I sat at my computer, my email dinged at me, and a message from Jordan popped up.

“Hey Greg, Jordan here from Sweetwater. Nice chatting with you! I wanted to send you an email with my contact information. Please don’t hesitate to reach out anytime!”

I sat back in my chair, blown away.

In a world where you’re lucky to get a restaurant server to check on you, it’s refreshing when someone kills it as Jordan and the Sweetwater team did.

Fusing Customer Relationships in an Online Marketplace

Building customer relationships and maintaining them the way Jordan did was not expensive or complicated.

I didn’t need a discount or expedited shipping to entice me to switch from my local shop.

Consumers just want basic courtesy and service when they give away their hard-earned money.

But let’s break down Sweetwater’s tactics so you can use them to drive loyalty to your business.


Did you notice how many times Jordan followed up with me?

First, he made sure I ordered what I meant to order. Then he ensured I received my package and sent his virtual business card.

As a new patron, especially a reluctant one, Sweetwater took the time to check on me and set the expectation that they take customer service seriously.

And how much time or money did it cost them? Next to none.

Between the quick calls and emails, following up was a cheap and effective way to let me know they care about building customer relationships.

Assigned Sales Engineers to Improve Brand Loyalty

People in call center working to improve customer loyalty
Image Credit: Arlington Research

As mentioned, Jordan introduced himself as my dedicated “Sales Engineer.” I hadn’t heard the term before, so I looked it up.

Sales engineers are salespeople with an advanced technical understanding of their products.

Where a typical salesperson might direct technical questions to another team member, sales engineers are subject matter experts in their department.

But Sweetwater takes it a couple of steps further.

Not only do these engineers know what they’re talking about, but they assign team members to each customer.

That way, people become comfortable with a particular person, and the brand can build a rapport with its clients.

Also, the Sweetwater team added a convenient touch to their website as it remembers their customers’ browsers and shows their assigned engineers’ info and a picture.

This way, Sweetwater adds the human element to online shopping.

They even use cart ID numbers unique to each customer, so if I have a question on an item, they can see what’s in my cart and help me manage my order.

More Follow Ups

Man playing guitar
Image Credit: Akshar Dave

After it was said and done, I knew this was the best online shopping experience of my life.

And I haven’t been back to my local guitar shop since.

Yet I don’t feel the least bit guilty because I go where I’m best served, not to blindly support locals.

Over the next few weeks, Jordan forwarded me a few potential items of interest, but it wasn’t pushy spam.

In the modern marketplace where customer service techs pass people around phone trees, it feels good to know “I have a guy.”

People Helping People

Two people high fiving after building customer relationships
Image Credit:

I was so impressed with Sweetwater that I researched to see what makes this brand tick.

On, I found a collection of customer service awards and attestations from the team that customer service is at the heart of the company, whether you buy on-site or online.

According to a 2019 Forbes article, Sweetwater founder Chuck Surack calls this outstanding service the “Sweetwater Difference.”

Part of what put me off about buying music gear online was I didn’t want to miss out on the human connection one gets in a guitar store.

But Sweetwater seems to have anticipated this and used technology to get ahead.

Our goal with technology is to augment relationships, not to automate them. For this, we use very up-to-date technology–most of which we’ve developed ourselves–to allow us to look closely at our customers’ behaviors so that we can anticipate their needs.  

David Fuhr, Senior Vice President of B&O, Customer Experience (Title updated since publication)

All that is fantastic, but there’s more to it.

While perusing the site, I found Jordan’s bio, which shares personal interests, background, and raving reviews from other customers.

It’s no wonder Sweetwater has excellent service. Their team exceeds expectations because their leadership treats them like people, and they pass the sentiment to the customer.

I came for the humidifiers, but I stayed for the service.

Easy-to-use apps and loyalty campaigns are great, but the human touch will always be the secret to building customer relationships.

For the guitar shop owners struggling to compete with the online marketplace, I suggest you get with the program.


Hi, I'm Greg. The pen IS mightier than the sword!