Small Business Tips: 5 Steps to Building Great Customer Relationships Mike | August 4th, 2014

You started a business and slowly, surely you have been acquiring new customers. They buy your products, they pay their bills. And they bring you their problems. Not the kind of problems they share at home with their spouse or on the couch with their shrink. Rather they share the problems they have with whatever it is you sold them. They want you to do it differently. They want their money back. They can’t make your website work. Customers inevitably run into issues and expect that you will help them find resolution.

And really there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, your customer’s problems represent a major opportunity for you to build a relationship with them, surprise and delight them, and build a great reputation and engender strong word-of-mouth. How can you do this? It’s simple, really; building great relationships with customers is little different from building relationships with friends. It is a mater of spending time, paying attention, listening and responding. It works the same with customer relations; just like you learn to appreciate your new friends as you spend more time with them and get to know them better, you’ll build lasting connections with your customers, too.

Here are 5 straightforward things you can do to build strong ties, encourage word-of-mouth and create relationships that will last!

Strike fast. First things first: attack. Whether a new customer walks into your shop or a new visitor loads a page on your site, this is the moment to begin the magic. Say hello, whether in person or via a banner or pop-up and have a smile on your face whether that face is physical or digital. It is critical that you begin the process immediately in order to let the new customer know that you are available, accessible, and interested in them as a person. If you are a service provider look for ways to educate the visitor about what you do and the values with which you do it; if you are bricks and mortar retail, be a welcoming presence so they feel comfortable asking questions; and if you are a web-based business make sure that your contact us information is front and center.

Follow up. Be sure to follow your initial introduction with a kind “May I help you find something?” or a “Welcome aboard” email if they register on your site. Studies have shown clearly that the follow-up is the most important step in building a lasting relationship. It is important that you not be annoying or overbearing in these communications, but a special offer, or simply a nice, personalized email goes a very long way to building those warm/fuzzy feelings.

Know them. Whether you get to know about the people who buy your products or services by talking with them and asking them about themselves, or by gleaning their data from their web visits, it is essential that you try to learn about your customers as people. They are, after all, individuals with different values, priorities, and needs and you can only serve them well if you know a bit about them. Keep track of their buying data so that you can offer them the things they want, survey them so that you can ask specific questions, send them offers so you can better understand what they find important.

Solve their problems. Whatever it takes is what you’ll need to do in order to build that relationship and create that great word-of-mouth buzz. Listen to their suggestions, make returns and credits a breeze, and when they ask you for your help with something, do it fast! If a customer calls you or writes you, get back to them as soon as you can. If someone calls, be sure to pick up the phone or call them back as soon as possible. And if someone walks in the store – greet them with a smile and ask how you can be of help.

Ask them to come back. When they leave your shop, shoot them a “Have a nice day and see you soon.” When they haven’t been on your site for a while, shoot them a “We miss you” email. The point is to stay in touch and try to remain top of mind with your customers; you want them thinking about you, talking about you, and coming back to you soon. Remember that business is a 2-way street; you are dependent on your customers for their business and they on you for the service you provide or the products you sell. Build a strong, mutually beneficial relationship and they will come back over and over and over!

Symbiosis illustration, Wikipedia: Henry Scherren, 1906

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