Solid customer relationships don’t materialize with the first handshake. They take cultivation. Which means extra effort, extra time, a bit of massaging and lots of TLC. Luring curious customers in the beginning is actually the easy part. What’s hard is getting a return visit. Building customer loyalty takes a strategic effort and the rewards of a large and ardent customer base can be momentous.
The art of building sustainable connections with customers – and it is an art – calls for the same ingredients that fuel any personal relationship. Trust. Respect. Chemistry. These days customer management is an increasingly vital aspect of running a business – and a successful strategy is an extremely useful tool, no matter your business model.
So what can you do to grow and maintain customer relationships? Here are several steps that can help.
Show You Have A Friendly Environment
Culturally we’ve lost the art of proper introductions. Especially in business. A staff trained to introduce themselves to customers when they see them for the first time (and acknowledge them thereafter with welcoming smiles) can go a long way to showing a friendly business environment that will result in a loyal customer base.
To build a relationship with someone is to actually know not just their products – but them. Their names, their favorite products. When meeting someone new, the first thing employees should ask, “’What can I do for this person?’
Make Little Things Big
Nothing says repeat better than good customer service. Train your staff to go the extra mile. Provide measurable benchmarks, such as answering phone calls on the first ring or returning calls within the hour. Ongoing relationships with customers occur when they learn to expect top quality service.
Give your staff a bit of leeway to bend some rules at times in favor of building positive customer loyalty. A caveat: staff must be well trained in this endeavor to know when it is appropriate to change the rules for a particularly good customer. Loyal customers who feel like they get a break from you once in a while feel special and will be more than thrilled to return.
Reward Loyal Customers
For customers who toot your horn during their regular transactions and give recommendations to family and friends, a reward is in order. Set special discounts, frequent customer programs or some sort of appreciation event. Satisfaction levels for customers who feel like they are a vital part of your business shoot up. Happy customers are repeat customers.
Build a System that Facilitates Nurturing
Show you care. Have a flower budget. One of the biggest expenditures for some companies is buying and sending gifts for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, etc. Consider it a well-placed investment. This must be a system, however, that really is a system. Falling off track will make it seem exploitive.
“We live in a real-time world, and our clients have diverse schedules, so we feel strongly that immediate responses to requests — personal and within minutes, even a simple ‘message received, can we help you with anything else in the meantime?’ acknowledgement — are very important and deliver a big Wow,” Elliot Hirsch, founder and CEO of AdYapper, told Mashable. “It seems minor, but it goes a very long way to demonstrate not only how much we truly care, but also showcases the clear benefits of using young nimble companies like us, as opposed to old incumbents.”
Realize Relationship Marketing is Ongoing
See your relationships as authentic – not just business savvy. Stay in touch. Send quick emails with something that will help them (not necessarily you) grow their business. Schedule lunch appointments to earn some face time. Don’t just fire off an email blast about your product, your webinar, or your event. Try and engage clients by giving them something that is helpful to them.
Communicate and Manage Realistic Expectations
It is important to provide customers with realistic expectations, and even more important is the follow through, according to Alexandre Winter, co-founder and CEO of Placemeter.
“The worst you can do is disappoint your users or customers. You might think you will sound lame if you under-promise, but you will never regret it.”
If you are in doubt, it’s probably a good idea to under-promise and over-deliver. Giving more than expected is far more preferable to giving less. It only shows that you and your company cannot deliver on promises.
Remember that People are the Real Investment
Building customer relationships is the difference between a company that stagnates and one that continues to thrive. View the time you put in as money you’re spending without the actual transaction. Value the same thing you value in personal relationships. The investment is in people. Not things. When you nurture a loyal customer base, your bottom line will be healthier for your efforts.
What are some of the best ways you’ve found to sustain customer relationships?
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