When you run a small business, every customer counts.
That’s why it’s so important to form strategy for building and maintaining solid relationships with your clients. Those kinds of relationships don’t just happen; most business owners must set ground rules for themselves and their employees to ensure customers are treated in ways that establish trust and goodwill.
“Developing and maintaining these connections can sometimes feel draining and even burdensome, but the rewards can be significant,” writes Allen Duet in Entrepreneur. “A personal connection, whether developed over weeks, months or years, can lead to positive word-of-mouth, increased sales, additional connections, job security and satisfaction.”
Some tips for working toward excellent customer relationships:
Plan to take some time. Be warm and friendly with everyone, but don’t be so overeager that people mistrust your motives. Building trust is a long game, and you can’t expect everyone to be loyal to your business overnight.
Get it right every time. Ultimately, your customers will judge you on how efficiently and effectively you meet their needs, not on how much they like you. Meet deadlines; accuracy and punctuality count.
Honesty is the best policy. Be forthright about what you can and can’t do for customers. Follow through on what you say you’re going to do. If your company does botch something, take responsibility, apologize and fix the problem as soon as you can.
Do your homework. Once you’ve identified key customers, take time to learn something about them and/or their companies so you can talk shop and ask relevant questions during business transactions. Your customers will appreciate your interest and time commitment.
Go above and beyond. Whenever possible, take that extra step to make clients happy and add value to your transactions — even if that sometimes means taking a loss. People tend to remember those who go out of their way to make their lives easier.
Be a valuable information source. Keep on top of what’s happening in your industry, and share information with clients if it will benefit them. Content marketing can be effective in helping them think of you as their partner.
Pretend every client is No. 1. Because the business world can shift quickly, it pays to treat small clients with the same work ethic and respect as those bringing you more revenues. Businesses can get bigger contracts or merge with bigger firms, and you never know when a small-potatoes contact may change jobs and bring your business with him.
Communicate without fail. Impress clients by responding to their queries immediately even if you don’t have an immediate answer, and taking care of any issues as quickly as you can. Customers who know you can easily get cranky if they think you’re ignoring them.
Meet clients in person. While online communication is often the norm these days, it pays to meet face-to-face — even briefly — to reinforce the principle that you’re both human beings with personal lives and human foibles. Business relationships often develop into friendships and being able to visualize each other’s faces can help defuse tension when you’re trying to iron out problems.
Maintain a sense of humor. Being able to laugh at yourself, especially when things go wrong, can go a long way toward making people feel comfortable around you.
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