During these economic times, people are more selective on where they spend their money. When they do decide to open their checkbooks, you want to be their first choice. Therefore, it's important your current customers choose to stay with you. Even if your business is doing well, your customers can leave as quickly as they came.
There's more to business than just a transaction. Building a relationship helps you establish a bond. Some customers are even willing to pay more for a product and/or service if they have a personal connection with a company. From a PR perspective, building relationships is cost-effective because the only cost is your time.
Here are eight ways to invest in these relationships:
1. Touch base frequently. If they recently placed an order or you provided a service, ask them for feedback. Showing you care about their satisfaction level speaks volumes about your commitment to them. It can also provide you with an opportunity to gain insight on other products and services that you can offer to gain new business.
If they have not done business with you in a while, check to see how you can help them. It may also serve as a reminder that they may need your product or service.
2. Pick up the phone. If most of your communication takes place via e-mail, it's still important to pick up the phone occasionally to touch base with your customers. Personal interaction is an important element in building a relationship.
3. Branch out. You may have a particular target market in mind, but to reach it doesn't mean that you network with just that group. Find groups that don't mirror your target market and build relationships with their members. That is the benefit of networking. People you meet know people who might be future customers.
4. Become a resource. Stepping out to assist someone doesn't always mean you'll get an immediate return on your efforts. Refer a customer to them, help with an event or offer suggestions. When they, or someone they know, are looking for a product or service that you offer, you're more likely to be foremost in their mind. The more you get to know them, the more you'll be able to offer assistance by knowing their needs.
5. Write a note. Adding the personal touch of a thank you note to show customers your appreciation for their business is priceless. For the best impact, send it immediately after the event.
6. Tailor your approach. Your customers vary in work load, style of communication and desire to share information, so your approach should be just as diverse. If your customer doesn't appreciate your just stopping in, then call in advance to set up a time or invite him or her out for coffee.
But your approach needs to be genuine and within your comfort zone or it may backfire on you. If you aren't comfortable with face-to-face interactions, you may want to start by picking up the phone.
7. Be prompt with inquiries. It shows your commitment to a high level of service and establishes confidence in you and your company. Also, if an issue arises, take action and make it your priority to resolve it immediately. Sometimes errors and how we resolve them provide an exceptional opportunity to show our commitment to the customer--take a bad situation and make it a positive.
8. Listen, listen, listen. Your customer may provide cues that might be your gateway to providing a personal touch. If they indicate that their child is heading off to their first year of college, or they are taking a long awaited vacation, jot these things down on a calendar so you can ask how things went when you do a follow-up call. Or they might state that it was their birthday last week. Put that on your calendar so the following year you can send a birthday greeting.
Building any type of a relationship takes time, whether it's a personal or business relationship. It's an essential part of your business to help maintain and grow your customer base. As part of your daily to-do list, make a point to touch one customer every day. You may be surprised at the impact.
Lesley Spencer Pyle is the founder and president of HomeBasedWorkingMoms.com and HireMyMom.com , and she is the author of The Work-at-Home Workbook: Your Step-by-Step Guide on Selecting and Starting the Perfect Home Business for You . Pyle has been working from home for more than 13 years.