Connect With Your Customers Keep them happy--or someone else will make sure they are.

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In 2008, Pete Blackshaw authored a book titled, Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000 . You don't have to be a math whiz to see that having angry customers doesn't help your business agenda.

It's important for any business to be alert to changing customer needs and to be as proactive as possible in anticipating them. It's also imperative for businesses to handle negative situations with alacrity if and when they do arise. Even a single unhappy customer can do real damage to your reputation. Here are a few ways to keep relationships on track and increase customer satisfaction:

Watch for warning signs
If clients ask for a copy of their contract, chances are they are not happy. If they stop communicating or are not engaged, problems could be lurking.

Don't let tough times catch you off guard. My company implements a strategy we call the "web of influence." Once a contract is signed, we establish a team to work on building relationships with the customer at multiple levels in addition to primary contacts. This strategy helps us identify potential issues and address them before they become problems.

Survey says: Be accountable
One tool many companies use to gain insight into customer attitudes is customer satisfaction surveys. It's laudable to conduct the survey, but it's laughable that many companies don't follow through and implement an action plan to address issues uncovered by the survey. At Beryl, we match annual surveys with a robust, disciplined follow-up process to make sure that we respond to and resolve any issues that arise. When you create your customer satisfaction survey, it's important to put a consistent system in place to build accountability for follow-up and problem resolution.

Build relationships
My philosophy for staying ahead of problems is to worry less about the terms of the contracts and more about building relationships. By reaching out to customers throughout your partnership, you can learn what they want. If you deliver consistently, you'll build a relationship of trust that extends beyond the contract.

This can pay dividends in tough times. If you've earned your customers' loyalty, they will be more forgiving of your errors, especially if you bring them to their attention with a plan to course correct.

Be responsive
It's easy to be responsive when things are moving according to plan. The challenge, however, is how you respond when things get tough. Your employees have to be empowered to resolve issues and address client concerns. Customers who feel they have your team's full support will work with you--not against you--and will be more receptive to your solutions.

Prove your value
When customers don't properly gauge the value you are providing, they will seek to find an appropriate level of value somewhere else. The only way to ensure that you retain your customers is to prove your value on an ongoing basis and be true to how you differentiate your brand from the competition.

My company differentiates itself on superior customer service, not a low price, which means our business is always at risk, given that customers are tempted to respond to price appeals by our competitors. The only way we can combat that appeal is to prove that our customer service levels are worth every penny.

Four Rules to Remember
Want to ensure that your customers are truly satisfied? Here are four steps to make it happen:

  1. Develop a true partnership. Establish an open dialogue with clients. Engaging in an open dialogue promotes teamwork and collaboration and ensures everyone is working to help accomplish the customer's goals.
  2. Establish a web of influence. Develop multiple relationships throughout your customers' organizations.
  3. Listen and respond. Stop talking and really listen to your customers. When a situation arises, respond quickly and be thorough.
  4. Be accountable. Put a process in place to address issues and ensure accountability for the resolution.

We can all agree on the importance of customer service. Yet, even with a great product or service, we can't assume customers are happy. Make it your responsibility to beat their expectations--be proactive instead of reactive. If you don't, another company will, and your customers will become their customers.

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