The Importance of Client Relationships
By Mark Wardell @MarkWardell | November 1, 2011
Remember that old saying, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression?" Well, it's true.
Building a relationship begins the moment you say "Nice to meet you". Even sooner, if your new potential client has learned anything about you or your business before you first meet (online impressions count, too.)
As a business owner; however, your goal is not just to make a good impression and generate a sale. Your goal is to attract ideal customers that will stay with you for life. I'd go as far as to say that it's critical to the growth of your business to both make a good first impression and keep that impression throughout the business relationship. That's why it's worth your time to put some thought into what exactly you want that impression to be.
I'll pause here to tell you a brief story.
A client of ours started losing business rather suddenly. He soon realized that the business loss was related to a particular salesperson. He decided to call up the customers who had left to find out why, but no specific complaints were forthcoming.
The service was fine, the price point was fine and the products were fine. Finally it all came out. The salesperson, in an effort to establish and nurture her business relationships, had taken up the practice of hugging all of her customers. It probably seemed innocent enough to her at the time, but after a while, many of her customers became uncomfortable with this level of affection and started taking their business elsewhere.
There is an important lesson here. It's not all about the quality of your products and services. The success of your business depends to a great extent upon your interpersonal skills with customers.
We can all take something from this story because we've all been there: regretting a slightly less than professional encounter. Yet there are several things you can and should do to pointedly improve both "your first business impression" and your capacity to maintain great customer relationships, which when it comes down to it, are the cornerstone of any business.
Build trust: Trust is the foundation upon which all successful relationships are built. So ensure that all of your actions support this goal. Simple things like showing up on time for all your appointments and asking insightful questions to show you are listening can go a long way in this regard.
Take a look at the way you communicate with your customers. To ensure they feel valued, it's important to schedule regular meetings to keep in touch and learn of any new developments or changes you should know about. Use CRM software to track that you are connecting with each customer as often as you should be.
If you're in retail, put a system in place to help your customer service staff check in with customers on a regular basis. This could look like anything from a simple thoughtful question at check-out, to a more elaborate survey or online polling.
Reward loyalty: Offering referral fees, gifts or discounts, can be great strategiesfor thanking loyal customers and rewarding those who bring you business. Some firms give corporate gifts at Christmas, which are especially welcome when they are something the customer actually wants.VIP events are another approach. But if your budget is tight, sometimes a heart-felt "thank you" is all it takes.
Add value:The most important way to build trust,however, is to find ways to add additional value to the services your clients already receive.
At our company we recommend putting in place a system to make sure every client is receiving the attention they deserve. Our fun code name for this system is, "Operation Client Lockdown (OCL)." The idea is to find out exactly what your customer values most about your particular services, and then to increase your level of service by integrating directly into your customer's value-stream.
For example, one of our clients owns a distribution business in the automotive industry. In an OCL meeting, they discovered that their customer was re-labeling their packages in accordance with their own inventory tracking system.
So our client offered to eliminate this problem by customizing their labeling system to fit with the customer's inventory system, saving their customer time and money. Of course, the customer was thrilled. But the point is, this might never have happened without the OCL meeting. It's a simple idea, but the further you can go down this road of integration, the more challenging it will be for a competitor to lure your customer away with a discounted offer.
Remember, it is far easier and more effective to get more business from an existing client than to go and find a new one, so once you've developed a client relationship, make sure you do everything in your power to keep it.