Cultivating client relationships goes beyond good customer service—if you truly care about your clients, then they’ll care about you.

By Tom Hopkins

You may think you’re in the business of selling automotive parts, home remodeling or repairs, printing services, financial consulting, tutoring or signs, but you’re not. Even if your products are sold only to other businesses, those businesses don’t make the buying decision–a person does. You’re in the people business, and learning to make people feel important and cared about will help you make both the initial sale and long-term sales over the course of time.

I frequently find great examples of strong client relationships while reading a feature in a local area newspaper where readers are invited to review their favorite nonfranchise restaurants. The articles are wonderful publicity for the restaurants. One of the key elements I see repeated over and over again is that patrons know the names of the owners, hosts and servers. And many of the restaurant workers know something about these customers as well. They know if their guests prefer coffee or tea with breakfast; they may even remember their favorite meal, asking if they want “the usual.”

Put yourself in the seats of those guests for a moment. How would it make you feel to have your particular favorites automatically placed before you without having to explain your preferences? It would make you feel at home–or as if you’re at the home of a good friend, someone who knows you well and wants you to have what you want. Just like your friends and family, these business owners and employees want you to be happy. This type of relationship is ideal when it comes to serving your clients’ needs, and it can be created no matter what your product or service is.

Maybe you sell tires, not breakfast. Even so, you should introduce yourself to each client and tell them your name. Use your clients’ names in conversation during the sales process. Inquire about the use of the vehicle. Does the client have young children or a teenage driver? If so, safety will be an important issue to discuss with them. Do they have a cabin in the woods where some off-road driving is involved? Or do they travel for business and need “highway” tires? All these answers will help you lead your customers to the best choices for them. And keeping a record of the answers will help you build long-term relationships.

You also need to make sure every client receives your best care during–and after–the sales process. During the initial sale, get clients talking and take good notes. Then enter any potentially important information gleaned from the conversation into your client database. My colleague, Harvey Mackay, has a long list of details he requires his salespeople to gather about clients over a certain time period. This includes not just information required to help them conduct business, but a few personal details such as birthdays, whether they’re married, their children’s names, and whether they have pets. That information is used to make contacts and start conversations with clients after the initial sale.

People like to do business with people who are like them, who demonstrate that they care about them beyond making the sale and who keep them in mind when something new that might be of interest to them arises. That type of treatment makes them feel important, and they come to rely on businesses and salespeople they know they can trust to have their needs and interests at heart. And it’s in your best interest to offer that type of treatment and cultivate relationships that customers can count on.

Tom Hopkins is the indisputable king of sales. His book, Master the Art of Selling has sold over 1.4 million copies in ten languages and is considered the classic text on sales.

“Because I understood that building relationships is what selling is all about, I began early in my career to send thank you notes to people. I set a goal to send ten thank you notes every day. That goal meant that I had to meet and get the names of at least ten people every day. I sent thank you notes to people I met briefly, people I showed properties to, people I talked with on the telephone, and people I actually helped to own new homes. I became a thank you note fool.

And guess what happened? By the end of my third year in sales, my business was 98% referrals! The people I had expressed gratitude to were happy to send me new clients as a reward for making them feel appreciated and important.

I built my real estate business to a 98% referral business by using thank-you notes. I heartily endorse the SendOutCards program and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to build their business and enjoy a greater degree of success.”  -Tom Hopkins

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You have probably seen or heard of the classic scene from The Godfather where they say, “It’s not personal. It’s business.” Businesses love this line because it keeps them distant and guilt-free. It lets them think of customers as nameless, faceless masses that just need to be enticed with the right offer.

In fact business has always been personal.  Our relationships with our employees, vendors and customers are personal.  The way we treat them, recognize them and show them appreciation is personal.    Only now, it’s more obvious that it’s all personal, all the time. Today, we live in a new culture.  It’s a hyper-personal, hyper-connected, hyper-transparent, conversational, always-on, highly aware, information in my pocket, find the people like me, start a revolution kind of a culture. That may not sound like business, but it is; and it is very personal.  The businesses that get this win. The businesses that don’t lose.

If you need proof, ask the executives at Motrin about baby carrying moms. Last November, Motrin offended a segment of highly connected moms, the moms took to Twitter, YouTube, and their blogs and shut the Motrin site down in less than 48 hours. It was personal, not business.

The good news is that you do not have to be perfect.  You do, however have to be personal.  In order to be personal, you need to learn to appeal to basic human emotions.

Previously I discussed how I have been greatly inspired by Dale Carnegie who was quoted in his famous book, How To Win Friends & Influence People, as saying, “You can have everything in life that you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”  I also discussed the principle of “liking” — the idea that people prefer to do business with people they like and, more importantly, who like them. (An Old Technique Revisited to Grow Sales Today)

Small gestures, big returns

Just as the “liking” principle plays on basic human emotions, so too does the “reciprocity” principle. That’s why it’s so powerful.  What is the Reciprocity principle?

We all know “The Golden Rule” – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But most of us are not aware of the social scientific principle of “Reciprocity” underlying the rule that we can use to become more effective, productive and influential in everything we do. The rule of Reciprocity simply states that people feel obliged to give back to others who have given to them. The rule may seem simple and intuitive, but it has profound implications for business.  This is the fundamental principle that Ivan Misner has founded BNI (Business Network International) on.

“The tendency among humans is that we want to give back to those who have given to us,” says Cialdini, the Regents’ Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University and Distinguished Professor of Marketing in the W. P. Carey School. Cialdini is the author of  Influence: Science and Practice and a renowned expert on persuasion.

“We as humans have very nasty names for people who take without giving back in return,” Cialdini explains. “We call them ‘moochers.’ We call them ‘ingrates.’ So generally speaking, we will go to great lengths to give back once we’ve received.”

Sometimes, even a small gesture — a greeting card (expressing thanks, happy birthday or any reason), a phone call, a simple favor — can go a long way to establishing a long, profitable relationship.

Take the example of the Disabled American Veterans. For years, the DAV had sent a basic form letter to potential donors, asking for their support. With that run-of-the-mill letter, the DAV had enjoyed an 18 percent response rate — not bad, really.  But the DAV hoped for better. Seizing on the principle of reciprocity, the charity made a brilliant strategic decision.  One year, instead of sending that tired form letter alone, the DAV also included in their donor package a small gift: Personalized address labels. As a result, the response rate jumped to 35 percent.

“There’s not a single human society that does not teach its children the rule of reciprocity — the idea that you must not take without then giving in return,” explains Cialdini.

The reciprocity principle is so powerful, in fact, it even swayed the opinion — and actions — of Cialdini, who as a persuasion expert should be immune to these tricks.

It all started when Cialdini, making his first stay at the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong, sat down at his room’s writing table. There was nothing particularly special about either the room or the desk, Cialdini remembers.

It was what he found in the desk drawer that surprised him.

“When you go to a great hotel, sometimes you’ll look in the desk drawer and you’ll see some really nice, high-quality stationary, with the hotel’s name in gold leaf across the top,” Cialdini says. “But when I was at the Mandarin Oriental, I pulled out this stationary and my name was at the top. They had given me a gift that wasn’t designed to promote the hotel. It didn’t have their name on it — it had my name on it. I’ve never stopped recommending that hotel to anyone traveling to Hong Kong.”

With a very small investment in personalized stationary, the hotel has reaped the rewards of word-of-mouth business ever since.

It was a tailored, personalized gift, Cialdini says. “That’s the key: Many companies will give their customers pens and calendars and other things with the company name on them. But you know what? That’s the wrong name. Our customers’ names, not ours, belong on what we give them.

A leap of faith?

Cialdini says the applications for reciprocity in the real world are numerous.

A businessperson entering into a new partnership, for example, would be wise to step back and take a wide-angle look at the organization he wishes to work with. Then, he should pinpoint the person or people he can help — and make sure to do so.

“When you go into a new situation, the first question you should ask is not actually the first question we were trained to ask in all of these programs we infiltrated,” Cialdini says. “We were taught to ask ourselves, ‘Who can help me here?’ But the first question you should really ask is, ‘Whom can I help here?'”

Another way to impress potential clients or establish new business relationships, he says, would be to send personalized holiday gifts. To make those gifts more memorable, however, try sending them in October.

“If what you give to somebody is meaningful, tailored and unexpected, that’s really the best you can do,” Cialdini says. “All the evidence shows you will be repaid.”

There are applications inside organizations, too. If you’re a manager and see a colleague struggling with staff shortages, try lending her one of your staffers. Doing so not only helps a friend in need (and your company) but may insure you against similar problems in the future. More likely than not, if the time comes when you’re short-staffed, your colleague will reciprocate in kind.

“Because once you’ve benefited somebody, and once you’ve helped elevate their outcomes, that person will feel honor-bound to benefit you, and help your outcomes in return,” Cialdini says.

Using reciprocity is not complicated, Cialdini says.

All it takes is a little foresight — and the willingness to help others before they help you. In the sometimes-cutthroat world of modern business, that may seem to be a leap of faith.

But Cialdini is convinced it’s one that will pay off.

“It may not happen the next day,” Cialdini says. “But you’ve basically put money in the bank.”

Bottom Line:

  • Human beings are programmed to help those who have helped them.

  • In the world of business, a small favor to a colleague in need can serve as a long-term investment. According to the principle of reciprocity, a good deed will be repaid eventually.

  • Companies can impress customers through reciprocity by offering gifts that are personalized, meaningful and unexpected, which makes them memorable.

Jeff Battiston   www.twitter.com/jbatts

Jeff is Founder and CEO of Global Capital Services, a company that provides financing to businesses and municipalities.  Jeff is also owner of www.BuildRelationshipsToday.com, a cost-effective, web-based system that allows businesses to send personalized greeting cards and gifts in minutes.

Sources: W.P. Carey School of Business, Micro Explosion Media

Honor Your Market

April 13, 2009

March 27, 2009

By Simone Blum

Did you ever hear of Joshua Bell? He is an internationally acclaimed violinist. He was a child prodigy, and his performances are usually standing-room only. Seats to his performances generally sell for at least $100.

In January 2007, Joshua Bell decided to perform an experiment. He donned jeans and a t-shirt, leaned up against a trash basket in a DC Metro station, took out his $3.5 million dollar violin, casually flipped open the case for donations and began playing. He played 6 classical pieces in 43 minutes.

The man who easily fills theaters and concert halls with premium ticket-holders was all-but ignored. Of the 1104 people that passed by, only 7 people stopped to listen for at least a minute. Twenty-seven people who were mostly running past gave money (for a total donation of approximately $32). That is a total of 1070 who ran by without taking notice. With the exception of a preschooler who was craning to listen, but was blocked by his mother because they were running late.

Three days before he performed this experiment, he had filled the house with premium ticket prices at Boston Symphony Hall. Two weeks after his performance in the DC Metro Station, he played to standing-room only at the Music Center at Strathmore, MD.

So, you might ask… what’s this have to do with my business? Although I found the story (and the video) of this event interesting, it it not just an  anecdote.  It really illustrates some very important things about the psychology of perceived value:

1) Location, location, location does not only apply to Real Estate. An artist will be perceived as more talented when performing on a stage than in a station. A piece of art will be considered more valuable when in a gallery than a home or a coffee shop. A business will seem more established if they advertise on the internet or in glossy print than with a piece of paper taped to a telephone pole or a bathroom stall. Where and how are you displaying your business? Is this the best way to highlight your products or services?

2) Appearance is everything. How are you branding yourself? What are you doing to separate your business from the rest? Are your business card or handouts the equivalent of wearing jeans and a t-shirt and leaning against a trash can, or do you come out in your concert finest, looking sharp and distinct? Do you stand out from the crowd? Are you memorable?

3) Target your market. Define your market and cater to their needs. Are you selling your concert tickets to music-lovers or to subway-token-buyers? Are you targeting the best demographic to ensure the highest conversion rate?

4) Time and Place. You could have the best message in the world, but if you are spending your time and energy on marketing to the wrong demographic at the wrong time, your efforts are simply for the sheer satisfaction of working hard. What is the point of playing fine music that slows the senses, and is to be savored and enjoyed to a crowd rushing to make the next train.

I preach “work smart, not hard” often and all the time. If you are not taking heed of the elements above, you might be working yourself to the bone with little or no result. Be mindful of when, where and how you go to market and approach your customers. It is easier to have success find you than it is to chase it down wildly without a sensible plan.

Rick Segel
• 17 Mar 2009

Downward slanting sales. Check. A depleted customer base. Check. Constant stress, worry and handwringing. Check, Check, Check! If these symptoms are all too familiar, then it’s likely your store is suffering from Recessionitis, a disease plaguing many good-intentioned retailers just like you. Thankfully, there is a cure. And I have the prescription: Start maximizing your customers at every opportunity throughout the recession and beyond.

Business is tougher than it has ever been, yet there are stores that are staying relatively healthy. What are they doing right? Quite simply, they are getting the most out of every customer who walks in, logs in, calls in, you name it. Even though they might have fewer customers come through their doors, by maximizing the ones they do have, they’re managing to beat this recession.

Maximizing every customer means getting the most out of them every time they come to your store. It means suggesting more ideas or products before they check out. It means selling your loss leaders/promotional goods and your better merchandise as well. It means collecting as much data about your customers as possible. And it means getting your salespeople focused on saying and doing the right things every time.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Sell the customer as much as possible. Then sell her some more. Here’s the simple truth: Retailers make money when they are making multiple sales. Your store makes more money when your customers buy more than one item from you. And in order to get your customers to buy more, your employees must learn the art of making multiple sales. The trick is teaching them to remember four magic words: Did you see this?

Let’s say your store sells cookware and kitchenware. If a customer is going to purchase a new casserole dish, your salesperson should ask, “Did you see the serving dish that goes with the set?” or “Did you see this cookbook?” She might decline, or she might walk over and take a look at those items, even if it’s just to be polite. Once over there, you never know, she might pick something else up. And just like that your salesperson has maximized this customer.

Become a relentless data collector. Basically, ask yourself What should I find out from this person that will help me get him back in my store? Ask him what he does to find out what he might be likely or able to buy from you. Keep an eye on when he comes into your store to determine when he does most of his shopping. And when he does buy from you, collect his contact information—his phone number, e-mail and address, or whatever he’s willing to give—so that you can send him information about your store. And once you have this information, put all of it, every detail, into your customer database.

Of course, collecting data from your customers can be easier said than done. Whenever you or a salesperson try to get a customer to open up, remind her that finding out this information will help you better serve her. And when you ask for her contact information, explain that having it will allow you to send her coupons and exclusive sales information. When customers know how they’ll benefit, they’ll be far more likely to talk.

Create a customer wish list. Then, try to grant those wishes. If a customer wants an item you don’t have, or one that you usually do have but that isn’t currently in stock, get his contact information on your customer wish list. That way when the item is in, you can give him a call or send him an e-mail to let him know. This is a great way for you to stay in front of your customer and to give him a reason to come back to your store.

Keep in touch with your customers—and know that “expected” communications may not be good enough. No matter what kind of retail store you own, you should be keeping in touch with your customers. Know, also, that if you’re just letting your customers know about upcoming sales or price notices you aren’t doing everything you could be doing. In a bad economy especially, you need to give your customers every possible reason to remember that you’re out there and to feel connected to you.

Your customers probably get lots of sales notices. Think of ways that you can contact them that will be specific to them or you. Send them a birthday card or a short article that you think might be of interest to them. Or if you or your store has recently been featured in a news story, let them know by sending the clip. The goal is to remind them that you are still around. If you can keep your store on their minds, they’ll keep coming back.

Do whatever it takes to keep the customer referrals coming. In today’s economy, customer referrals can be a great way to boost your revenue. You have to make sure your salespeople get in the habit of asking customers if they have any friends or family who would like what you sell. And because customers are often reluctant to provide a friend or family member’s contact information, you have to give them an offer they can’t refuse.

You might create a customer referral program in which the customer doing the referring and the person she refers receive a reward. You might give the person doing the referring a $20 gift card, and the person she’s referred 25 percent off her sales total in her first visit to the store. I know this feels painful, but just think about the lifetime value that new customer could provide. If she keeps coming back to your store, you’ll make back what you may have lost in the discount, and you’ll continue to make money off her if you turn her into a loyal customer.

Use coupons. They’re a back-to-basics tool that always works. It’s a recession. You simply can’t fight the fact that your customers are going to be more price- and value-minded. You should just go ahead and embrace it. That said, there aren’t many things in this world that price- and value-minded customers like more than coupons. They love feeling like they’ve gotten a great deal, like they’re smart shoppers, and even like they’ve beaten the system in some way. And that should be perfectly fine with you as long as they are coming back to your store.

The secret to successful coupons is using a dollar amount instead of a percentage. Dollar amounts are more tangible for customers. They immediately know what their savings would be whereas with a percentage they might have to take a second to calculate it. And the reality is they may never take that second! Also, make sure your coupons have tight expiration dates.

“Bounce them back” into your store. Bounce-back coupons are a relatively new retail sales tool. They let you give your customer a reason to come back to your store before he even leaves. Here’s how it works: You offer your customer a percentage of his current purchase in a coupon that must be used at a later date. For example, if a customer buys $100 worth of merchandise, he gets a $20 off coupon, but it must be used within a certain time frame, say, at least three days after his purchase but within seven days.

Not only does this provide you with a way to get a customer back in the store, it allows you to pressure him to come back sooner rather than later. Give him too long of a window and he’s more likely to forget about you.

Get your customers to sing your praises…and record their arias. Customer testimonials are the most powerful form of marketing for retailers. So, any time a customer sings your praises, be sure to capture the moment. Bring your customer testimonials into the 21st century by keeping a digital camera and a notepad by the cash register. When a customer gives you a compliment, thank her and ask if you can write it down and take her picture. Then put it on display.

You might frame the picture and testimonial and hang them in your store. Or you can put it on your Web site. Or you can use them in a mailing piece that goes out to your customers. Displaying these testimonials reminds customers of how great you are and convinces potential customers of the same thing. And who knows? The special attention might persuade your attention-seeking customers to give you a testimonial just so they’ll get the same treatment.

Turn your customers into research sleuths. The curse of the retailer is that, despite how beneficial it is for you to see what other stores are doing, you are often trapped in your own store. Your customers, however, have more opportunities than you to get out and about. You might as well take advantage of their mobility.

Ask your customers where they’ve been shopping and what interesting merchandise or clever sales or promotions they’ve seen. Ask the right customers in the right way and you will get unbelievably valuable information. This also helps you make a special connection with your customer—most people love being asked their opinion. It makes them feel important.

Seek out anonymous feedback via customer service surveys. Many retail owners don’t use surveys, but the truth is they can be very valuable. Anonymous surveys, in particular, are a great way for you to get straightforward feedback from your customers. Try it at least once. You might be surprised by the powerful advice you get.

You’ll find out things about your store that no one would ever say to your face. Sure, some of them might be hard to see on paper, but they allow you to correct any problems that are mentioned in your survey. Besides, if you’re doing things right in the first place, the survey results shouldn’t be all negative. You might find out that certain customers would be coming in more if you had a certain product line or if you ran a certain promotion more often.

Create a customer advisory board. Ask a few of your loyal customers if they would be willing to meet with you about four times a year so that you can pick their brains about your store. At meetings, ask what they think about your merchandise, your employees, the way you do business, etc. Remember, those on your advisory board should not have lifetime appointments. You’ll want to switch them in and out every year or so to ensure you are getting the freshest perspectives possible.

Seek out and cultivate lagniappe moments. In tough times businesses have to be willing to give lagniappe—that’s New Orleans-speak for “a little extra.” While this concept is interpreted in various ways, it means that in addition to great deals, coupons, and the like, you also give of yourself. And that is the heart and soul of customer maximization.

You focus on what you can do to genuinely improve your customer’s day rather than on what your customer can do for you. You build a relationship with him. Whether that means you take the extra time to really explain a product to someone or give him a gift card as thanks for referring a customer, you’ll be building a relationship that turns into customer loyalty.

Today’s consumer is in the hunt for the best buy of the day. And we as retailers are in the hunt to convert the hunters into the hunted—in a nice way, of course. That process starts with maximizing the customer.

I love the saying that retailing is a contact sport. You have to get in front of your customers. We are living in the era of proactive retailing. We can’t wait for customers to just walk through the front door anymore. You have to interact with them and get them to open up to you so that you can find out what their want is. Naturally, that’s never an easy process. But going the extra mile, every day and in every way, can keep them spending more and coming back. And that’s the best recession survival strategy you’ll ever find.

Rick Segel, CSP, a seasoned retailer of 25 years, owned one of New England’s most successful independent women’s specialty stores. He is the marketing expert for Staples.com, a contributing writer for numerous national publications, and a founding member of the Retail Advisory Council for Johnson & Wales University.

Rick has authored nine books, two training videos, and a six-hour audio program. Retail Business Kit For Dummies, published by Wiley Inc., became the No. 1 selling retail how-to book in the United States in January 2002 and is now in its second edition.

Marketing to new homeowners has long been a valuable tool to attract new customers. Many companies like Welcome Wagon offer this service to businesses. My problem has been that once you sign up for the service, your marketing dollars get spent on mailings to people that, although they are “new homeowners,” they are not new to your neighborhood.

Companies like Welcome Wagon spend your marketing budget on mailings to anyone that has turned on a utility within a two mile radius of your business. They pride themselves on showing you that 1,000 new homeowners have received your offer through their mailing. The problem is that, in reality, only 20% or 200 people are actually new to the area and are in need of an introduction to your business. The fact is, on average, 80% of the people on the list that they are selling you, have moved less than ten miles. This means that most of the 80% will continue to use the services of the businesses that they have already developed a relationship with. It means that their drycleaner, salon, dentist, doctor, landscaper, handyman…etc, will remain the same after they have moved. In other words, you just spent money to send a direct mail piece to 800 people that are already your customer or will not switch to you. There are ways to win these customers over to your business (see http://tinyurl.com/ccxlkh), but it is not likely to happen with a mailing through Welcome Wagon or similar companies.

There is a company, however, that will focus on the 20%, “Cream of the Crop,” that are actually NEW to your neighborhood and will need your services.

www.YourNewNeighbors.com provides lists of New Neighbors that have moved 10 miles or more. With their list you should achieve 3 to 4 times the response rate that you will get with the older systems and you will save money at the same time.

These targeted New Neighbors need to find your business, because now they live too far away to travel to their old Salon, Dentist, Drycleaners, Doctor, Landscaper, Handyman and more!

If this makes sense and you would like more information about your area, please call 888-867-1905 or email info@YourNewNeighbors.com.

Jeff Battiston   www.twitter.com/jbatts

Jeff is Founder and CEO of Global Capital Services, a company that provides financing to businesses and municipalities.

A down economy is the best time to connect with your customers.

Consumers are seeking trusted business sources to hear their concerns and provide them with options. Customers want your ear and your empathy. They want to be heard and acknowledged. They need to know that you understand and care about what they’re going through — even if they’re not buying from you at this point in time.

It comes down to this: You may have the best product or service out there, but that alone won’t guarantee your success if you haven’t built loyal bonds with your customers. Your existing customers are your best customers. They will thank you with their repeat business and send you business referrals. And they will think of you when they’re ready to buy — in good times and in bad. But customer loyalty must be earned.

Unlike big business, small organizations are uniquely able to cater to customer needs and earn their loyalty. How do you do that? By being 100% customer focused every day, with every interaction, in every aspect of your business. Here are three ways simple ways you can earn their loyalty by focusing on super-serving your customers.

1. Be Passionate About Your Customers

Being passionate about your customers starts with listening to and hearing their concerns. Make sure you always understand what the customer is saying or asking. Educate them on the value of the products and services you provide, and offer them solutions based on what they need. Passion means proving to customers you are vested in their success.

Passion also means being accessible, accountable, and HONEST. If there’s a problem, don’t gloss over it. Own it. And don’t quit until you make it right. Saying, “I’m sorry, let’s work this out” goes a long way toward earning your customer’s gratitude and return business. Get on the phone, send an email or send a personal card and make that personal connection.

2. Use Every Interaction as an Opportunity to Build a Relationship

Consumers today are feeling beat up and shrugged off by the sorry state of some big-business customer service. Customers desire connection.

We have a mantra here: “Connect to give.” We make every effort to connect with our customers for no other reason then to stay in touch and strengthen our relationship. We remember birthdays, send advice and support, and sometimes just a hello and an inspirational quote.  In doing so, our customers rely on us as they do their friends and we take a lot of pride in that.

Every interaction — be it over the phone, in an email, or across the counter — is an opportunity to deepen your bond with your customer. Make sure all your employees share your commitment to your customers’ success.

3. Learn What’s Important to Customers and Deliver It

The businesses that are going to survive this economy unscathed are the ones who are listening to their customers and adapting their businesses based on customer feedback. By letting your customers know that you are not only interested in their feedback — but you are willing to act on it — you can build stronger customer relationships and earn your customers’ loyalty.

Extend invitations for customers to give you feedback at every opportunity. If you have a physical store, put a suggestion box at the counter — alongside your email sign-up list.

Include an open-ended question at the end of every email marketing communication asking, “How are we doing? What could we do better?” Better yet, do it in a “hand-written” card and send it in the mail with a stamp. That act alone will set you apart from your competition.

Survey your customers to find out what they want and need right now. Ask them, if they’re not buying from you now, why not? What would it take to get their business back? Report on that feedback to your mailing list in your future email marketing communications.

Write a Question-and-Answer column in your email newsletter inviting customers to sound off and tell you what’s on their minds. Offer free advice. Use customer feedback to inform your email marketing content and drive your campaigns.

The economy may be turbulent for some time. The good news is, building loyal customer bonds is an investment in your business’s future. Because when the dust clears and the economy picks up again, loyal customers are more apt to come back to a trusted source with whom they’ve done business before. But that’s true only if they believe you’re focused not on what you want to sell them, but on what they need. Today that might just be a good ear that shows you care.

For more information, check out www.BuildRelationshipsToday.com

Jeff Battiston, www.GlobalCapital-LLC.com

Jeff is Founder and CEO of Global Capital Services, a company that provides financing to businesses and municipalities.