A small business may need accounting services monthly, office supplies every two weeks, and their AC/HVAC checked twice a year. Generally, how often your service is needed will drive the number of customers you will require to sustain your enterprise. Your first task is to get the word out about who you are and what makes your business special. How will you contact your customers? Social media, direct mail, website, newsletters, mobile ads, local papers, telephone, store walk-ins? Any business relationship starts with either customers contacting you or you contacting them. But once you have their attention, how do you develop a sustainable small business?
As in life, creating lasting relationships is never easy. We all intuitively know that ongoing communications is the key to creating the kind of customer rapport that will earn you repeat business. Here are 7 tips for getting and keeping customers in your small business.
Add value. You can add value to a customer’s business by your great pricing, quality, reliability, and customer service. Providing great service is really an advantage for all small businesses. Here is a link to a recent interview with Yaniv Masjedi from Nextiva on How Can You Avoid Customer Service Mistakes in Your Small Business.
Be easy to do business with. When you respond quickly to your customer’s needs they will notice. Make sure that you check your email and voicemail regularly. Try to respond within two hours of any contact from your top customer. Provide key contacts with your direct cellphone and office number in case of any major concern. Make your customers aware of any process, product or technology upgrade that will help them improve their operations, make more money or become more competitive.
Stay in contact. How often you contact your customers will vary, from weekly to monthly depending on your industry and the time of year. It doesn’t matter how you stay in contact, but that there is regular communication, whether by phone, email, skype, snail mail or in person, let your customers know that you appreciate their business. Business relationships are just like any other relationship. They require effort to maintain and they must be mutually beneficial. And don’t just call about business; ask about vacation plans and the kids. Be willing to give, share and support, not just try to go in for the upsell.
Talk the customer’s language. My mentor was recruited from the retail industry to the phone business, with no telecommunications experience. Why do you think he got the job? He knew “retail” and he could use telecommunications solutions to solve retail problems like inventory control, customer service and other issues. Make sure you listen carefully to how your customers speak about their industry. Each culture can be very different. When you use their language, you become an insider and make people feel comfortable.
Pay Attention. Being a good listener highlights your virtues much better than being a big talker. I coached a financial planner years ago and we did a little market research on what his clients value the most in him. They valued his advice and his skills in handling the money, but what set him apart is that he takes the time to listen to his customers and really understands where they are coming from. They valued him as a sounding board, and a few even called him better than a shrink! If your clients love the way you make them feel, that leads to referrals and long-term business success.
Keep detailed notes. I travel with a small notebook at all times. I take note on everyone I meet and during every phone conversation. If you’re using a CRM system, enter those notes in the system. It will help you know how to connect with your customer in your next interaction. Later, you will be able to enter keywords like ‘sailing’ or ‘wireless’ or ‘French’ and find all the people you know who match that keyword. Doing keyword mining on your own contacts will pay dividends for years.
Admit mistakes. When you alert your client to a mistake, you can often create a customer for life. Correcting missteps will take you far when it comes to building relationships. Often times, people just want to know that you are sorry and that you have a plan for getting back on track. Respond immediately with an apology and a proposal for fixing the problem. When a mistake is more than a minor setback, do something to make it right such as giving a portion of the fee back or providing additional services or product to the customer at no cost.
Anyone will buy something once. Your business will be sustainable if you can get customers to buy over and over again from you. When you start focusing on these 7 tips, your customers will notice. So many small businesses take their customers for granted. No one owes you their business – show love and appreciation to your customers.
“Little Tree” courtesy of criminalatt / www.freedigitalphotos.net
Do you have any more ideas for how to sustain a small business?