No matter what your business is, customers are your most valuable asset. Developing relationships with your clients will not only help you market and sell, it will help you to anticipate client needs and constantly be on top of ways to improve your product and strategy over time. You can’t buy client relationships, but the good news is: a cheap and perhaps more profitable route is to constantly find new ways to improve them. Give your customers more value by getting them excited about your product, what you do, and who you are. Bonus point, happy clients = happy team. Here are 7 ways to improve your client relationships, where everyone wins.
1. Communicate Like a Human Being
How many times have you called your bank or cable company and dealt with an automated robot woman who repeats irrelevant options until you’re ready to throw your phone against a wall? Maybe after 5 minutes of pounding the 0 ‘operator’ key you reach a customer service representative, who poorly acts out a scripted greeting, sales pitch, or an apology. It’s the absolute worst — usually unhelpful, always impersonal, and leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
The first step to improve client relationships is to find every touch point with clients and use them as an opportunity to create a more personal relationship: listen, acknowledge, follow up, and keep it natural. We humans like to communicate via conversations, so keep it easy and interactive whether you’re talking to clients in person, on the phone, or via email. Just remember, people want to be treated like, well, human-beings of course (refer back to the golden rule when necessary).
2. Learn About Your Customer
The reasons for learning about your customer, pre-sale, are obvious: you have to know your customer to sell to them. However, creating lasting relationships with clients is far more beneficial to you than the initial sale. Know if they have a family, a dog, a unique hobby — whatever you can find to make better connections with clients. No, we’re not suggesting stalking, but there are ways to connect with clients in an on-going relationship, like Twitter and LinkedIn.
But the easiest and most effective way to get to know your client…listening. During your business meetings and calls, there are moments of casual conversation. It’s in these moments you can listen, learn, and build your client relationship for the long-term. Just like romantic relationships, listening is a key to success.
3. Embrace Criticism
Have you ever had an awful restaurant experience turned around by an owner who comes out and goes above and beyond to make sure you are catered to and and enjoy the rest of your evening? It’s not that difficult to do as long as you admit you messed up. The worst thing that can happen is being ignored, a sure recipe for a bad Yelp review. This mindset isn’t reserved solely for the hospitality industry; every business should adopt this style.
Sure, no one wants to hear criticism, but treat it as an opportunity to improve your service or make a change. If a client is complaining to you, you have a chance to turn their experience around. The worst scenario is a client who is not communicating with you, but rather badmouthing you to a bunch of people via social media. That’s toxic stuff, and totally out of your control.
So when you do receive a criticism, remember that it’s part of the job, and take it in stride. It’s not personal (most of the time), the client is just looking out for their company’s best interests. Be thankful the complaint is coming to you and handle it with tact by actively listening and fixing it, quick. Working together to solve a problem is a bonding experience for you and your client, so embrace the complaint!
4. Solve Problems
Everything on our list so far: human communication, learning about your customer, and embracing criticism, add up to one very important point — being a problem solver. All of these communication points allow you to solve a problem, and that problem-solving mentality is central to your product and your clients.
The more problems you can help your clients with, the better. Connecting your clients with other businesses, resources, industry news, or solutions makes you stand out as a trusted, credible source. As you develop your reputation as a problem solver, you’ll gain insight into more and more client needs, and potentially add value to the relationship with additional selling opportunities.
It’s a two-way street, and establishing yourself as the go-to for any problem is the best way to create a positive and lasting relationship with your client.
5. Over Communicate
Staying in regular contact with clients helps you keep your eye on the ball, but you need to pay attention to the type of communication you’re putting out. Is the bulk of your communication product offers and sales? If so, rethink your strategy. A constant barrage of upsells is annoying, and people tend to start thinking you’re more interested in their money, not their business.
Reaching out only when your company needs something makes it difficult to leverage the relationship as a driver of future sales. Instead, vary the messages you put out: helpful blog posts, company updates, product news, and follow-ups on social media, phone, or email. This kind of content helps you brand your company and stay top of mind as an expert and helpful resource. Again, treat every touch point with clients as an opportunity to check in on and build your customer relationships. Frequent communication helps you monitor customer attitudes towards your business, and address any problem areas via regular communication channels.
6. Solicit (and Listen to) Feedback
Listening is just as important as telling, and that’s why you should actively ask for feedback from your clients. You can build this into regular communication by asking for feedback via your website, message boards, or blog.
Feedback is also something you can tailor to individuals, and stay up-to-date on their needs and wants. Individual feedback indicates areas in which you can expand the relationship with a wider offering of products and services.
Make sure you act on feedback as well, sitting on it could make the relationship worse. Always take the time to thank your customer personally for feedback, letting them know how important it is to hear from them — this will build a positive rapport between business and client.
7. Chocolate and Scotch Go a Long Way
Sales and new customers are hard to come by. It’s much more lucrative for your business to increase your existing customers’ business. There are plenty of options to give clients as gifts that won’t compromise your bottom line, but rather increase long-term profitability and customer loyalty. Customer loyalty is a great investment for your marketing and sales strategy because repeat customers are proven to spend at least double the amount of new customers.
Let’s be clear, a small gift won’t get your client to add more to the budget, but it will keep you at the front of their mind. Gifts go back to points one and two, human relationships and learning about your customer. A thoughtful gift reminds your client that you listen and care. A bottle of your client’s favorite scotch can go a long way.
If you can focus on these 7 tactics, you can build a relationship with your clients that extends beyond your product, with the ability to grow your business and retain loyal customers. Clients that ‘stick’ are your best cheerleaders, delivering value back with referrals along with spending more. For that reason, great client relationships are your best asset. And the best part is — everybody wins.
image courtesy of flickr