Business owners often focus their attention and marketing resources on acquiring new business. However, just as and in many cases, the more critical strategic component for the success of the business is client sustainment. How often do you see advertisements for new client acquisitions and then once the service or product is purchased, you are later charged higher rates because of a contractual obligation?
Another growing issue businesses are facing is the treatment of clients/customers. In the age of social media and heightened technology, we are bombarded with articles and broadcasts of yelling, cursing and even physical violence directed towards customers in various business establishments. As business owners, we must continually take the higher road and utilize different techniques to turn clients into advocates for our businesses. According to Tiffani Bova, Vice President at Gartner, “Customer experience is the last source of sustainable differentiation and the new competitive battleground.”
Certainly, I am trying to convey the customer is always right philosophy, because I have witnessed many occasions when the customer was “dead wrong;” what I am saying is some business owners must improve their understanding of customer experience. Estaban Kolsky, CEO of ThinkJar, defined customer experience as “the sum total of conscious events, as a coordinated series of interactions between a customer and a brand to accomplish anything. Above all words - a customer experience is defined by the customer, for the customer, at each touch-point, each time.” So, what can we, as business owners, do to maximize and monetize the customer experience. Here are ten suggestions for building and sustaining client relationships.
Lead by example: Be the picture you want your employees to follow. Always show respect to your employees. Demonstrate to them you value them, and as a result, you want them to value each other and those who are patronizing the establishment. You are more than the owner of the business, you are the leader of every encounter for your business.
Ask them: We often thank clients and customers for their business but lack the personal touch of simply asking them, “How can I better serve you?” Go beyond “were you satisfied,” and take the higher approach of service and product improvement.
Be proactive: Address potential problems before they occur. Identify products and services that will address and correct potential problems, then market that solution to the customer before they even realize the problem exists.
Speak the truth: Address the expectation gap. The expectation gap is the difference between what you say and what the customer hears. Emphasize to employees that timely, efficient communication should be a priority. Do not tell customers what you think they want to hear, but instead explain realistic expectations. A customer will expect delays and shortcomings when you explain them upfront. Do not over promise and under deliver.
Employee buy-in: Your employees are your most important clients/customers and the key to optimizing client relationships. Take the time initially to screen and hire good, qualified people-oriented staff. Seek out and effectively compensate employees because their loyalty is essential to sustaining positive client relationships.
Personalize client experience: Develop a database on your clients and share the information with client-facing employees. This will ensure that regardless of the employee speaking to or addressing the client, the client will receive the mirroring messages. One of the most frustrating things from a client’s perspective is to be given a contradicting message from previous messages. This can be a time-consuming process so leverage time, resources and information to best suit your business mission.
View each client as an individual: This is not to say all clients must be treated the same. All clients are not the same, however, you must individualize the treatment of the client to ensure (s)he has a positive interaction.
Educate your clients: Be cognitive of client knowledge and take the time to educate the clients on your services and newly developed products. Even existing clients may not want to appear ignorant, so you can heighten their understanding and confidence in you and your business.
Be Polite: You will be amazed how many businesses fail to thank their clients/customers for their business. Be direct say “Thank you and we look forward to serving you again.” Even businesses that provide services for less than favorable circumstances must express gratitude such as “thank you and although we are sorry for what occurred know we are here for you.” Be mindful that people want to be appreciated even in the worst of circumstances.
Respond to concerns: When you receive feedback, don’t discard the information. Be mindful that if this one person is speaking it, there may be others who have noticed, yet, did not voice the concern to you. These are gifts, seeds that take root; count them as opportunities to improve customer service, and thereby, grow your business. Like any seed, it needs water to grow. This type of feedback is water to your business. Take immediate action to respond to concerns, especially when they have the potential to improve client relationships and business revenue.
Ultimately, the actions, or lack thereof, will determine if you stay in business or close the doors. Remember, the client experience begins at the point when they learn about your business. So, make sure the message they receive is the message you want to convey. Existing clients are your best source of acquiring new clients, so be intentional with the implementation of an effective customer relationship management process to building and sustaining client relationships.