As a small business owner, you find yourself in the unusual position of being grateful for customers, but not giving much time to them unless you have to fix a problem.
If you’re like me, in the early days of your business every client felt like your best friend and because you had relatively few of them, you lavished time and energy on each customer.
Twelve months later you rarely think about your customers except to send them invoices and confirm their reorders. You’re not a bad person because of this! As your business grew so did the demands on your limited time and energy.
Does this sound familiar? Your days are spent in a whirl from your first breakfast meeting to your last networking event. In between you return phone calls, process orders, deliver your product or service, balance your books and put out fires, just to start over again the next day. Your customers are lost in the morass of e-mails and phone calls and you realize you haven’t sent a thank you note since last Christmas.
There is a way to effectively build and maintain outstanding customer relationships and I want to share it with you. Following are five ridiculously easy steps you can take this month in a few hours to build your customer relationships.
1. Purchase or create a reliable customer database system. You can create a system using Microsoft© Excel, Outlook or even Word. You ca purchase an easy-to-use program such as ACT! Or one developed specifically for your industry. Be sure to track the following information in addition to your customer’s name, address, phone and e-mail:
- Other important dates (anniversary, company anniversary)
- Hobbies or specific interests
- Date of first purchase from you, and a running tab of additional purchases.
2. Use the database on a regular basis.
- Set aside one hour each week and update the database. Use this time to add new names and information, delete clients that have left your service area, and edit any information that may have changed.
- Send personal notes to clients who have milestones or important dates coming up. Spend 20 minutes on Monday morning to review your list for the next two weeks, or spend two hours each month to write notes for the upcoming thirty days.
- Send thank-you notes to your clients on a regular basis. Put a system in place to remind you to send thank-you for your business cards or notes at least 4 times a year.
Bonus Tip #1: Keep a stash of your stamped, business stationery in your briefcase. After a networking event transfer the names and addresses from the business cards you collected to the envelopes. Write the note there and drop in the closest post-box or write a note on the back of the business card related to your conversation and stick it in the envelope so that you can complete your notes in one sitting back at the office or while you are watching TV.
3. Create a system using your calendar or electronic device to meet deadlines for writing, editing and sending your newsletter or e-zine. Your e-zine must be informative and address the specific needs or concerns of your customers. Many software and on-line companies exist to streamline this process, allowing you to write your letter well in advance of its ‘send’ date.
4. Create customer satisfaction systems and be sure to train your staff on the intricacies of applying them to your customers. Your systems are step-by-step guidelines that include each part of every customer interaction, from new customer inquiries to product satisfaction follow-up to customer complaints. When you provide consistent responses in every interaction, your customers believe in you as a reliable business that always provides what they expect.
5. Evaluate your customer base regularly. Give yourself at least two hours each quarter to look for changes in your customer’s buying habits. Have some stopped purchasing from you? Have others bought less and less, but you’ve spent more time handling them than anyone else? Have other customers that you thought of as ‘small’ started spending more money with your company? Respond to each of these scenarios within 24 hours of the evaluation and you will not be surprised by lost revenue because your customers were too disinterested to tell you they were buying from someone else.
Bonus Tip #2: Some customers may not be worth the time you are spending. Don’t be afraid to spend less time with a squeaky wheel that produces little revenue. Be gracious but firm when you state that you will need to spend more time on other areas of your business in order to consistently provide outstanding service for everyone. If the customer demands more than you are able or willing to give, you can politely recommend other companies that may suit his needs better. You’ll be amazed at how much time this will free up!
Finally, remember building customer satisfaction is ultimately about the relationship you build with them. Set aside specific time each month to foster the relationship and you will have customers that are crazy! (About you).
Peggie Arvidson-Dailey is the founder of Pet Care Business University and the Pet-Care Business Success System™. She is the author of the “Maintain your Love Affair with Your Pet” Series and several articles on finding and maintaining happy customers for Pet-centered businesses. Visit http://www.peggiespets.com for more information.