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Stay \'Connected\' to your Customers

In the early days of your business, you probably had the time and motivation to get to know every customer personally. You didnít just provide exceptional customer service, you ďconnectedĒ with your customers in a way only small businesses can.

But as the head of a growing business, you canít do it all anymore. Now you have employees who communicate with and help your customers while you focus on making the business grow. But in the back of your mind, you canít help but wonder, ďAre they connecting with my customers the way I did?Ē

Youíll find out the answer to that question really quick, unfortunately, when your customers start taking their business elsewhere or they stop referring your business to their friends and associates. Donít wait for that to happen. Here are five ways you and your staff can stay connected to your customers Ė and they will stay connected to you:

  1. Shadow Days

    When your account person is planning to spend a day at a customerís business, send along a member of the production staff. This not only builds morale among the production staff but allows for cross-training and valuable exposure for the employee. Your production team member gets to become more connected with where the work is going and why itís important and your account person builds rapport with the production team. Not to mention the customer gets to meet more of your team and gets a better view of the resources you have available for them.

    But, make sure you prepare the production staff member. They may need a different mode of dress for that day and provide them with a brief overview of the customer and your relationship with them. Also, give them a specific task to accomplish, such as reviewing quality-checks or evaluating the client process to ensure your goods, services, or production are in line with the customerís needs. Tactfully remind them that they are there to observe only and not make commitments or offer commentary.

  2. Reverse Seminars

    For a reverse seminar, you invite a customer to come to your office and be the ďstarĒ for the day. You allow them to speak about their business and explain its needs and key issues. Youíd be surprised at the issues and challenges mentioned in these venues and how far this knowledge will go in tailoring your businessí response to the customer.

    The goal here is not to try to sell your business to the client, but to allow the client to essentially sell their business to your staff. This is an excellent opportunity for you and your staff to learn about the customer and find out whatís important to them; what problems or issues they worry about. You can also hear about how your products or services work for them. Certainly, ideas of how you can better serve the customer will arise, but save them for another day. After all, this is the customerís day to shine.

  3. Trade Shows & Events

    Many of you go to trade shows for your industry, but do you ever go to a trade show for your clientís industry? By attending a trade show that focuses on your clientís industry, you will get the most comprehensive look at their world. Not to mention your client will be impressed that you took the time to get to know them in this way!

    These events can provide you valuable insight into the industryís trends and challenges and allow you to focus your services on your customerís current and future needs. Being able to intelligently discuss your customerís industry and see the business world from their perspective sometimes can be more valuable to the client than your product or service alone.

  4. Parties & Seminars

    Some companies are great at throwing parties, while others prefer to demonstrate their expertise in a more professional setting such as a seminar. In either case, bringing clients together in one place allows you and your employees to spend more time working with and listening to them.

    You may even consider taking your party or seminar one step further by placing the guests into small groups, with a member of your staff assigned to every four or five of your clients. Have your staff member ask questions and just simply listen to the answers. Roundtable discussions like this can foster relationships and provide your staff with invaluable knowledge and insight into your customers. To make this work even better for your business, mix in potential clients and watch while your current clients sell your services to the prospects for you!

  5. Regular One-on-One Meetings

    Once you have that personal connection with your customers, never lose it. At a certain point, you as the business owner must start making it a point to regularly get out and meet with the customers one-on-one. This may mean weekly or bi-weekly meetings depending on the particular client and the products or services you provide. For long-time clients, meeting may mean simply ďchewing the fat.Ē Regardless, it maintains a connection that you, and they, need. For new clients, especially those that have been brought in by your account team and tended to by your project managers, it might be a chance for you to really get to know them and show them that the entire business cares about them.

    To get the most out of these meetings, donít come with a set agenda, and donít bring your account team. Just sit with the customer and get them to talk as much as possible. This is a time for you to listen and them to talk. Of course, you need to ask some vital questions such as how they are being treated and how your services are of value to them. But, whatís most important is that you build a genuine connection with them.

Without customers, there would be no business. Thus, developing a strong customer base and maintaining that base are essential for a small business to grow and prosper. Treat customers the way you would want to be treated and make sure they know they are important to you and your business. You will be surprised at just how much your extra effort pays off.