In the business world, a company can successfully build its brand name in many ways—advertising, online marketing, social media, and a plethora of other building processes. With a little hard work and a solid business plan, business owners can get their budding companies off to the right start.
But perhaps the factor most important for the continued success of a company is its relationships with customers. Through positive word-of-mouth, those customers may be the champions needed to bring in new clients and provide an overall boon to the business.
Many business owners, however, are uncertain how to build strong customer relationships. The process is actually simple if the professional knows some proven techniques to employ.
Take these seven steps to effectively strengthen your customer relationships:
- Send greeting cards
- Keep lines of communication with customers open
- Know the stages of customer loyalty
- Provide customer support
- Ask for customers' opinions
- Don't overlook current customers in your marketing
- Adapt your business plan/model
1. Send greeting cards
Simple gestures can go a long way. For the holidays, send cards to your customers to express how grateful you are for them and their business. That one simple act will make your customers feel respected, valued, and, best of all, appreciated. Taking a few breaks from selling your company to do an unselfish act will make your customers feel good.
2. Keep an open line of communication
Research shows that when customers receive multiple methods of communication, they are more likely to remain loyal. And, in many instances, the most effective communications incorporate soft sells rather than hard-hitting sales language.
Newsletters, emails, tweets, and Facebook status updates (social media in general) are easy-to-use, appropriate ways for staying connected and incorporating soft sells. Product quality reports and annual company reports can also keep customers apprised.
3. Know the stages of customer loyalty
- First-time customer
- Repeat customer
When you know the stages of customer loyalty, it's easier to bring people from the suspect stage all the way to the advocate stage. To achieve that transition, marketers need to understand how to entice people to convert them into customers while nurturing the relationship.
Marketers and other business executives can work together to educate the client and build the relationship so that the client is willing to provide positive word of mouth about the company, becoming a recruiting advocate for the business.
4. Provide customer support
Marketing specialists are equipped to provide businesses the type of customer support that also builds customer relationships. Via blog posts, newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, and an all-encompassing social media marketplace blitz, marketers can provide information, insight, news, advice, and even technical assistance to customers. Those acts establish the company's interest in its customers, making them feel valued and needed by the company.
5. Ask for customers' opinions
What better way to make someone feel valued than by asking for his or her opinion and advice? Business owners not only gain much insight from trusted clients but also establish that they respect and value those clients. Businesses can gain insight via surveys, online discussion questions, personal phone calls, and in-person meetings.
By reaching out to customers, you give them a way to become involved and make their voices heard. They will feel that they are a part of the company, and you will get valuable feedback on what's working and what needs to be changed in your company's marketing strategies and business plan.
6. Include current customers in your marketing efforts
Welcome to the "80/20 rule": 80% of a company's business comes from 20% of its customers. By making a concerted marketing effort toward current customers, you will have a higher ROI on your marketing dollars and will strengthen your customer relationships. You can use a variety of marketing tactics on your clientele, including free consultations and personalized service.
7. Adapt your business plan
Marketing specialists should work with businesses to keep current. One of the best ways to achieve that is to adapt the business plan as the economic climate and industry trends change. Your business plan should be a living, breathing document, not a static manuscript that resides on a bookcase.
Schedule time to review and refresh your business plan annually. If you have noticed major changes on the horizon, you may need to schedule an additional planning session to address changes.
Be sure to include all of the major players at your company in the business plan review. Though the marketing department will play a major role in developing the business plan, other areas of expertise, such as Finance and Customer Service, have ideas that need to be heard. Incorporating information from all company departments will ensure that all of your customers' needs are taken into account.
The US Small Business Administration recommends taking the following questions into consideration when developing and updating your business plan:
- What does your business offer, and what need does it fulfill?
- Who are your potential customers, and why would they choose your company?
- What tactics will you use to reach your customers?
- What is your financial plan?
- What is the organizational structure of your business, and how is it managed?
To get the most out of your business plan review sessions, ask all involved parties to review the plan in advance. They should not only read the document but also note their changes. And, independent of the plan, ask them to complete a SWOT analysis of the company. That is, writing out what they perceive to be your company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in relation to your clients' needs.
Once the departments have completed their SWOT analysis, ask them to come up with concrete tactics their departments can deploy to take advantage of strengths and opportunities while smoothing over the weaknesses and threats.