Looking back over 2017, I know I’ve made mistakes as a small business owner – easy to do when we are in a rush to move fast. The good news is, I’m not the only one, and we’ve all got the new year ahead to make more progress. A highlight of this year for me was playing scrabble with the visitors at South West Expo last month – watching business owners come up with a word to describe their tone of voice, their values or their brand. Some really took time to decide on their words. It made me notice that we sometimes don’t focus enough time on important things, like keeping our existing customers happy. To sum up a few ideas, here are 6 easy steps to help you build loyal, mutually profitable relationships with your customers from the start:
1. Your customers help shape and fund the business you have; treat them like royalty
Yes, it’s important to win new business. Yet retaining your loyal customers by offering products and services which they need and buy again from you saves time. Businesses often give new clients discounts, offers and bonuses for buying our service. (It even annoys us when the large brands do it – like a discount offer to switch to Sky!) So surely our existing customers deserve a similar gift in return for their loyalty? For existing clients this doesn’t have to be a financial discount. Adding more value into the service can encourage repeat purchases and strengthen your relationship because you are helping them more.
2. Good first impressions help relationships last longer; make it easy for new customers to buy
Confusion causes misunderstandings and hesitation – you absolutely don’t want customers to regret buying from you. When you start working with a new customer, they need to understand how your service works and what value it will deliver. Even as a small business it’s important to make the on-boarding process welcoming, professional and hassle-free. The way to achieve this? Have clear communications for each step in your process, which you can send via a series of welcome emails. Automation may sound costly and complex, but is designed to make life easier. It ensures that no matter how busy you are, your customers feel like you are taking care of them. If you’re repeating the same step for every customer, get an expert in to help map out the process and support it with an email series for staying in touch with existing customers. And there are lots of inexpensive cloud apps to help small businesses, either via your CRM or an email system like MailChimp or Campaign Monitor. It’s one of the points of improvement which I’ve started for my business – to keep my customers informed when I’ve spoken to their clients while developing their case studies.
3. Clear pricing builds trust; additional charges and hidden fees destroy it
Businesses can and do lose customers because they’ve added additional charges in and the customer pays, but doesn’t buy from them again. Both your client and their finance directors will be extremely grateful for complete transparency – they want to know what value they’re getting in return. (see Measures) There are several models for building pricing which small businesses can use – most of us will be looking at market rate and costs plus a mark-up pricing. As business owners, we have the freedom of pricing services at a level which fits the market and reflects our model. This means that on occasion we go through awkward periods of change to adjust our prices. One thing to bear in mind is that new customers don’t need to know that; your key responsibility is to clarify how much you are charging before you start any work or meetings with them. And keep your loyal customers informed when changes affect them. Having a standard tariff or example pricing on your website resolves the first hurdle of your customer not knowing what to expect.
4. Show customers the value – measure it and deliver on the promise
Before you start work with any new client, ensure they understand what your services will achieve for them and measure where you are starting from. That way, you can assess as you go along and be clear of the difference you’ve made at the end. Services like marketing consultancy and human resources expertise can be tricky to measure – especially if the business you’re working with doesn’t track key performance indicators closely. It’s your job to help here too, by starting with the end in mind. For me, my clients are always interested in using content marketing to drive sales – through enquiries, awareness, and engagement. It’s been a big shift this year with the help of my business coach to look at the measures for how case studies make a difference.
5. Loyal customers generate word of mouth referrals; keep in touch
No matter how long you’ve been working with them, or what stage your customer is at, keep in touch. It seems obvious, but in the hubbub of business activities, it can be easily missed. In my corporate life, we spent a lot of time designing a contact strategy to form part of the customer service proposition – with triggers for three-month and six-month calls. Setting a strategy is helpful for small businesses too – to remind you to contact them after sending the invoice and check results and feedback. Using your Customer Relationship Management system helps if you have several staff in contact with the same customer, because they can all see the most recent notes. Managing relationships centrally will help avoid mistakes and keep you in the customer’s mind – so they may recommend you to others.
6. Staying in touch enables you to listen out for areas to improve; seek feedback
Asking your loyal customers for feedback may take extra time or seem daunting, but it’s vital for maintaining great relationships as well as improving your service. The simplest measure is your NPS (net promotor score) which is one question to ask how likely they are to recommend you – and is a recognised measure of customer experience. Or you can use a simple survey using a free tool like Survey Monkey or GoogleDocs to capture more information. The purpose is to take time out to review what you offer; yet it’s another positive way to stay in touch with your customer in between projects.
There are so many aspects to creating positive customer relationships, I would love to hear what you would add to the list? Contact me here. Once you get in the habit of asking for direct feedback, it’s easier to ask your customers whether you can use their story in your marketing. A case study is a win-win if your clients are selling to other businesses because you can help promote them too.
If you’re intrigued as to how case studies can help you with your business marketing, I’ll be delivering a workshop at the Gloucester No1 Business Centre at 10am on 23 February. Case Studies: The Best Kept Marketing Secret – for more information and to book, visit here