Focusing on clients and customers’ needs is vital for every business. Without a strong and supportive customer base, and the potential for growth through new customers, a business is doomed to failure.
In addition, referrals from existing clients and customers are a powerful business-building tool.
The way that businesses go about managing their client relationships can vary greatly. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – different businesses and their different clients will require different approaches.
At the same time, there are a few basics to client relationships that hold true, regardless of the size of the business, what it does, or how many clients or customers it has.
There are seven main tenets of good customer interactions that every business should consider if they want to maintain strong customer relationships. These are:
1. Be prepared
Customer relations is not an ad hoc activity, nor one that should be launched into without any preparation or planning.
Every business should have a well-developed and agreed approach to client relationship management. This includes clear rules on who is authorised to interact with clients and customers, and in what circumstances.
How to manage potential new clients also needs to be understood by all employees – for example, adding their name to particular databases to receive updates and information, and understanding when further face-to-face contact might be required.
In addition, the approach and style need to be established throughout the organisation, with the example set from the top.
Make sure everyone in the business who has contact with customers – from delivery staff to receptionists to the accounts department – understands how to interact with customers appropriately, and the steps to take if there are any problems.
2. Know the customer
It’s important to invest time and resources in ensuring you know your customer well.
One way to accomplish this is to ask questions about their preferences and requirements. Another good option is to consider targeted customer surveys to find out what they expect from you and also how they see their own needs developing over time.
This allows smart businesses to ensure they are positioned to meet customer demands, both now and in the future.
3. Keep in touch
Even if the relationship with customers doesn’t necessarily require personal contact, it is worthwhile to find a way to introduce it from time to time regardless. For instance, it could be an occasional follow-up phone call on a delivery to make sure the customer is happy.
Depending on the industry and the service on offer, a regular client newsletter could be another good strategy. This could outline developments in the service offering, new initiatives in the market served, and important dates and information that clients need to be aware of.
These types of activities introduce a personal touch, while also showing that the company values its customers and is actively seeking feedback on its service.
Furthermore, keeping in touch and talking face-to-face are vital to ensure any problems or misunderstandings are identified early and dealt with quickly.
4. Tailor the approach
Different customers appreciate different types of customer service. Find out what each customer expects, and tailor the approach to suit.
For example, some might appreciate a regular phone call to touch base, while others might find this intrusive or irritating. Some might welcome electronic contact by email, while others would find this impersonal. Others still might appreciate a combination of both approaches.
Don’t assume a blanket approach will work for all. If there is any doubt, ask customers in your regular dealings with them about their preferences.
5. Don’t just focus on new customers
A common mistake that businesses make is to focus primarily on gaining new customers, and forget to look after the ones they already have.
For instance, a common tactic is to offer discounts and deals to entice new customers, but then not give the same breaks to existing and loyal customers. This type of approach has limited success is gaining a loyal following of new customers, and often has the result of alienating existing ones.
A better approach than continually seeking new clients – that is also easier, and less expensive to implement – is to make an effort to keep existing clients, and hopefully grow them. Never forget that existing clients, who are happy with the service, are usually the best form of third-party endorsement and referral.
6. Social media is not a universal panacea
As technology gradually seeps into every aspects of life, there has been an increasing focus on social media in the past few years. Be wary, however, of assuming that social media is a panacea that can provide the answer to everyone’s needs when it comes to responding to and managing clients and customers.
While social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook can be a useful way of communicating with a client base, they are not the only way and, in many cases, not even the best way. Unfortunately, some businesses have learnt this the hard way.
It may seem old-fashioned to some, but there will still be many clients who prefer approaches such as hard copy newsletters, personalised emails, a phone call, or even a posted letter.
7. Don’t forget to say thank you
Everyone likes to feel that they are appreciated, and a simple thank you can go a long way.
For example, say thank you to a longstanding customer for their support, or thank you for passing your name on to a prospective new client. It shows appreciation and recognition as well as an established personal link.
By adhering to these seven tenants of client focus, business owners will find they have a better understanding of what their customers are looking for from the service provided, and the business will be in a better position to deliver on these expectations.
Tony Fittler is the chairman of the HLB Mann Judd Australasian Association.