As a small business owner, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of your business. And while the things that go on behind the scenes certainly matter, you can’t focus on them at the expense of your relationships with customers.
Small Businesses Are Built on Relationships
When people think about small businesses, a certain image is conjured up in their minds. They picture a quaint storefront on a main street in a small town. They see friendly storeowners who know customers by their first names and interact with them as they walk in. They picture handshakes, smiles, and promises that are always honored.
See, small businesses are all about interpersonal relations. They thrive on connections and conversations. But somewhere along the way, companies moved away from the heart of small business. With so many different forces and distractions competing for attention, small businesses have started spending less time focusing on relationships and more time dealing with “important” administrative tasks and responsibilities.
The problem with this shift in small business management is that nothing is more important than customer relationships. While payroll, accounting, digital marketing, website analytics, paid media, hiring, and training matter, they can’t take away from the focus on customer relationships. As soon as relationships erode, the business follows closely behind.
Do yourself a favor and conduct a quick analysis on your small business. Are you so wrapped up in the day-to-day tasks and managerial responsibilities that you’re no longer fostering healthy relationships with new and existing customers?
If this is the case, you aren’t alone. It’s an epidemic in the business world and you’ll find thousands of other business owners in the same boat. However, at some point, you have to make the conscious decision to get out of the boat and return to what made you successful: relationships.
4 Ways to Strengthen Customer Relationships
You can’t snap your fingers and wish your way into stronger customer relationships. What you need is a customer relations strategy that targets particular weaknesses in your business and builds on the strengths that you already have. And while every business will have different needs and action steps, the following tips should provide you with a solid footing on which you can build for the future.
1. Use CRM Software
Customer relationship management (CRM) is a term used to describe the handy tools small businesses utilize  to streamline the management and nurturing of customer relationships.
“It’s usually a cloud-based system that stores information about your clients, potential clients and contacts in one central safe place that everyone in your team can access and update wherever they are,” small business expert Nadia Finer says . “A CRM can also help you grow your business and keep customers happy by keeping track of interactions and tasks, and giving you a clear view of your sales pipeline.”
What Finer is really getting at is this: CRM makes it easier to manage customer relationships  when you don’t have the time to manually handle every task.
As a general principle, most businesses extract 70-80 percent of their profits from 20-30 percent of their customers. One way to maximize the value of your CRM system is to use the built-in analytics tools to keep track of who your most valuable customers are.
As marketing manager Christopher Meloni explains it, “This sort of tracking, with the help of your CRM software, will in-turn enable you to allocate your resources in such a manner that those 20-30% of your customers get the best customer service, always. This is called target-based allocation, and it can prove wonders for you and your business organization.”
CRM can also be used to help you handle customer complaints in a swift manner. By delivering fast responses, you can deal with problems as they arise (instead of letting them fester). Other valuable uses – depending on the CRM system you use – include the ability to analyze customer buying patterns, send out automatic updates, and keep track of who customers are and how they’re likely to respond in certain situations.
2. Invest in Business Intelligence
Are you currently invested in business intelligence ? This is the fastest developing trend in small business and you have to make it a priority if you stand any chance of acquiring and maintaining a base of loyal customers that continue to come back time after time.
“Business intelligence for small business helps to gather data about your customers’ behavior and structure it in a clear form so that it can be analyzed fast and easy,” explains Heiko Troster  of datapine. “With insights about your customers’ behavior you can make effective business decisions.”
Data is the ammunition of your communicative efforts. When you understand who your customers are and what they want, you can effectively forecast needs and satisfy their desires. You still have to strategically act on the information you have, but at least business intelligence tools can provide you with valuable data that you’d otherwise miss out on.
3. Gather More Information on Customers
Customers want to be known as more than an invoice number or receipt . They want to be seen as individuals with personal lives, needs, and sensitivities. When you have advanced CRM and business intelligence tools in place, you can tactfully gather more information on your customers and gain a fuller picture of who they are and what their needs are. This will benefit you in the long run by allowing you to interact with customers on an individual basis.
4. Reshape Your Social Media Strategy
What does your current social media strategy  look like? If you haven’t made a conscious effort over the years to make your social media presence about your followers, then your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles are probably self-serving. All of the content you post is about your brand and you aren’t adding any real value to your customers. Sound familiar?
If the goal is to strengthen customer relationships, you’ll need to reshape your social media strategy and make it less about you and more about them. Make it an avenue for two-way conversations to take place.
“Unlike a one-way conversation where a company typically dominates the narrative and doesn’t really acknowledge or interact with visitors/followers , a two-way conversation directly connects brands and consumers,” says Carolyn Edgecomb  of IMPACT. “A two-conversation is a dialogue, where brands speak and listen to their audience, responding directly to their wants and needs.”
The classic rule of thumb is that 80 percent of your social media posts should add value to your brand without directly promoting your products and services. Try your best to meet this goal.
Make More Time for Customers
Forging strong relationships with customers takes effort. But thanks to the technologies you now have available to you – such as CRM systems, business intelligence tools, and social media – it doesn’t have to require a ton of time.
Now’s the time to create a game plan for success. How are you going to handle the many needs of your company without compromising on the customer relationship front? It’ll take some trial and error, but you can find a solution.
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