Anytime we’re dealing with people, life is going to be messy. This truth is clear to anyone who has worked in customer service. People can be downright nasty sometimes.
But most of us have also experienced terrible customer service reps who have made us never want to return to a particular business again. Fiascos such as the one United Airlines dealt with a few months ago are still fresh on the public mind.
Any company that hopes to succeed must learn how to truly value its customers. Doing so includes turning potentially explosive situations into victories.
But it also means that companies already doing a pretty good job of building customer relationships can get better. While succeeding in some areas, they might be blind to ways they are falling short.
Tips on How to Improve Customer Relationships
Here are few tips for small businesses that want to improve how they are serving their clients.
Don’t Let Touchpoints Distract You from the Big Picture
Are you aware of your average client’s journey with your brand beyond the touchpoints? Your customers interact with your product when you are not around.
They could be frustrated during certain parts of their journey without you being aware of it. This frustration might be causing customer churn without you knowing why or even that it’s happening.
Harvard Business Review notes that “A company that manages complete journeys would not only do its best with the individual transaction but also seek to understand the broader reasons for the call, address the root causes, and create feedback loops to continuously improve interactions upstream and downstream from the call.”
It is essential that companies apply “tailored metrics” for each part of the overall customer journey. Be sure to gather information about both employees and customers to determine where customers are most dissatisfied.
One example of this type of problem is a company making a successful sale of a TV installation, but then the customer experiencing difficulty with the installation.
Even though the client can call to resolve the issue, the company could have explained the installation process better in advance. The salesperson could have eliminated the reason for the call, as well as the time and energy the customer spent resolving the problem.
An extremely important point to note here is that the source of customer service issues is internal. Because the problems arise from employees (even if unintentionally), employees must play a key role in coming up with the solutions. If they do not, the solutions will not last.
Reduce Unnecessary Pain Points
Another example of what it could look like to take steps to make your clients’ lives easier is implementing a tool such as a client portal.
An all-too-common frustration in the business world is following up on payments owed. Beyond that, there is the challenge of keeping documents organized and keeping sensitive information, such as W-2s and NDAs, secure.
It’s probable both you and your customers spend quite a bit of time on the phone or email trying to keep track of this type of data. Dealing with information in this way leaves room for miscommunication. Issues with payment and invoices are often a major point of dissatisfaction.
Using a client portal puts all of your pertinent documents in one place. This makes it easy for your clients to access them on their own time. They won’t have to wait to get hold of you if they have questions. If either of you needs to look up whether or not an invoice has been paid, it will be extremely easy to do so, and you can avoid confusion and embarrassment.
Client portals are also useful because you can see what actions your clients take on the portal. Software such as this can go a long toward eliminating customer frustrations that simply do not need to exist.
Being personal is somewhat easier for small businesses, but is nevertheless an important priority for any company, whatever its size. After all, what would be the point of an article on bettering customer relationships that neglected to mention the qualities that are key to relationships?
Any healthy relationship has certain characteristics, such as clear communication. The people in the relationship are not so focused on making money or getting ahead that they neglect each other. Instead, they support each other in their goals and do what they can to improve each other’s lives.
While the parallels between personal relationships and customer-business relationships do break down at some point, there are basic principles that apply to each situation:
- Show your clients that you value them
- Listen to their praise or complaints and respond accordingly
- Offer rewards or discounts
Make sure you are not only meeting your customers’ needs but are also going above and beyond their expectations.
You can also offer free education on some topic pertaining to your business. You might do so through your blog, through white papers, or through webinars.
Take the Long View
You should implement all of the above strategies with a view to keeping your customers around for life. It is much more profitable to retain existing customers than to acquire new ones. Retention will more quickly grow your customer base. With this in mind, you need to have someone on staff who is accountable for keeping track of customer retention.
If you don’t measure how and when people are leaving you, how will you know if your tactics for keeping them are working? If you’re not getting feedback from your customers, how will you know if they are unhappy with something you’re doing?
Be aware that it might initially be worth spending more on marketing to first-time buyers than they are going to spend on their first purchases. This might feel like a loss at the time, but if there is a high likelihood that they will stay with you for life, this strategy is worthwhile.
Focus on Lifetime Value
The overall lifetime value of your customers is more important than each individual sale. Calculate how much money they spend over time minus how much you spend on marketing to and acquiring them. When deciding how to market to your audience, choose one or two scalable marketing channels. Focus your energy exclusively on those channels before expanding to others.
Instead of just cross-selling a related item, try selling people more of the same item by using incentives. Creating an entirely new sale, even if the product is related, is more difficult that selling more of the same item.
You should also consider putting a phone number on your website. Some potential buyers are interested in your product but are unwilling to buy from or contact you online. Providing this opportunity for people to call you allows you to acquire customers you might have lost otherwise and whom you might find to be a significant part of your audience.
Don’t Assume You Have No Room to Grow
While building relationships in any arena of life is hard, the benefits of doing so in business are undeniably worthwhile, and not just for the purposes of making money. There is inherent value in helping someone else.
Even if you are already taking steps to build strong customer relationships, consider ways you could bring even more value to your clients and get them to stick around long-term.
Pub Photo via Shutterstock
More in: Customer Satisfaction