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Library: How do you tell your customers you love them?


by Ingrid Cliff

Customers are the lifeblood of every small business. To grow a business you need to either increase the numbers of customers coming through your doors, or retain the ones you do have and encourage them to purchase more with you.

Increasing the numbers of customers requires significant time, money and effort. It has been a truism for years that it is more cost effective to retain the customers you do have rather than constantly seek new ones.

One of the best ways to retain your customers is to build solid relationships with them, created on a foundation of trust and respect.

Building relationships with customers comes from building trust and doing what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it. It also comes from producing quality service and respecting your client's needs, wishes and responsibilities.

Yet, many businesses rather than looking to develop meaningful ongoing relationships with their customers, insist on treating them like a one night stand. When this happens, clients get burnt and leave the relationship to look for people who genuinely do care about them and their needs.

Building an ongoing relationship with clients borrows a lot from the general psychology of building relationships with friends and loved ones. What works in forming strong personal relationships can be generally transferred in one form or another to your business relationships.

Many businesses have good intentions about building relationships with their businesses, but fall down in the practicality of it all. So here are a few of my top tips in how to build relationships with your clients.

Decide on what you want. Unless you clearly make a decision that you do want to build an ongoing relationship with your customers, it won't happen. Start by thinking through what an ongoing relationship would feel like and look like from your side and their side. Be clear about what you want to achieve and what the person will get in terms of benefits from having a long term relationship with you.

Be aware of your personal style. Everybody has a natural personal style of showing care and affection towards people.

One of the best books written about this in terms of personal relationships was the "Five Love Languages" by Dr Gary Chapman. In this book the authors suggest that just like people have preferences for being right or left-handed, people communicate care and affection in their preferred way (generally the same way they prefer to receive care and affection).

* In a nutshell if your preference is gifts, you don't feel loved or appreciated unless you are given gifts.

* If your preference is time, you don't feel loved or appreciated unless the person spends quality time with you.

* If your preference is touch, you don't feel loved or appreciated unless the person gives you hugs or other physical contact.

* If your preference is sound, you don't feel loved or appreciated unless the person tells you that you are loved and appreciated.

* If your preference is acts of service, unless the person does little things such as make you lunch or a coffee then you don't feel loved and appreciated.

What this means is if your personal preference is sound, you will tend to tell people how much care and value them. But if the person's preference is time, they will not feel your care and appreciation. You will have been communicating in different languages. What you need to do is work out their preference and communicate in that language.

That's a heck of a lot easier to work out in a personal relationship - but in a business setting things can get a whole lot more tricky. That's why with your clients you need to adopt a range of different strategies across the full spectrum of preferences.

Client Nurturing Strategies

If you are looking at how to apply the 5 love languages in a business setting, here are some ideas:

Time: Never rush a client - be fully present with them; invite them to attend events and conferences with you; allow personal access with you rather than being hidden behind a range of support staff. Give your clients "face time" with you. Engage in quality conversations with your clients.

Touch: In a business setting warm handshakes are the only safe option here. If you know the client well, then a hug may be appropriate. Other forms of touch may be misinterpreted. However, as many people's personal preference is touch, then you need to take advantage of every culturally acceptable means to allow this to happen.

Sound: Call your clients out of the blue to see how they are going and to check their satisfaction with your service; call to apologise after a mistake or complaint (Richard Branson regularly calls Virgin passengers to apologise or touch base); use sound on your websites and blogs and talk about some of your clients. Allow clients to video or record testimonials for you.

Gifts: Gifts don't have to be expensive - they just need to be well considered and relevant (remember it is the thought that counts). These can be as simple as cards, flowers, corporate promotional items or larger corporate gift items.

Acts of service: You can give referrals to your customers, blog about them and their business, Twitter about them, do something nice for them "just because", send them copies of articles you think they may be interested in reading because you know that is their area of interest.

Systematise it. Good intentions don't build client relationships. In business you generally need systems to help you to remember and actually undertake client relationship building. These systems can be as simple as:

* New client welcome packs - create a letter or pack that welcomes new clients to your company and post it in the first week they are with you.

* Project updates - keep clients updated on progress with their projects at fixed intervals.

* Thank you cards and letters - when a project has completed, or when a client had sent a referral, say thank you with a card and/or gift.

* Ask for feedback - at the completion of each project ensure you request feedback and then thank the person when they respond.

* Significant events - birthdays, anniversaries and other significant events are all great to recognise.

* Say sorry - if you have made a mistake, then apologise for it. Show your human side and own up to any problems or mistakes that have been made.

* Regular ongoing communication - keep the relationship alive through regular communication. In business this can be as simple as newsletters, blog posts and Twitter updates.

Deal with your own stuff. Like personal relationships, building client relationships will also bring up all of your personal fears and insecurities about relationships and your ability to commit. If you have problems retaining customers for the long term, you may need to look at your own personal "stuff".

Do one thing at a time. It is easy to leap in with great intentions and try and do everything all at once. The best thing you can do is to add one thing in at a time until it becomes routine before adding in another process or system. Get that one thing regularly and reliably happening before adding in complexity with any other process or system.

If you are genuine about building a strong relationship with your customers, then your business will thrive and grow no matter the economic situation.

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Ingrid Cliff is a Brisbane freelance writer and the Chief Word Wizard of Heart Harmony - her writing services studio that helps put your business into words. Visit her website for a free copy of "Seven Secrets of Compelling Copy and Powerful Words".



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