Don’t let the heat of new attraction dim; nurture the relationship with your clients.
After all, February contains Valentine’s Day, American Heart Month, even Love Your Pet Day. But for small-business owners and entrepreneurs, I’m declaring February as Love Your Customers Month.
Getting and keeping customers is like any relationship. It takes courtship, commitment, and ongoing communication to keep the spark alive.
Just like any relationship, your relationship with your customers has stages.
Stage 1. “Find somebody to love.” Help prospective customers find you.
1. Show up. Make sure your business shows up when people look for the products and services you sell. List your business free on search engines like Google Places, Bing, Yahoo Local and review sites like Yelp.
2. Look good. Make sure your website is “mobile responsive” and looks good on smartphones and tablets. More than 9 in 10 Americans have cellphones, and a full third of those access the Web primarily from their phones.
3. Be social. Can you be found on Facebook? Pinterest? Twitter? Choose social-media sites that are most appropriate for your type of business.
4. Be interesting. Share your expertise. Give a presentation to community groups based on your know-how, create a how-to YouTube video, write a blog.
5. Keep at it. Market, market, market. Customers don’t just show up; you have to continually court them.
Stage 2. “You had me at hello.” Make a great first impression.
1. Get personal. For customers to choose you over bigger, often cheaper, competitors, they need to sense a personal connection with you. Help them get to know you — and try to get to know them.
2. Don’t make them wait. Greet customers quickly — whether at your place of business, on the phone, or via e-mail and through social media.
3. Mind your manners. Be polite. Smile. Learn customers’ names. Say thank you — a lot. Remember, your customers want to feel they are being treated like people, not dollar signs.
4. Know what you’re talking about. Understand your products and policies and be able to answer customers’ questions quickly and thoroughly.
5. Set a positive tone. Company culture comes from the top down. Treat employees with respect and fairness, and they’re more likely to treat customers well.
6. Speak their language. If your business is in a bilingual neighborhood, hire bilingual staff to serve customers. Consider translating your website. You’ll expand your customer base, increase sales, and grow your bottom line.
Stage 3. Get them to say “I do.” Turn prospects into customers.
1. Be honest. Under promise and over deliver. Deliver the product or service as offered — or better.
2. Price fairly. When you offer excellent quality at a competitive price, customers fall in love. You don’t have to be the cheapest option, but you have to be a realistic choice.
3. Provide something customers will be glad they bought. Always deliver quality, and you’ll increase customer satisfaction and garner rave reviews.
4. Let them in. Give customers a behind-the-scenes tour of your company, warehouse, plant, farm, or restaurant. This can be virtual on your website.
Stage 4. “Our love is here to stay.” Nurture the relationship.
1. Add a special touch. If you ship goods, surprise and delight with a hand-written thank-you note or a small token tucked away that complements your products.
2. Go the extra mile. Exceed expectations; give a little extra. Pleasantly surprised customers are loyal customers.
3. Use a good customer relationship management system. You have to be able to stay in touch. And you need a reliable, ideally cloud-based, software system to keep track of all your interactions.
4. Show them a good time. Entertain your best customers or clients. Host holiday events and open houses.
5. Be responsive. Train employees on how to solve problems. Say you’re sorry if and when things go wrong.
6. Be loyal. Create loyalty and rewards programs. Give customers incentives to keep coming back.
Of course, you should love your customers every month, not just in February.
But take this month to examine your customer relation and retention program, so your customers will love doing business with you all year long.
Rhonda Abrams is president of The Planning Shop and publisher of books for entrepreneurs. Her most recent book is Entrepreneurship: A Real-World Approach. Register for Rhonda’s free newsletter at PlanningShop.com. Twitter: @RhondaAbrams. Facebook: facebook.com/RhondaAbramsSmallBusiness.Copyright Rhonda Abrams 2014.