“The course of true love, never did run smooth” wise words which have just as much resonance now, as they did in Shakespeare’s day.
As Valentine’s day fast approaches, we tend to shift the focus onto our personal relationships. But these words are equally applicable to our professional worlds too. Within a thriving SME, as in any relationship, it’s key to invest time in nurturing and strengthening client relationships, as well as being prepared to learn from mistakes, and adapt our behaviour accordingly.
Here are 6 top tips on how to keep the love alive all year round:
- Understand client expectations –Obviously, you need be very competent at your core business offering – that’s a given, but to stand out from the crowd, it’s really important to understand what it is that your client is looking for from the relationship and why it’s important to them. What it is about your business that will keep your client faithful? It might be great customer service, or the convenience of working with you (proximity, opening hours, a shared history etc.)? Or is it that you offer great value for money, or maybe it’s because although you’re not the cheapest, they believe your product to be better than your competitor’s? Whatever it is that makes them favour you in a competitive market place; make sure you know exactly what it is.
- Listen carefully – very few people fall in love with a person who asks them nothing about themselves just as one sided relationships are inevitably doomed to failure. Client relationships are no different. It’s really important to ask your clients’ about themselves, and to listen very carefully to their responses. Many of us know this as ‘market research’ but for a small business this can be as simple as making a call to ask clients to rate you against criteria on a feedback from. Make it quick and easy for them to do this. This kind of customer research is always time well spent as it will help you build a fuller picture of your client, can dispel any personal mythologies that you have about your relationship with them and most importantly, will guide as to how best you can improve the strength of your offering to better meet their needs in the future.
- The power of conversation – In a world saturated with email, text and social media, a one to one conversation can really break down barriers. Avoid using jargon, and relate to your customers’ needs using words they can understand.
- Be there when they need you – respond quickly and thoroughly to your customers’ questions and queries. Response time is a real bug-bear for consumers and clients alike, and even if you can’t give the full answer straight away, make sure you respond as quickly as possible. This builds trust and peace of mind that you have their interests at the forefront of your mind, and that they are being properly looked after. Aim, if possible, to be able to anticipate any questions they may have and answer them before they have even asked them. For example, by keeping a record of your customers’ questions and your responses, you could convert these into helpful information such as FAQs on your website, or messaging for marketing materials such as simple user guides which could also be used to attract future customers. Adding value in this way could really set you apart from your competitors.
- Actions speak louder than words – Make sure you do as much as you can to make your client feel special and that your actions reflect your words. However, be realistic in the lengths you’ll go to keep them happy. Assuming you do a great job that meets or exceeds their expectations you don’t need to constantly over-deliver or set unhealthy precedents that you’ll struggle to keep up with.
- Give and Take –Unfortunately, some customers will expect the earth, and give you little in return. Remember this is a two-way relationship, and involves a degree of give and take. Beware those that always try and squeeze you down on price or set unrealistic time scales, or drag their feet when it comes to paying you. Don’t be frightened to stand up for yourself and create clear boundaries, you’ll be respected for it.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all!