Customer Service, Client Building & Follow-Up
The Issue: Small-business owners–and anyone else who enjoys a good sandwich–need a place like “Shelly Deli.” This sandwich shop in a convenience store by the bay in Safety Harbor, Florida makes the best “Cubans” and hoagies in town. Any town!
With friends coming for lunch Thursday, we’d phoned-in for two-dozen sandwiches that morning. When I picked up our order, the deli owner grinned and asked when our compliments would be rolling in? I returned the grin, but suggested that our repeat business could be viewed as a pretty decent compliment!
I think he got the point.
What I Think
Part of building a business—sandwich shops included–is turning customers (people who buy from you once) into clients (people who will buy from you over and over). Thus, a “client relationship” is one in which buyers and sellers agree the first transaction is not a one-time event. Along with repeat business, client relationships typically spin off referrals, which increase profitability by cutting front-end marketing costs.
But “client” status is not a label that can be stuck to the buyer by the seller, and it must be cultivated and nurtured to stay healthy. To borrow a line from former New York mayor, Ed Koch, simply asking clients, “How am I doing?” is a great way to find out.
Client service should be performed for profit, and with specific objectives. The mechanics of client building are easy (we’ll thumb-check a few techniques), but understanding the dynamics of client relationships and how to manage them is more difficult.
You and your clients have different, yet complementary, motivations driving the commitments you make to each other. On the one hand, you’ve made a sale, but expect to make repeat sales and may want the client to help you develop additional business through referrals. The client, on the other hand, has purchased a product or service that (you say) will meet one or more objectives. According to management consultant, Theodore Levitt, clients may begin to see the sale as a “favor” bestowed by them, not as something earned by you. In the Harvard Business Review, Levitt wrote, “In your excitement and eagerness for additional successes, it is easy to misread these subtle changes in attitude and damage the relationship before it gets off the ground.”
Your behavior and promises during and after the sale help shape the client’s perceptions. If a client feels that you’re taking the purchase for granted, or want to rush off to the next victim, the effect is predictable. Over the long-term, you’ll need to meet your client’s expectations by anticipating needs and problems (not just reacting to them) and establishing routines that assure the right kinds and frequency of client contacts.
Your client database and automated communications system can put most client-building activities on autopilot, but you’re still in charge and must manage the process. So pay attention to the details…like these:
- “Keeping-in-touch” e-mails, phone calls, and other informal contacts, can, and should, be ongoing.
- Set specific dates for formal meetings. Identify clients’ next priority issues; ask when they can be addressed.
- Ask relevant questions; have specific ideas. Introducing ideas from out of left field each time soon teaches clients to see contacts with you as thinly disguised sales calls.
- Be prepared. Read online and hardcopy newspapers, newsletters and other periodicals, sending relevant clippings to keep clients up on issues affecting them: Sid: Saw this item in today’s paper. Thought you’d find this interesting. All the best, Bill
- Respond quickly to problems, questions, and service requests. Treat phoned in, or e-mailed, service requests from clients as priorities, and follow up within 24 hours.
- Schedule times for callbacks and return e-mail. Many business owners reserve the last hour of the business day for those.
- Be aware of clients’ changing personal and family needs. If you don’t bring something up, you may not be asked. Never wait for people to ask the right questions at the right times.
- Call, write, or e-mail to congratulate clients on important business or family occasions.
With apologies to the wisdom of Ed Koch, all this reminds me of probably THE best-ever illustration of customer service, client building and follow-up:
A cartoon of a chicken asking: “How’s the egg!”
Bill Willard is a commercial freelance writer in Clearwater FL. A high-impact writer and editor for over 30 years, in addition to his byline pieces, Bill’s beat includes ghostwriting and editing for businesses of all types and sizes, professional practitioners and individuals.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for his popular e-blog, “Take Back America.”
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