Building and managing relationships with your customers
Customers like to feel appreciated and are more comfortable spending money when they feel they are getting good service in return. Over time, good service interactions will form strong relationships and foster loyal and regular customers.
• It costs many times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. However, not all customers are the same. Some require more attention than others, some need guidance from time to time, and some simply do not wish to be disturbed. By gaining insights on needs, preferences, and behaviour, customer journeys can be optimised at critical touch points.
• Consistently delivering positive experiences establishes good relationships. Strong relationships with your customers will help you build loyalty and will drive your business growth.
Building and maintaining strong relationships with customers can be demanding. However, as a smaller business, you have an advantage over larger players in the industry: you are able to connect with your customers in a more personalised way and engage with them more frequently.
• Always individualise your approach to your customers’ needs. Some customers may not know about your full range of products or services, or how to choose what is right for them, so you should offer help on an individual level.
• Be available to answer all the enquiries potential customers might have and provide proper responses in a timely manner.
• Always thank the customer for their business. Even if they do not purchase anything from your business, you should make sure that the customer leaves with a good impression. Customers that have positive experiences with your business are more likely to return and spend money.
• Keep your customers updated and aware of any sales, promotions, new collections or similar.
Operate the business with efficiency and agility to fulfil your promises to customers in a consistent and profitable way. With the customer at the core, some of the critical questions you should ask yourself are provided here.
With a strong focus on long and prosperous customer relationships, your business will grow and your customer base will expand. Maintaining individual relationships with customers will become more challenging as your business gets larger and you will need to consider different methods of handling them. One potential method is to use a customer relationship management (CRM) system.
Quality customer service not only adds value to your business but will result in you building and retaining a strong base of returning customers. Loyal customers will spend more money and recommend your business to their friends and family.
• Include employees and frontline staff in your planning processes so they are always on top of the latest initiatives and so are able to provide information to customers and respond flexibly as required. You cannot expect your employees to maintain a high standard of customer service if you do not include them when designing the business processes in which they are involved.
• Do not make the mistake of ignoring your customers’ complaints. Always thank them for their feedback and try to resolve their problems, or if it is not possible, explain why. Customers will appreciate the effort and feel valued by your business. Sometimes, customer complaints may include constructive criticism and ideas you could potentially use to improve your business. Always approach letters of complaint with an open mind. Find out more about managing customer complaints.
• You should be able to tell customers about your products or services and the benefits they offer. If you are unable to articulate the features of your offerings and how they will benefit customers, your customers will develop doubts about your business and be less likely to make purchases. Make sure both you and your employees know everything about the range you offer.
Bring your employees onboard regarding customer service by implementing policies and procedures which reflect your customer-focused business approach. The way you provide customer service can either build trust towards the business or foster negative feelings.
• Your policies and procedures could cover anything you deem appropriate, such as:
— greeting customers: how and when?
— words to avoid when talking about the products
— handling of customer complaints
— returns policies.
• Train your employees to give your customers the highest level of service.
• Prepare a set of customer service principles that act as a comprehensive checklist to ensure all the necessary bases are covered and appropriate procedures and responses are in place.
The customer service you provide and the policies you set will not suit every customer. This makes it challenging to measure the success of your customer service. One of the key indicators you can use to test whether your customer service is working is customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction is a very subjective measure, but you can test it in following ways:
• Ask your customers about their experiences with your business.
• Send out surveys or questionnaires online or place them instore. You can encourage customers to fill them in by offering incentives such as discounts on their next purchases.
• Hire mystery shoppers. There are dedicated businesses and agencies which will hire independent mystery shoppers (undercover evaluators acting as customers) to experience and test your services or products and provide objective feedback on the experience.
• Observe interactions between employees and customers. Employees may change their behaviour if they know you are watching them so try observing from a distance or unannounced.
• Follow online reviews customers leave about your business. There are many web sites where consumers share their experiences about different businesses, such as Facebook or TripAdvisor, or dedicated platforms on which they provide instant ratings, such as Uber or Deliveroo.
• Read the complaints you receive. They may hold constructive criticism you can use to improve your customer service.
Managing customer complaints
As each customer is unique, you should expect your business to receive its fair share of customer complaints. Include a strategy for managing customer complaints in your customer service policies and consider any protections that consumers have by law such as return of goods or refund policies.
• Customer complaints should not automatically be perceived in a negative way, as they provide valuable insights into the inefficiencies of your operations and what your customers dislike. This helps you identify areas where you could improve.
Make sure you handle every customer complaint and properly respond to the complaining customer. This will show your customers that you value their opinions and care about making their buying experiences positive ones.
• How a complaint will influence your business depends on you. You can either use the complaint to improve an aspect of your business or you can ignore it and possibly endanger your relationship with the customer. Some customers may decide to take their business somewhere else if their complaint is not addressed in a timely and friendly manner.
• Complaints are increasingly being made public on social media platforms and these should be dealt with promptly and in a transparent way. For dealing with online customer reviews, see here.
Even though you cannot completely avoid complaints, you can try to minimise them by setting, memorising and adhering to policies related to guarantees, warranties, refunds, business practices and so on.
• The products or services you sell may come with consumer guarantees, but you should also look into offering additional warranties, as some customers may be willing to pay extra for extended warranties, policies protecting against loss or damage, and similar.
• You should have a clear returns and refunds policy. Make sure your employees fully understand the terms of your policy and that they are available to customers. The most common and practical way is to print the basic information on your receipts and display the full policy instore. Ensure that any policy you have meets the relevant legal requirements.