In many ways, the relationship between a doctor and patient is the same as that of a small business and a customer. A good bedside manner can comfort and reassure a client, while a poor one can leave a customer feeling dissatisfied, ignored and most likely walking out the door.
“The success of any business depends on creating and maintaining meaningful customer relationships,” says Mike Muhney, founder and CEO of VIPorbit Software and co-creator of ACT! software. “When you connect with customers on a personal level and give them the best experience possible, that goes a long way toward securing future business.”
The consequences of a bad bedside manner, on the other hand, can be costly for the small-business owner, notes Steve Blue, president and CEO of Miller Ingenuity, which designs and produces railroad parts, and author of Ten Million Dollar Employee: When Your Most Toxic Liability Meets Your Most Important Customer.
“Toxic employees, who have the worst bedside manners, can drive customers away in droves. The long-term consequence of having even one toxic employee with a poor bedside manner can be disastrous. If he or she drives away five customers a day and the average spend is $100 per customer—that amounts to a whopping $183,000 per year!” Blue says.
To ensure that you keep business and grow your company, it’s critical that customers feel special, valued and understood. Try adopting these five business practices that create successful customer relationships.
1. Prioritize Face Time
While the many ways we communicate today work well, including phone, text messages, emails, social networking platforms and videoconferencing, nothing creates a better rapport with your customers than meeting face-to-face.
“Spending time together in person allows both parties to make the most intense emotional connection with fewer distractions and misunderstandings,” Muhney says. “The smile on your face, the warm handshake and meeting each other’s eyes creates an emotional connection on a personal level that you can’t achieve virtually.”
2. Give Your Undivided Attention
Attentive time is in limited supply today. “We often find ourselves splitting time between the people around us and the constant stream of electronic communication from the various devices we can’t live without,” Muhney says. “As we split time and attention in more ways than ever before, the amount available per person gets smaller and smaller.”
Reduce the likelihood that your customers feel you’re not really “present” by putting away your cellphone and giving them your undivided attention. Doing this demonstrates professionalism and shows that you value their time.
3. Be A Hero Everyday
“At my company, our mantra is to simply and humbly be everyday heroes to our customers,” Blue says. He sends employees out to meet clients, so they can see the challenges they face and are then able to better serve them. “We call this the ‘wrench to wrench’ program,” he says. “We hook up our factory employees with the customers who apply our product, and we work hard to develop a personal connection between them.”
When employees live the corporate culture and develop a good bedside manner, you should encourage such behavior by recognizing, rewarding and compensating them.
4. Keep Confidences
As we’ve become accustomed to communicating and sharing personal information through social media, privacy and trust have lost some meaning. “Real trust is not only earned over time, but it’s earned by each and every opportunity to keep a confidence,” Muhney says. “Though it might not be spelled out as clearly as the legal obligations of doctor-patient confidentiality, any professional relationship should be built on a foundation of trust. The customer must trust that you’ll do what you say you’ll do and that you won’t share information you shouldn’t share.”
5. Be Considerate
With the shift from one-to-one communication to one-to-many stream of social communication, it’s no surprise that society as a whole has shifted to a “me-centric” way of thinking that fails to consider others, Muhney says.
“Consideration is one gift that customers don’t necessarily know how to describe, but they recognize it when they receive it, and, most importantly, they know when they don’t,” he says.
Armed with these keys to creating a positive bedside manner, you can develop loyal customers who keep coming back for more.
A freelancer since 1985, Julie Bawden-Davis has written for many publications, including Entrepreneur, Better Homes & Gardens and Family Circle.
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