After 11 years building my e-mail marketing company, VerticalResponse, from the ground up, I could probably fill an entire book with my successes and failures. But of all the lessons learned, there are five core principles related to customer interaction that I want to share. While some may seem obvious, you’d be surprised how easily they can fall by the wayside. Consider this a refresher on how to build meaningful relationships with your customers.
Happy customers = more business
This might seem obvious, but we all still encounter mediocre customer service, which tells me that a lot of companies still don’t “get it.” Once my company discovered that the majority of our business came from happy customers who told all their friends and colleagues, we knew we had to up the ante on our customer service. We make sure they're not waiting too long to get in touch with us, whether it’s on the phone or via live chat or e-mail. We also make sure our support reps aren’t rushing a customer through the process just so that they can “hit their numbers.”
How can you help to ensure happy customers will lead to more business? Encourage them to spread the word about you. Consider a refer-a-friend program where existing customers get a discount or free gift for bringing someone new through your doors. You can also encourage satisfied customers to share their experiences on social media like Facebook or Yelp. (Make sure to thank them when they do!)
Don’t hide behind the curtain
As your business grows, it becomes more difficult to get out and interact with your customers. But you still need to make it a priority, because nothing beats one-on-one communication. There's no need to stand at your company’s front door and greet every person that comes in, but thanks to the Internet, you can set up live webinars, post videos and blog regularly to add some personality to your business. At my company, we regularly hold customer appreciation events where we book a private room at a restaurant and invite our best local customers for wine and hors d’oeuvres. Key members of my team attend and we have a great time getting to know our customers on a more personal level.
More than anything, your customers want to be heard and getting consumer feedback has never been easier. Check your company’s Facebook fan page and Twitter handle daily and take note of what people are saying about your brand and industry. Send out occasional online surveys and ask, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend us to others?" (See my previous post “A Simple Question That Can Make or Break Your Business,” for more on customer feedback.) Don't forget to thank them for the input once you're ready to act on their suggestions.
Transparency can be tricky but it can also prove rewarding once you fully embrace it. Years ago, companies wouldn't dream of sharing with clients the information they do now. Think about how much Tony Hsieh has shared publicly about Zappos’ unique corporate culture. Even 80-year-old Bill Marriott, chairman and CEO of the Marriott hotel chain, provides glimpses of what’s happening behind the scenes through his blogging. These days, expectations have changed. If you screw up, say you're sorry, discuss how you'll avoid making the same mistake twice and move on. If your company or an employee accomplished something great, shout it from the mountaintops–mention it on social media, on your blog and in your e-mail newsletters! Opening a window into your business allows people to identify with its core values and to build a lasting connection.
Keep up with social media
Five years ago, social media was largely unknown and now it's turning the marketing world on its ear. To remain top of mind with your customers, you can’t afford to write off new technology off as a fad. If you do, you run the risk of missing out on a great opportunity to stay on your customers’ radar as well as keeping up with your competitors.
Understandably, it’s one more thing for your already exhaustive “to do” list as a small business owner, but there are free tools that can help simplify the process and flatten the learning curve. For example, Roost is a free platform that helps SMBs create and manage their social media campaigns in as little as 20 minutes per week. (We found the tool to be so great that my company just acquired Roost.) And with video content becoming more popular, I love using a free tool called Animoto to create quick and easy videos to share with my networks.
I've been running VerticalResponse since 2001 and the single most valuable lesson I've learned is that each day brings with it a new lesson to learn when it comes to your customers. Care to share a few of your own lessons?
OPEN Cardmember Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse, which provides a full suite of self-service marketing solutions for small businesses and non-profits. She's also the Chief Executive Blogger of the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog for Small Businesses.
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