There I was, sitting by the phone, checking my email. Wait! Maybe he sent a text and I missed it. GOD! Is he going to call? When is he going to call? Why hasn’t he called? Maybe he’s not interested. Did I miss something?
No, this isn't some teenage crush. It’s what I realized I was saying to myself a couple days after a meeting with a potential customer, in which we outlined a killer project that was going to be a win-win for both of us.
Let’s face it—I was IN LOVE with the prospect of working together. And I suddenly realized that my thoughts and emotions were exactly the same as the ones I had when I first met my husband: the rapidly beating heart, the painted-on smile and the constant replaying of the last conversation. It was exactly the same except I wasn’t romantically interested at all—I was opportunistically interested.
This got me wondering and reflecting on the idea of “loving your customer.” The last time I uttered the phrase “we should love our customer” I got laughed out of the boardroom of the manufacturing company I worked for. Now I’m wondering if it isn’t time to revive this idea for small business.
Here are eight strategies to build better customer relationships.
1. Decide to love your customers. Consider that falling in love is really a choice. It might seem like some emotional circus, but when you think about it, you actually decide to throw yourself into the relationship. You can do the same thing with your customers.
2. Get the picture. Pretend you're being videotaped, then imagine what would end up on the video if you were acting like you loved your customers. The camera might see a lot of smiling, heads nodding, hands gesturing and direct eye contact.
3. Learn from the past. Yes, that one customer was most certainly a jerk. You were right and they were wrong. And if you’ve had more than one jerk of a customer, you need to take a moment and think about whether that type of customer is a good choice for you. Not every customer is right for you, and the ones who are always complaining and who upset you are costing you money and causing you stress. Refer them to someone else and move on.
4. Show them and tell them you care. It’s not enough to utter the words “We appreciate your business.” Is that what you’d say to your best friend? Of course not! You might say something like, “You always help me see things from a more positive perspective.” That was specific. When you’re interacting with customers, look for specific opportunities where you can acknowledge them and act on it. Don’t be afraid to say what you appreciate or write it in an email.
5. Smile, laugh and have fun. When my son was 5 and acted grumpy, I’d say, “Happy face. Happy day.” It was my shorthand for teaching him that when you live your life with a joyful attitude, you get joy right back. The bottom line is you can turn any circumstance into a pleasant transaction. Human beings mimic each other, and if a customer comes to you all stressed about something, you can drastically improve his or her experience of you by taking on the attitude that nothing is wrong and everything can be fixed.
6. Separate what happens from your judgments about it. When they cancel a meeting, when they return a product, when they choose someone else—these are all things that happen in business. Don’t make it mean anything. It’s human nature to think if a customer does something we don’t like, they're wrong or they think poorly of us. The truth is usually something boring like their dog didn’t like it. It’s not about you. Put your focus on the customer and what happened and how it impacted them—not you.
7. Give them something to look forward to. One of the things that keeps most romantic relationships alive is planning for the future and looking forward to having fun together. Why not create that same experience for your customers? I know a company that sends the most creative Christmas gifts to their customers and vendors—it’s something I look forward to.
8. Don’t give up. Years ago I read a study that tracked people who had been married for more than 50 years. One of their success strategies was to recognize what they called the “U.” Each relationship has ups and downs. When you’re down, then you’re in the bottom of the “U.” But if you’ve been in a relationship long enough, you come to realize the downside is often temporary. So don’t give up. Work through the difficulty and you’ll come out stronger for the experience.
Each business is absolutely unique. Even if many companies in your industry or town do the same thing you do, there will be customers who choose to do business with you. They do this because you have the unique mix of people, product and service that's attractive to them. Don’t take that for granted.
How do you show your customers you love them? Tell us in the comments section below.