By Chuck Thomas / in Blog, Branding & Market Views / November 8, 2017
All successful businesses–regardless of what they do or sell–have one thing in common: their people know how to build and maintain relationships. The truth is that business leaders too often get caught up in the details of the kinds of products or services they are selling to notice how critical it is to build relationships not just with your customers, but also with vendors, employees, and even competitors.
You need to have good long-term customers and vendor relationships that will carry you through challenging times or tight deadlines. Also important are solid relationships with other business owners– to share struggles, resources and best practices. The reality is that business relationships are just like any other relationship. They require effort to maintain and they must be mutually beneficial. As in any relationship, you must be willing to give, share and support–not just take or receive.
Here are 13 practices that are important to building good business relationships:
1. Make Customer Contact a Routine
Devise a system to ensure that not too much time passes before you connect with your contacts, such as a formal database. With the proliferation of social media tools these days such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, it’s never been easier to keep in touch.
An idea: Use a journal to log information on your relationships, and forward articles, links and other information that might be of interest to your contacts.“When I see interesting news stories I forward them to people who I think would find them relevant,” says one sales executive. “I’ve had many recipients come up to me later and say things like, ‘I can’t believe you remembered that I wanted to go to Thailand.’ It takes less than 30 minutes each morning to send out a handful of these. Do it every day and the care and feeding of your network will be alive and well.”
2. Be Honest
A business owner said: “It’s important that people see me as expert in my field. But when asked questions I don’t know how to answer, I always say so. I remember an initial meeting with what became one of my best clients. I was meeting with the executive team and was asked about my experience in their industry (of which I had none). I could have tried to spin my response to sound like I knew their industry. Instead, I told them that I had no experience and why that might work to their advantage. I was surprised to see stern, questioning faces turn to friendly nods and smiles. They really appreciated my honesty. And that laid the foundation for a great relationship.”
3. Take Notes
Keep detailed notes on everyone you meet, says a software company CEO. “When you get back to the office, enter those notes into your address book or contact system. Later, you will want to be able to enter keywords like ‘sailing’ or ‘wireless’ or ‘French’ and find all the people you know who match that keyword. Doing keyword mining on your own contacts will pay dividends for years.”
4. Give More than You Receive
Be sure to contact people when you are NOT in need of something. Take time to learn about their business since it’s as important to them as your business to you. “Take a minute to understand your client’s dreams and provide opportunities for them to fulfill this whenever possible,” says a web firm leader. “Whenever I have a client on the phone I try to understand what they’re trying to achieve with their business. From time to time there will be an opportunity that I will refer them to someone that I think could help their business. Clients really appreciate it when they realize that you’re looking out for them.”
5. Turn Blunders into Opportunities
Admitting mistakes and correcting missteps will take you far when it comes to building relationships, says law firm partner. “Often, people just want to know that you are sorry and that you have a plan for getting back on track,” he says. When one of our service providers made a mistake, which resulted in our service being delayed for a week, the service provider responded immediately with an apology and a proposal for fixing the problem. Instead of looking for another service provider, we decided to work with this provider because we know that the provider is honest and diligent. When a mistake is more than a minor setback, do something to make it right or otherwise provide value to the wronged party.”
6. Meet Face-to-Face
Invite your contacts to an event (sporting, music, etc.) that you would both enjoy. You will naturally deepen the relationship and get to know each other better. You could also make plans to catch up at or join someone at a networking event. For some people, networking events are challenges and having at least one friendly face there can give them the confidence to network better. Plus, you will strengthen the relationship.
7. Genuinely Interact
Happy customers who get their issue resolved tell 4 to 6 people about their experience. So that’s a way to significantly influence the word of mouth about your business. Don’t act as a nameless or faceless business; genuinely talk with your customers as a person representing the business. Address your customers by name, and tell them your name at the very beginning of your interaction.
Talk to your customers as you would in person, not like you would in a press release. Examples of this are noticeable when it comes to customer service on social media, where the genuine shine through and the others seem forced and uptight, which is the opposite of being “social.”.
“An open, honest relationship demands clear communications of how each party is performing,” says an executive at a marketing services company. “Encourage constructive criticism and be brave enough to suggest ways clients can help your firm perform better,” he says. “If you know where you stand, you can stand stronger.”
8. Avoid rudeness: it’s memorable and deadly
A third of consumers say they experience rude customer service at least once a month, and 58% of them tell their friends. This is exactly how word-of-mouth can work against your company’s reputation for the long term. It’s very important to be respectful of a customer’s mood when trying to resolve an issue they have with your company.
Keeping your patience is key to giving your customers the time to air out their issues. And, in turn, it creates the opportunity for you to help resolve the issue and make them comfortable. The more comfortable the customer is the more likely they’ll share valuable feedback that can help prevent similar issues from occurring again in the future.
9. Listen More Than You Talk
“We all want to extol our strengths, our virtues in hopes of impressing others and, ultimately, getting more business,” says an executive coach. “It’s counter-intuitive, but being a good listener highlights your virtues much better than being a big talker. I coach a financial planner and we did a little market research on what his clients value the most in him. Yes, they value his advice and his skills in handling the money, but a lot of financial planners have that. What sets him apart is that he takes the time to listen to them and really understand where his clients are coming from. They said most often that they value his role as a sounding board.”
At a time when it’s easy to have a two-way dialogue with your customers, it’s important to truly listen. When listening to your customers, consider what changes your organization should make from their feedback, and then follow through. Your customers are the lifeblood of your organization, and not dealing with the reasonable requests could cause backlash.
10. Sustain great customer service
The #1 reason for the loss of customers is dissatisfaction with customer service. Do everything in your power to provide excellent service to your customers on an ongoing basis. Respond quickly and enthusiastically, and be ready to present a special offer or discount with the hope of up-selling the customer to buy more.
There’s never any reason to slow down on satisfying your audience, especially when they’re chatting with you live over the phone. It’s important to note that 81% of companies with strong capabilities and competencies for delivering customer experience excellence are outperforming their competition. Customer satisfaction is a key differentiator in a sea of companies.
11. Be Transparent
It takes 12 positive service experiences to make up for one negative experience. This is how sensitive trust is between a business and its customers. No matter your size, keep your customers in the know when it comes to positive and negatives changes to your products and services that affect them. It’s crucial to tread lightly when making changes to your products and services because your customers have become accustomed to what you’ve already got.
To maintain trust:
“Do not be afraid to be vulnerable,” says one retailer. “Let people see who you are. It builds trust and respect. Being too professional is a bore.”
12. Keep your promises
Your word is your bond. Following up on your promises helps show the transparency of your business, while helping to build a feeling of trust and dependability with your audience. Manage the expectations of your customers to ensure realistic goals are set and can be met. By remaining consistent in your messaging, your customers will learn what they should expect from you in the future.
13. Always say “Thank You”
Gratitude will take you far. Always say “thank you.” As many as 3 out of 4 customers say they have spent more with a company because of a history of positive experiences. Kindness and gratitude for a customer’s business is an undeniable way to further enchant them for the long term.
It is good to send an actual physical letter or card of appreciation, instead of an e-mail. Send notes to new clients, thanking them for their business. Send e-mails of appreciation often, for no reason at all. Never forget who got you where you are. And never, ever, think you can say thank you enough to clients, customers, colleagues and even vendors too.
Craft every thank you sent out from your company to be specific to the customer. If there’s been a problem, be as appreciative as possible to your customers for taking the time to go through the process of resolving their issue. Finally, follow up with a good old fashioned “Thank you.”