By Rieva Lesonsky
Every entrepreneur knows that if you want to build your business, you’ve got to keep customers coming back again…and again. But how? Customer relationships are the key, say small business owners in the Spring 2015 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report.
Almost six in 10 (57 percent) of small business owners say strong customer relationships are the driving force behind repeat business. In fact, established customer relationships were far ahead of the next most important factors in obtaining repeat business. Low prices, a good location, loyalty programs and the ability to provide unique products and services were each cited by only about 10 percent of entrepreneurs.
Clearly, customer relationships are vital to your business growth. How can you build lasting relationships? Whether you sell business-to-business or business-to-consumer, these tips can help.
1. Thank your customers. From a hearty thank-you at the point of sale to thank-you emails, there are many ways to show your customers how much you appreciate their business. Ideas include:
- Giving loyal customers percentage discounts or dollar-off coupons after a purchase
- Holding special events for customers such as a thank-you dinner or luncheon or even an awards ceremony
- Writing thank you notes (handwritten notes have more impact than an email)
- Calling a customer to say thank you and follow up to see if they are happy with their purchase
- Providing gifts with purchase
- Sending cards or small gifts on anniversaries, birthdays or other special days
2. Learn about your customers. Ask customers questions and get to know their concerns, problems and interests. Don’t ask questions just with an eye to making the sale; focus on really understanding what your customers need. Conduct customer surveys and polls to find out what they want from your business and what more you could be doing. This information will help you provide lasting value, and when you focus on helping them—not on what you get out of the relationship—you build customers for life.
3. Go above and beyond. By throwing in extra services for free, offering advice about how to use a product properly, or providing suggestions for different ways to do things, you show that you care about the customer in the long term, not just during the sales process. When done properly, this can be a way to not only build customer relationships, but also upsell additional products and services.
4. Get involved in the community. If your business draws from the local area, becoming a presence in your community goes a long way to build relationships. Sponsor or participate in community events, volunteer for or donate to local charities, and get involved in making your city a better place. Local realtors are great at this—there are some in my community who organize neighborhood garage sales, build homes for Habitat for Humanity and lend trucks to local schools when they need to transport kids or furniture. I feel like I know those realtors, even though I’ve never met them in person.
Finally, don’t forget to build relationships with other business owners. By getting involved in both online and offline networking organizations, business events and conferences, and your local Chamber of Commerce or industry group, you will make valuable connections. You never know who will introduce you to the next customer you’ll build a lasting relationship with.