Connecting With Customers By Paul B. Baron People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. - AnonymousCustomer relationships are a fundamental—but often overlooked—component ofmarketing. The results of those relationships- or the lack thereof- will be seen in yoursales and bottom line growth.Few companies truly understand their customers, making it impossible for them toaccurately predict their behavior or consistently influence their decision-making. Evenfewer companies understand what "customer-focused" means and how to achieve it.Every interaction with a customer is gold, presenting an opportunity to connect in a waythat builds loyalty and leaves a positive, lasting impression.These days, contact takes many forms -- it can be the result of an in-person interactionfrom walking through the door to your retail ‘brick and mortar’ store or an on-site visit toyour client’s location. Or through online chatting, telephone contact to your live customerservice representatives, an email, or a visit to your company’s website. Seize everyavailable opportunity to develop rapport and provide a trustworthy face to complementyour companys products and services.You (the business owner) and your employees come into contact with both internal andexternal customers throughout the day. If your business provides a service, you will beexpected to solve customer problems and meet customer needs in a way that reflectspositively on your team, department and the entire franchise system.Seven factors tend to influence customer behavior and fostering relationships with them.Although you may be familiar with several of these concepts, considering them allsimultaneously may be helpful in creating and building your customer base. Opportunities lie with customers, not products or services Customers dont buy products or product features—they buy benefits. Relationships with customers are a two way street: its more important to listen to your customers than to research them. Realize that customer experiences are more valuable than generic market demand. The only truly sustainable competitive advantage is a superior customer solution. And even that can be eroded with bad experiences. Customer value is greater than the sum of quality perceptions and satisfaction. Success in customer focus is measured in terms of (mind) share of the customer—not market share.At the core of marketing success in the understanding that customers want to knowmore about how your products and services will address their needs, not about the
features your products or services might offer. To communicate this understanding toyour customers, you have to connect emotionally.Customers must like or respect you first before theyll listen to anything you have to say.That is true today more than ever. With all the technology we have, it’s critical to keep thecustomers interests in mind first and foremost.Even more than features and benefits, we must stress the experience that our customerwill enjoy when they become involved with our products and services. That doesnt meanthat we neglect the technical features completely. It means locking into the aspects thatare important to that customer.An old saying in sales goes "Whats important is what important people think isimportant." How true! If the customer really does want to know about your product’stechnical features youd be wrong to avoid a discussion of those features. Youve got tofind out what is important to that customer, and then deliver.Lock into your customers needs today. Find out what they want to know and provideit for them. How do you do this?First, be inquisitive. Listen to them. Find out what they need. Ask questions and thenlisten intently to what they have to say. Your sale and your paycheck depend on it! Sure,this is obvious and easy but how many times do you hear people really follow-up withquestions about what someone else is thinking and doing? Utilize examples to whichthey can easily relate , where they are, where they have pain. Connect with them insome way to communicate your understanding, win their confidence, their business, thenloyalty and a customer for life.In today’s world of online positioning via websites, search engines, and email, smallbusiness owners need to build lasting, valuable relationships from whatever meansavailable. Using a combination of these communication vehicles will successfully anddirectly connect you to your customers. Its not enough to open your doors and rely onthe messaging from the parent (in the case of franchise systems or other nationaldealership networks), or to send product updates or announcements of new services.Of course, in any competitive business climate, you’d be wrong to ignore the benefits ofavailable, affordable technology that supports national positioning with local or othertargeted communications. Properly implemented, technology can be used to bothattract and track customers and offer marketing supplements to personal interaction.These will serve to continually increase your company’s ‘face time’ or ‘touch points’ withcustomers and prospectsLooking at one such vehicle - Email - progressive marketers are creating andsolidifying customer relationships by delivering resources via email. Email hastransformed the world of business. In fact, I think youd be hard-pressed to imagineworking without it these days.Let’s look at email with a bit more depth. These days, next to ‘face to face’ and personal
telephone contact, email is recognized as the best one-to-one communication vehicleavailable, providing the fastest, most cost-effective way to deliver personalized, time-sensitive information while maintaining close relationships with customers, prospectivecustomers, vendors and partners. Yet, there are certain criteria that must be met toensure a consistent, useful e-mail resource and communications channel for customers.Provide relevant content. The best way to ensure that subscribers remain on your emaillist is to provide them with content that is interesting and relevant. For instance, if yourcompany sells or rents movies or computer games, you may want to provide a newsletterthat contains information on the latest releases, games, tips and tricks, or celebrity news,as well as special offers on new releases. If your site provides financial or accountingservices, a newsletter with the latest industry-specific headlines and new softwarereleases for small business owners (e.g. the 2007 release of Peachtree Accountingsoftware) would potentially be of interest to your prospects and customers.Target and customize your messages. Be sure that you segment your listsappropriately and send targeted messages to each segment. Give your clientsinformation about what they want and less of what they do not want. To furthercustomize your messages, allow subscribers to select their own preferences forreceiving email in HTML, plain text or URLs, or allow them to offer their ownsuggestions for what they’d like to see in your next communication.Personalize, personalize, personalize. Personalized messages sell. Talk to yourreaders on a one-to-one basis, and your marketing campaign will be much moresuccessful. For example, an auto service business might send out an automaticreminder email for the next oil change due, along with an offer for $5 off - good throughthe end of the month.)Prepare for an explosive response. Make certain that your email system will handlethe high volume your messages will generate.Provide an automated subscribe/unsubscribe process. If customers are notinterested in your resource, make it easy for them to remove their email address fromyour lists. Also make it as easy as possible for new subscribers to sign up.Create viable storage for customer data. Maximize the value of your customer datathroughout your organization by storing it in a standard relational SQL database. Thiswill allow you to better integrate the information throughout your entire company, andwill enable you and your employees to have a better handle on each customer duringevery interaction- a critical tool for building rapport and turning each customer into a‘customer for life.’ Contact management programs, such as ACT! by Sage canfacilitate this kind of information tracking and sharing, and are an invaluable tool inkeeping tabs on your customers.Automate e-mail "bounce" resolution and CAN-SPAM compliance. Some of youremails will bounce back to you. Rather than manually searching for correct addresses,
ensure that you have an automated process for handling those returns. For example,while I use ACT! by Sage for my email campaigns, I also use a product from anoutside vendor, SwiftPage Email (http://www.swiftpageemail.com/) to comply with theCAN-SPAM law, and have automatic suppression of email addresses that have opted-out.Respond to e-mail inquires within 24 hours of contact. This may seem obvious,but its not so obvious to the number of both large and small companies that areswamped by messages from inside and outside their organizations. Many smallbusinesses take from three to five days to respond. Sadly, some do not respond at all!If you are slow in responding, most likely your customer will think, "If they cantrespond to my email in 24 hours, how long will it take them to service me, send a salesperson, fix a problem, or deliver the product?"Adopting these practices will help you ensure a sustainable, successful relationshipwith your customers. You should always strive to be as useful to your customers aspossible and to provide the best service you can. Customers will reward you withloyalty and sales that would not have been possible with standard offers and discounts.Use all means to connect with your customers.Note: the above article, written by Paul Baron, was published across CRM, trade association,and franchise business trade journals and websites, in August, 2006, during my tenure withSage Software, acting as its Director, New Business Development for Trade Associations andFranchises.