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Most people have heard the concept that customers, clients and consumers do business with those they know, like and trust. This has never been truer than in our current electronic age. With the glut of information being streamed at us day in and day out, customers are more wary of who they choose to do business with and put their trust in.
It takes longer to build a relationship with clients in this new era of business, but it can be done, and it doesn’t have to be terribly hard – it simply needs to be genuine. The word transparency is thrown around a lot, and it falls in line with being genuine and authentic. The translation of these newly-turned buzz words is that a company needs to be open, honest and show a personality indicative of its beliefs, values and moral compass.
Customer relations is more than how a sales person speaks to a client, or what the website “contact us” page has to say. Relationship building skills are used in every single touch point – and the number of times those touch points are accessed. That includes the timing of those touch points – not too much (where a company becomes an annoyance) and not too little (where a company is forgotten). Perhaps the best way to build a great relationship is to start by listening to customers and prospective customers.
An effective relationship on any front (personal, social, business, etc.) is established through two-way communication. It could begin with an email exchange from a contact form request. Or perhaps someone came by a trade show booth and started up a discussion about your products.
The most important thing to do immediately after establishing that the contact wants an ongoing relationship is to capture what they said. In years gone by, sales people would carry around little black books with their sales call notes in them – what someone’s spouse’s name was, how many kids they had, where they last vacationed. Things are certainly more sophisticated these days, but the intent is the same. Those little black books were the pre-cursor to customer relationship management and the accompanying CRM systems.
Ideally a CRM should be on a cloud-based platform so that everyone in the company can access it from sales to shipping and reception to the executive suite. This keeps the lines of communication open, notes handy for everyone and an ongoing record of how the customer wants to be treated and contacted. It’s key to know if a customer prefers email only – with this information the marketing team will be aware to not send paper mailings or sales assistants will know to text before shipping products rather than calling.
With multiple customers in a business, keeping track of customer preferences can’t be done in someone’s head or little black book any longer. The information is in danger of going missing, being forgotten or being lost if that sales person changes roles. Building positive relationships comes from the mutual respect grown out of listening and then making use of that information in the way the customer wants.
It isn’t always the sales person who is in contact with the customer. Sometimes it’s Twitter, Facebook, the customer service desk or someone else entirely. It may seem like a bad idea to have multiple channels of communication open, but from the customer’s point of view, it’s ideal. They can reach out and contact the company in the way that works best for them, when it works best. The flip side to this is again, capturing the data that comes in, ensuring it lines up with past and future data about that customer and that ongoing relationships and concerns are managed with care and understanding. Multiple touch points also allow for speed in responding to customers, which is expected if not demanded in today’s society.
No one wants to do business with a company that lies or misleads. Building effective relationships comes from taking a moment to reflect on things that have gone well and those that have gone poorly and being honest about what happens next.
Consider the Volkswagen emissions scandal in 2015. The company installed cheating devices in many cars to prove emissions were lower when tested than they actually were when on the road. Once the messy business came to light, VW America boss Michael Horn admitted “We’ve totally screwed up.”
The CE of the international company at the time resigned as a result of the scandal and the company publicly acknowledged they had broken the trust of their consumers and others.
This lack of transparency about what went into cars behind the scenes will continue to harm VW’s reputation for some time yet to come. In fact, it remains to be seen what the financial costs will be outside of the EPA’s fines and other immediate costly issues.
However, the flip side of this is that those in the company admitted to what had happened and took ownership of the issue. They became transparent (albeit too late) and this transparency after-the-fact may be what saves Volkswagen as a brand in the long run.
BP Gas is another interesting example. After the spill in the gulf, the company didn’t exactly shout about what they’d caused in terms of ecological problems, but they did undertake a number of programs to improve the situation. That’s what they chose to speak about in acknowledgement of the issue.
The development of professional relationships is just part of the equation, they must be maintained as well. Find ways to delight customers and potential customers whether it’s through engaging online content or personal interactions. For larger companies, creating case studies that highlight how a product or service solved a customer’s challenges can be an ideal way to honour the relationship of one customer but also prove the level of involvement, commitment and trust for potential customers.
Ensure that no matter who has access to customer data in the CRM there is a single person or team tasked with keeping customers happy. Someone may enter a note into the CRM about a broken product and it could easily slip through the cracks if another individual isn’t placed in charge of following up and caring for that customer to ensure they get what they need.
Building effective customer relationships isn’t hard, but it is essential. It must be done strategically and with forethought to ensure everyone is a winner in the relationship.