We’ve all heard the statistic that it’s 6 times more expensive for a business to find a new customer, than it to retain a current one. Nothing new there. Selling more to the same clients is one of the three ways you can choose to grow your business. It’s also the best way to ensure that your customers get the most value and the greatest benefit from working with you in the first place.

To make retaining your customers easier, try looking at them less like customers and more like a relationship.

I was cleaning out my shelves recently and came across a notebook where I had made some notes around building a better relationship. I’m guessing it was in relation to partner, family and friends, but the same ring true in your business as well.

Here’s a different way to consider treating your customers so that you can build a long term, healthy relationship with them.

 

Give sincere praise:

Hang on, shouldn’t my customers be praising me? That’s nice for you, but what’s in it for them?

It’s not so much about telling them how wonderful they are, but more about making your customer feel like they are the most important person in the world to you, right now. Reward them for being honest with you, especially when they are sharing their concerns and worries. Thank them for being honest with you- if your cleints are never honest with you, how can you really know how best to help them? Don’t suck up to them, but if you genuinely care and celebrate their successes with them, it will make them feel valued and loved.

 

Be a good listener:

The key to being a good listener is to active listen. Active listening is where you ask a question, and then let them talk. You don’t interrupt, you just listen carefully, taking notes if you need, and offering encouraging noises like “yes”, “I see”, “uh-huh”, “of course” to reinforce that you are listening to them.

Active listening means giving your customers your full attention and complete receptiveness without any judgment or defense. So put your computer to sleep, put your phone away, look your customer in the eye, stop doing what you’re doing and be sure that person knows you are really, honestly hearing them.

Most people want nothing more from the world than to feel heard, to be respected, and not to be ignored and brushed off.

 

Be responsible for your own feelings:

Here’s the thing, no-one can MAKE you feel anything. How you choose to feel, or how to choose to respond emotionally to a situation is your responsibility alone. (the same goes in reverse for your customers of course- you can’t make them feel anything, that’s down to their choices)

Next time you get upset or angry, or frustrated in your dealings with a customer, take a step back and look at why that’s activating that response in you. Are you frustrated because your lack of systems means you keep being asked for the same information again and again? Are you upset because a mistake you made let a client down? How can you take responsibility and what can you change to make it better?

 

Give what you would like to receive:

That’s an easy one, right? So many people still miss the mark! In business, you should give what your customers would like. Get out of your own head, and get in the head of your customers.

You might like a 10 page report emailed to you after every session, but your client might just like a handwritten summary in a notebook that she can scan when she gets home from work.

 

Acknowledge desired behavior:

I call this “training your customers”. This is vital in small business. Just because you are a small business, does not give people ownership over you. You are selling your services and your products, not your soul.

Set rules around how you do business, and what is expected from both sides. Stick to them. If clients refuse to conform, then sack them.

An example of this is the hours you are available to be contacted. I operated an online retail store that also offered advice and assistance. My online store was open 24/7- personal contact with me for my advice was not. I was very strict with my policy that customers can only access me during business hours, mon to fri. I put this in place because I was getting calls all weekend, evenings, and even 9 o’clock on a Sunday night.

Funnily enough, when I stopped answering calls out of hours, and even turned my phone off (gasp!!) my clients stopped calling me so much out of hours. And no, sales didn’t drop. They continued to grow, month on month.

 

Allow others their point of view:

Sometimes things go wrong, for whatever reason. If you ever get a complaint or an argument with a customer, the most important thing is to allow them to speak, to let them get their grievances out (again, letting them be heard and respected), and never arguing back at them.

If you are at fault, ask them what you can do to correct the situation. Listen. Thank them for coming to you, rather than ignoring you and bitching behind your back.

If the customer is clearly in the wrong, and you know you don’t want to work with them anymore, then let them know that you’re sorry they feel that way, and that working with you if probably not the best option for them right now, and suggest somewhere else they can get the help they need.

 

Make clear agreements and stick to them:

For some, this means contracts. In fact, for most, this means contracts!

A Contract can cover not only what you will provide, and what the customer can expect, but also what you expect from your client in order to deliver the best service you can.

Even when selling products, every item should go out with a receipt/ invoice that clearly states your returns policy- that’s a kind of contract.

 

Allow others to make their own choices:

Again, you cannot MAKE anyone do anything. No one can “steal” your customers, just like no- one can steal your boyfriend. They were already gone.

Take responsibility for delivering the best service that you can, fulfilling everything you promised to your customers and really, that’s the best you can do. If show up everyday, fully committed and 100% responsible for all that you do in the delivery of your service in your business, and a customer chooses to go elsewhere, that’s OK. It’s their choice, and there are always more people out there that you can help instead.

 

 

Good customer service isn’t about “the customer always being right”- because they’re more often than not, NOT right! Good customer service isn’t about pandering to their every whim and being available 24/7, replying instantly to every PM on facebook, or answering the phone when you’re out with the kids, or another client. Good customer service isn’t about being spineless and selling your self respect.

Be proud of what you do, and how you do it. Set standards and keep to them. Maintain your self respect. Expect the same from your customers, and show them the same love and respect in return.

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Written by Anita Marchesani
I've come to small business the long way round- but enjoyed and learned from every single step. I learned about the power of Media during a BA and while working in Film&TV. I learned about the hard graft while groom for an international eventer in the UK. I learned organisation and staff management from running hundreds of weddings both here and in the UK. I learned from the mistakes of my first business that failed, to create an e-commerce success story, and now I'm here to help you have even greater success in your business. Oh, and I dance to really loud music like a crazy bastard.