By Blake DuBose and Mike DuBose
Our research and experience have shown that business is like travel: the smoother the customers’ ride, the greater the chance that they will patronize businesses, come back for more, and, ultimately, tell others about their positive experiences. Unfortunately, many clients today are stuck saying, in the words of the Rolling Stones, “I can’t get no satisfaction!”
As noted by Jim Collins in Good to Great, great businesses promote customer-driven philosophies that are embraced and practiced by their employees. Likewise, our studies have shown that maintaining client happiness is an art, and to achieve it, staff at all levels must be trained in delivering high-quality customer service.
Let’s examine how to build prosperous client bases:
- Employees are your first clients: A happy staff means delighted customers.
- Build the right product and they will come: Businesses should primarily focus on their profitable core services, but should also create new products to adapt to changing markets.
- Be different: You can stand out in today’s crowded marketplaces by offering unique products and niches to attract customers.
- Be strategy-minded: If you don’t know where you’re going, chasing dollars can easily become your mission. Be the best in a few areas, rather than stretching yourself thin on too many lower-quality endeavors.
- Market effectively: A strong Internet presence is critical in these high-tech times (through a website, Twitter, Facebook, etc).You can have the best product in the world, but if you don’t market it correctly and track which advertising methods work, you will fail!
- Provide a human touch: Technology is killing many businesses. Aggravating computers control customer service, asking too many questions, and live humans (if ever reached) repeat those questions again. At our Columbia Conference Center and DuBose Web Group, real people answer the telephones 90% of the time.
- Return calls the same day: Many customers go down lists of potential service providers, so the first human to answer their calls often secures the sale.
- Make excellent first impressions: When clients call, they should hear an attentive voice and be able to visualize a smiling face on the other end of the telephone. Make them feel like they are your only customer.
- Be punctual: When you visit clients, arrive five minutes early. If running late is unavoidable, call to let them know.
- Be truthful: Clients don’t like surprises. One vendor charged us $50 for an estimate on a backup generator. We weren’t happy!
- Look professional: Be sure that employees’ clothes are appropriate, neat, and clean.
- LISTEN: First, let the customer describe their needs, and then provide input as their guide. Too often, “experts” tell clients what they “need,” forgetting to listen to what they “want!” Arrogance is a major sale-killer. Write down and repeat all client desires to ensure accuracy.
- Respond promptly: When clients ask for estimates, reply within 72 business hours. It’s amazing how many contractors we have had to call multiple times to receive an estimate! Avoid pressuring clients, but you should follow up with them to ensure they received your proposal. A second set of eyes reviewing your proposal can catch errors before you send it to the customer, thus making your company appear more professional.
- Underpromise and overdeliver: Too often, aggressive salespeople promise the world for short-term commissions, leaving their companies unable to deliver. When working with clients, remember Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong! Customers don’t care about anything other than you following through on what was agreed upon in a timely manner. Too many contractors take forever to complete a job, then wonder why they are unprofitable. It’s simple: if you tell a customer you’re going to do something, JUST DO IT!
- Provide consistent service: In the past, we have been impressed by companies that executed perfectly (on the big sale) enough to list them in our Quality Vendors Guide. Then, when their products needed minor repairs, our calls to them went unreturned. This kind of runaround sends a clear signal to the customer: you are important when the big bucks are flowing, but after we have made our money, forget it!
- Bill correctly: Submit accurate, timely bills to the right person. If necessary, send friendly reminder notices, avoiding irritating computer-generated hate-mail or using aggressive collection agencies until you have exhausted all internal efforts. Sometimes, a simple telephone call can make headway in retrieving overdue payments.
- Don’t aggravate customers: When we tell doctor’s office staff, “Nothing has changed since our last visit,” we often hear the infamous words “It’s policy,” followed by a request to fill out the exact same ten-page forms we completed before! Then, we wait hours to be seen. Your customers will appreciate it if you don’t act like it’s an honor for them to do business with you.
- Stay in touch: Maintain regular communication with clients via e-mail, regular mail, telephone calls, and e-newsletters. Remember: out-of-sight, out-of-mind! Our newsletters provide useful personal and professional information, humor, and thought-provoking quotes, keeping us in front of customers without waving the “sales flag.” However, don’t swamp clients with too many communications. Based on a recent customer study we conducted, every 4-6 weeks will suffice.
Our philosophy is that our customers “sign our checks.” We employ the Golden Rule, treating them (and staff) like family and good friends. If you keep your promises and deliver outstanding services, customers will come back for more—and better yet, they will become your marketing advocates, telling others how well they were treated.
On the other hand, if you treat clients poorly, they will become “assassins,” so named by a Harvard University School of Business article. “Assassins” make it their mission to inform many people about their mistreatment. Recently, a friend’s debit card information was stolen (unbeknownst to her). Without alerting her, the bank froze her card and assets, causing her embarrassment when the card was declined at a restaurant. When she met with bank employees, however, they made her feel like it was her fault. She is now telling everyone about her traumatic experience, the bank’s name, and her plans to close her account!
The bottom line:You can spend years cultivating client relationships and lose them in days. Building successful, long-term client relationships is like growing a garden. There is no single ingredient that causes plants to flourish; rather, many strategies are implemented simultaneously over a long period of time. When you grow your garden right, it’s fun for you and clients…not to mention your bank account!