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5 “Firsts” That Determine Whether A Customer Becomes a Relationship

How to create small business customer relationshipsAs technology continues to play an ever-increasing role in business today, building a customer relationship becomes harder and harder. The horror stories of bad customer experiences and insensitive customer service seem to be increasing at a faster rate. For entrepreneurs and small business owners, this can be fatal.

Are you making it hard for customers to want to do business with you?

Customers are what drive your business. Not revenue. Not product. Not even great people. But, in your zeal and passion for your business concept, or in trying to create the greatest product, do you, often, overlook or downplay the most important part of your business? Your customer.
And it’s not just about getting that customer, because a customer doesn’t stay one without a company building a relationship with that customer. Over the years, I’ve found something that really works. A customer relationship is really built (or not) on a series of “firsts.” They are things you accomplish to establish and then build on your relationship. Here are five crucial ones that can make help you create and sustain that relationship:

First Impression

First impressions count; sometimes more than anything else. Whether it’s your website, your response to an inquiry or how you answer the phone. The first time a customer interacts with your company is the most important…and lasting. It isn’t just interacting with your company, but your culture.

A website that doesn’t convey a strong message to prospective customers about what you can do for them and why they should do business with you, is simply a wasted opportunity for beginning a relationship. A poorly crafted, mechanical response to an inquiry loses a potential customer before they become one. Not answering every phone call with a human voice takes away a personal touch that can be welcoming as opposed to banning them to “voice mail hell!”

First “Face-to-Face” Encounter

You have two choices with your first personal encounter with a prospective customer. You can make it about you…or you can make it about them! Engaging them in a dialogue, both personal and professional, opens doors, while it opens lines of communication.

Do your homework ahead of time. The more you can learn about them and their business, the easier you can determine how you can build a relationship. If you’re not solving a problem they have or meeting a critical need, you have no shot at creating a customer relationship. And the only way you learn about their problems or needs is to probe and ask. So the objective of your first encounter is listen and learn.

First Sales Opportunity

When you, finally, have the opportunity to pitch a prospective customer your solution, is where “the rubber meets the road.” This is where you convince them to become a customer…or not. And this where many entrepreneurs lose the potential of a long-term customer relationship. Their presentation is a “drink from a fire hose” presentation of EVERY feature and function their product has, rather than the ones most relevant and the associated benefits they provide to the customer.

If you’re not showing them how your product or service is solving the problem or need you discovered in your early encounters, you will not get their business. And there's no better way to do that than to either demonstrate your product or let them try it for a time. Your presentation has to resonate with them. That is, like, your early interaction, make it about them, not about you.

First Problem Response

Just because they become a customer doesn’t mean they will forever be a customer. It might take you 10 or 20 good interactions before you finally get them to agree and begin the relationship. It might take one bad one to lose them. The first time they have a problem and how you respond to it, is crucial to keeping and growing that relationship.

But, too often, help desks don't help and customer support, doesn't. And it starts with your culture and the importance it places on customer relationships and how focused it is on serving those customers. That gets manifested by under-promising and over-delivering, making it, not only easy to get problems solved, but making customers feel appreciated. Another first impression that can be a lasting one…or a short-lived one, depending on how you respond.

First Anniversary

The “first anniversary’ is really a metaphor for how you maintain the customer relationship beyond the first sale and/or first problem. And this is, most often, where companies let all their hard work go for naught, finding out a customer has displaced their product with a competitor’s and they were the last to know. You have to continue to communicate beyond the early stages of the relationships, regardless of whether things are going well or not.

In fact the best way to lose a customer is to lose contact with that customer.

Nothing works better than continual “reach out” programs, sometimes even with a periodic call, directly from the small business owner; just “checking in” to see how things are progressing both with the customer and their results with the product. Or a newsletter, a periodic email. Anything that keeps the customer informed of what’s new with the company and keeps your company “top of mind” with them.
Are you making it hard for customers to do business with you? Customers are the most important part of your business. Creating and growing relationships with them is the linchpin of all your business success. Follow the “firsts” to build lasting relationships.
"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things. He's been there. May success be with you!
How do approach creating and growing customer relationships? Please share your thoughts in your comments. It can help another entrepreneur or small business owner.
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