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Building Customer Relationships

Article written by Veechi Curtis

Customers are to a business what parents, children and siblings are to a family. Without good customer relationships, you have a dysfunctional business sorely in need of therapy. This warm and fuzzy stuff about customers may not strike you as being the first building block of marketing; but, on the contrary, investing in good customer relationships is the best marketing you can ever possibly do.

Developing customer listings

Working out a system of keeping contact details for customers is vital, because if you don’t know how to get hold of them, you can’t be much good to them.

The buzz words of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) are recency (how recently the customer purchased from you), frequency (how often the customer purchases from you) and monetary (the average and total value of customer sales). As a business manager, you need to be able to manage all three elements effectively.

What works as the best solution for you depends on the size of your business, how many customers you have, and how reliant you are on maintaining records of customer contact history. Here are four main approaches to recording information about your customers (any of which work fine, depending on your situation):

  • Use accounting software: If you’re using accounting software such as MYOB or QuickBooks to record customer sales, I suggest you use the ‘cards’ or ‘list’ features in your software to store customer details. Both MYOB and QuickBooks have lots of room for storing customer contact details (such as address, phone number, email and so on) as well as one-off information (such as passwords, customer group, membership expiry date or whatever). In the screenshot below, I show how you can use QuickBooks software to access a whole heap of customer info.
Building Customer Listings
  • Develop a custom-written database: Any custom-written program is by definition both expensive and time-consuming, so think carefully before reinventing the wheel. However, if you have strong programming skills in Access or something similar, you may find you’re comfortable developing your own database.
  • Buy specialist software: You can find specialist software for all kinds of trades and businesses, to suit everything from mechanics to medical surgeries, from dry-cleaners to vets. Any specialist software includes a database for customers that’s tailor made for your industry.
  • Purchase a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solution: CRM programs are the Rolls Royce of customer databases, bringing together calendars, contact schedules, customer details, customer transactions, customer contact history and reminders — all into the one spot. Examples of CRM software include ACT!, Intermail, Legrand CRM Software and Resolve, with prices typically at least a couple of thousand dollars. (At a pinch, Microsoft Outlook can also be adapted to provide some of the features of CRM software.)

Making four contacts a day

In his book Up the Loyalty Ladder, Murray Raphel describes a 15-minute-a-day ritual that he says is ‘virtually guaranteed’ to bring wealth, fame and friends. He claims to have received hundreds of letters affirming the success of his technique.

Raphel’s technique is this: You make four contacts every day, either by phone, by email, by mail, in person or by giving someone your business card. You commit yourself to doing this, in the same way as you have a coffee break or return phone calls, until it becomes so routine that you don’t even think about it.

With the phoning approach, start with your best customers — just phone them and touch base. You don’t have to be pushy or insistent; simply check that all is going well and ask whether you can do anything to help them. With letters or emails, you can write simple notes (thank-you letters, birthday cards, Christmas cards or information updates) — again, you’re simply aiming to make contact. For business referrals, just hand your business card to the people you meet, or leave cards at places like the grocery, the garage or the doctor’s surgery.

After reading about Raphel’s technique, I tried it out on my business, with amazing results. I would have to say that this approach has transformed the way I work, as well as my outlook (my customers are much happier, too). To reach out instead of waiting to be asked is a bit of a culture shift for most people, but I reckon it’s a shift well worth making.

Staying in touch

When I bought a TV/DVD unit the other week, I experienced the usual problems finding the ON switch and trying to get everything hooked up, not helped by the fact that we lost the remote control unit somewhere within the first half hour. So I was really surprised and delighted a few days later when the shop where I’d bought it from rang me to ask if everything was okay.

I guess what impressed me so much about this call is that the TV shop made the effort to provide me with service after their sale was signed, sealed and delivered. Sure, they weren’t able to be psychic and tell me that the remote was in the back of the fridge (where I discovered it just yesterday), but they were able to help me get the video timer to work — they suggested I ask my 13-year -old son, a strategy that worked admirably.

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You can follow up on customers and stay in touch in lots of different ways, whether by newsletters, email, phone or your website. Even after a sale is completed, if you can provide your customers with memorable service, you increase your chances of securing their business next time. You also earn yourself some good word-of-mouth recommendations in the meantime.

Expanding your customer base

Expanding your customer base isn’t just about building on the existing relationships within your business — it’s about building on many of the other relationships you have in your life. Here are my ideas, although I’m sure you can think of many more:

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Ask local shops or retailers (especially those ones where  a familiar face) whether they can display your business cards or brochures.
light%20bulb Work with other professionals in related industries to yours, and suggest that you refer clients to one another. For example, a computer consultant could refer all queries about new computer equipment to her local computer store, and the store in turn could refer all queries about training to the consultant.
light%20bulb In your newsletter, offer ‘Introduce a Friend’ discounts, where existing customers receive a special deal or a discount for introducing a friend.
light%20bulb Be active in the community. Sponsor events (everything from the school walkathon to the local radio open day) and build recognition for your business.
light%20bulb Use social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn to let your friends and colleagues know you’re in business. I’m not talking about hardcore advertising here, just sharing the news that you’ve opened up your doors and you’re offering a service.
light%20bulb Start a blog. Whatever your passion, whatever your interest, start a blog about it. If your enthusiasm is infectious enough, the customers will automatically follow. (For all you need to know about social networking and blogging, check out Starting an Online Business For Dummies, Australian & New Zealand Edition, by Greg Holden (Wiley Publishing Australia Pty Ltd).