Monday, January 14, 2008

Customer Relationship Management – 2 Secrets Every Small Business Owner Should Know!

When was the last time you received some form of communication, such as a postcard, phone call, or email, from a business asking how satisfied you were with their products and services? If you're like me, you may not be able to remember the last time because it has been so long (almost three years for me).

When was the last time you received some form of communication from a business to thank you for using their products or services or to simply maintain friendly contact with you? Once again, if you're like me, it has been a very long time.

In fact, the last time a business did that with me was almost seven years ago. I had spent several nights at a Bed & Breakfast in Colorado during the summer of 1999, and I received a Christmas card from the owners that Christmas with a picture of their house during one of Colorado's famous blizzards.

It was a nice follow-up on their part. When I received the card, it brought back the memory of the great experience and fun that I had while staying there. It also made a very nice impression on me that they had taken the time and effort to send me such a nice Christmas card (in reality, there wasn't much effort involved on their part, but recipients of this type of communication always magnify the effort in their minds).

This type of follow-up is one area in which almost all businesses fail miserably. Customer relationships are the life force of every business, yet business owners continually neglect these relationships. And it costs them dearly.

Think about all the money that a business may spend on advertising to bring in new customers. Think about all the money that a business may spend on creating a high-quality experience for their customers. Now think about how much most businesses spend to cultivate and reinforce their relationships with current customers.

How about your business? What do you, as a business owner, do to cultivate your relationships with your current customers? A current satisfied customer is your greatest asset. Not only are they already predisposed to continue doing business with you, but they are one of the absolute best sources of new customers through the power of "word-of-mouth" advertising.

Sure, your paid advertising promotes your business as being "the best". But paid advertising is almost never viewed as being objective. After all, everybody's paid advertising promotes their business as being "the best".

On the other hand, when a customer who has no profit motive enthusiastically recommends your business, that recommendation is worth its' weight in gold. People will trust the independent recommendations of others. That's just one of the many reasons why you should always take good care of your customers.

Okay, so how can you cultivate a high-quality relationship with your customers? Let's start by developing a simple action plan that you can begin to use immediately.

First, you need to collect contact information for your customers. Ideally, you should choose a method of contact that fits your type of business. In my example above, the postcard with a picture of the Bed & Breakfast was a great method of contact for that particular type of business. It was personal and effective. If you sell very expensive items, then you may want to consider a personal phone call. For many businesses, email contact may be the best method.

Whatever method of contact you choose, just be sure to let your customers know that you value their privacy and will not disclose their contact information to anyone else (trust is a huge part of any relationship). In some cases, you may even have to offer a little something to encourage your customers to provide their contact information. If necessary, do so.

Second, follow-up with your customers on a regular basis. You will need to decide what that regular basis should be based on the type of business you own. If you own a dress shop, then you may want to contact your customers and let them know that you just received a new inventory of the very latest fashions from one of your best suppliers. In this particular case, email or possibly snail mail will be your best method of contact.

If you own a boat dealership, then you may want to send recent boat buyers a note letting them know that you just received a new shipment of accessories that they may be interested in seeing. You may want to send less recent customers a note telling them about the new boat models you now have in stock and the incredible trade-in program you are currently running. Or maybe you can tell them about a "Customer Appreciation Sale" that you are having.

Perhaps you can contact your customers and offer them a special deal that will allow you to smooth a seasonal demand that your business may have. If you operate a small engine or lawnmower repair shop, then March and April are going to be pretty busy months for you. Why not send a note to your customers in January offering a special discount on lawnmower maintenance if they act by February 15th? That will allow you to level your workload and avoid the huge peaks and valleys in demand that you would normally have to deal with.

I do have one word of caution though; be very careful with the content of your communication with your customers. Always try to provide some value whenever you contact your customers so that they don't just view your contact as nothing more than a cheap and poorly conceived sales pitch.

If you do a good job of cultivating your relationships with your customers, then your business will reap the rewards. So don't delay. Use what you have learned in this article to begin building a strong and lasting relationship with your customers. You'll be glad you did.

Gerald Cook holds a Bachelor's and a Master's Degree in Business Administration, and he has extensive real-world business consulting experience. Gerald is the author of the "One book every small business owner or manager should read!" Visit http://www.discovergreatsuccess.com for more details.

Copyright 2006 – Gerald Cook. All Rights Reserved. Reprint Rights: You may reprint this article as long as you keep all the links active, do not edit or modify the article in any way, properly attribute the article to the author, and follow all the EzineArticles terms of service for Publishers.

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