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Building Customer Relationships

Christine Corelli

Sales and business growth is all about establishing and then developing good business relationships. This takes time and energy--a lot of both. Gone are the days when you showed your customer your product and they said, "Okay, let's go with it."  If you offer a service, it takes even longer to do.  And be assured, you must work hard to build your name and build your clientele.  


The most important ingredient of any relationship- whether it is business or personal-is a shared sense of trust. You will never be able to establish or develop any relationship without it, for trust is the foundation for reliability, dependability, honesty and good faith. That is why it is critical to be up front and honest with your customer from Day One. Promise only what you can deliver and deliver what you promise, and then some! It is that simple.   


For example, if your customer says they want delivery in two weeks and you know it will likely take three, say, "I'd like to be able to tell you it will be two weeks, but I want to be honest with you, it will likely take three.  I will do everything I possibly can to get it to you sooner." (Then of course, try like heck to get it to them in their timeframe.)


Always conduct business with integrity. But how can you define it?  In simple terms integrity might mean, "Being who you say you are, and doing what you say you'll do." Perhaps the old "Doing-unto others" may be the ultimate definition. Of course that eliminates resisting the temptation to ever "stretch the truth," "tell a little white lie," or omit facts that may be inconvenient to mention just to get the sale or please the customer. You can't dodge tough questions, or respond evasively to difficult inquiries. 

To operate with integrity also means that you refrain from badmouthing the competition. If you do, you may come across as unprofessional. You won't win-over customers by attacking the competition, and if you say or do anything to turn customers off, they'll look elsewhere.  You'll get their business by working hard for it, proving yourself, being likable and by portraying a higher class of service in every aspect of doing business with them.

Be Up Front and Honest from Day One.

Being up front and honest from day one is critical to developing a relationship. When something goes wrong or a problem occurs, honesty is always the best policy.  In fact, if a problem occurs and you solve it the right way, it can make the relationship stronger. If you make a mistake, own up to it, or you'll lose face. Apologize sincerely and hopefully, the customer will understand. Correct mistakes quickly and smoothly.

Errors, such as mistakes in billing, or putting the wrong information on an order, can happen. Rectify them with an apology and a graceful comment such as, "I'm so sorry this happened. Let's fix it immediately." Carry out remedial action promptly. No customer is happy when they lose precious time from your mistakes. If a problem arises or a mistake has been made, handling them the right way builds relationships.  On the other side of the coin, what happens when a customer depends on you and you deliver? They depend on you even more.

Be Consistent

Building relationships requires being persistent, but it also requires consistency. If you are in a business where a customer will not likely purchase often, such as a car dealership, a mortgage broker, or hotel property salesperson, be sure to build relationships and create goodwill by communicating often with them after their purchase. Depending on your industry, I recommend you do this Quarterly. Whether it's a simple written note, a phone call, or e-mail, those extra touches make them feel special. Your effort just might pay off with repeat business and referrals.

Remember to Ask About What's Important to THEM.

Remember your customers' interests, hobbies, and special events and ask questions about what is important to them. "So, Joe how was your golf game last weekend?" "Your assistant told me you were on vacation. Were you able to get away with your family?" "How was your daughter's wedding?" "So, how do you like your new car?" "How's your business doing, Joe." Learn the art of small talk but be brief.

Offer Small Kindnesses and Courtesies

If your customer is a GOLF nut, send them an issue of "Golf" magazine. Remembering your customer likes Starbucks coffee and walking in with a fresh cup is always a nice gesture when calling on them. Don't forget the Gatekeeper either!  You'll need to be on their good side at all times.

Make Yourself Valuable!

Position yourself as an ongoing, valuable resource to customers by providing them with ideas and information that will help them grow THEIR business.  If you read an article that may be of interest to your customer, send it to them.  If you learned something new in a seminar that will be helpful to them, tell them. If you know someone who can use THEIR services by all means tell them. These are ways to build a relationship before, during and after the sale. It demonstrates your willingness to help and is also a way to keep your name in front of them.  In addition, it gives you a reason to call them other than doing so to offer your services.

"Partner for Success" 

Learn about your customer's business and what's important to them. Get actively engaged in it and "partner" with them to help them achieve their goals. This holds true even when you're unable to help them. In my sales seminars, I remind people to help the customer in every way possible--even when it means referring them to another company that can meet their needs when you can't. If you do, it will clearly demonstrate that you have the customer's best interest in mind and will help develop the relationship. When was the last time you helped a customer when there was nothing in it for you? 

If you're only thinking about bottom lines, profit margins and increased sales as you interact with customers, then you'll never be truly successful. Internalize the customer's goals and make them your own. When customers know you have their interests at heart and they see that you've tied your success to their own, you'll have built a strong relationship.

The two most effective methods to build relationships with customers:

1. Value them. Your customer needs to feel appreciated-very appreciated. What have you done lately to show your customer you appreciate them?

2. Exceed their expectations in every possible way.  In the past, simply satisfying that customer may have been sufficient enough to develop a solid relationship and keep them coming back for more business. You've heard a great deal about how you need to take that "Extra Step" to exceed expectations. Even though you've heard it before it warrants reinforcement. Exceeding customer expectations is by far, the best way to build a relationship.

You can establish life-long friendships and build strong customer loyalty by going the extra mile and handling each customer with special care.

Christine Corelli is an international business speaker who speaks from EXPERIENCE, not textbook theory, and is the author of "Wake Up and Smell the Competition - They're Closer Than You Think"  - How to Compete and Win in Today's Real World" . For information on her speaking and training programs call 352-438-0261 or [email protected]   www.ExpertSpeaker.com/Speakers/CorelliC.htm  

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