By Lindsey Anderson, CPA
Senior Manager, Tax Services
Many business owners are so focused on growing their list of customers or products and services that they forget to assess whether it’s easy for prospective customers to do business with them. Have you ever called your office as a customer? Or tried to navigate your website to ask a question or order a product? You might learn a thing or two! Here are some factors to consider when building relationships with customers and trying to earn their loyalty.
Responsiveness: Don’t leave customers hanging from an inquiring email. Even if you don’t have sufficient time to talk to them immediately, touch base to let them know when you will be available for a more in-depth discussion. In this age of email and instant messaging, there’s really no excuse for not being responsive promptly. It is good to understand what the expectation is of the customer and their preferred mode of response.
Hours of Operation: If you’re having trouble keeping up with customers’ needs, maybe you need to consider breaking past the standard 8-5 work week and adding evening or weekend hours. You need to build a great support team that allows you to be responsive and flexible, even in times of excessive workload for your team. You need to serve the customer when they are in need of your service and it is convenient for your customer. Here’s where texting comes into play again. Being able to be in constant contact with clients gives you the upper hand over your competitors. You need to demonstrate that you are different from your competitors.
Payment Methods: New payment methods — such as PayPal and Venmo — not only speed up cash collections, but they appeal to younger generations of customers who prefer online banking. Does your website facilitate online payments?
The First Impression: In the business world, your first impression is your best impression. Now, that impression usually isn’t made in a brick-and-mortar business — it’s made online. Do you have a website? Cyberspace is the first place people go to now to get a sense of what you do and what you can offer them. Is your website user-friendly and easy to navigate? Is it visually appealing? Do you convey what the company’s culture is like through photos, videos and social media content highlighting the staff and the chemistry between co-workers? Is it easy to find your contact information on the site? Are your Google reviews up to date and commensurate with the product or service you offer?
Expectations: Be careful with deadlines. Don’t throw them out, unless you’re certain you can do something by the time you say you can complete it. It’s best to under-promise and over-deliver. Customers like pleasant surprises; they want you to exceed their expectations. And if you have to go the extra mile at the last minute due to your customer’s poor planning, don’t hesitate to charge more for the rush job.
Be Honest: Honesty includes telling people when something isn’t possible. Be straight with them. It’s OK to say “no” to hasty requests. A lack of planning on their part doesn’t constitute an emergency on your part. Instead of trying to pull tricks out of your hat at the last minute, provide realistic solutions that are workable in the long term. Good business isn’t about making a fast buck — it’s about building long-lasting customer relationships. Honesty sometimes means telling the customer what they do not want to hear, but honesty builds trust and credibility.
Some Customers Aren’t a Good Fit: As hard as you may try, you can’t please everyone. The customer isn’t always right. Don’t bend over backwards for those who have unrealistic desires and expect Cadillac service at a cheap price.
Character and integrity matter in the marketplace. Make sure you address these guidelines to build your reputation as a business of choice, the kind of commercial enterprise people consider it easy to do business with, and they will seek you out!