When it comes to building up a relationship with your clients, poor communication and not meeting their expectations are the 2 main reasons why they might take their services elsewhere. Whilst a larger business might expect their clients to shop around between suppliers – particularly in a competitive industry - customer loyalty is what keeps the books ticking over in small businesses and it is more important than ever to strike up a positive rapport with your customers to keep them coming back, and to keep them spreading the word to their friends and family.
Before working on any sort of marketing strategy, it is important to get your communication strategy working well with existing clients, before you attract (and potentially lose) new ones. So what matters most to customers?
You can reply to a customer with the best possible apology and offering them exactly what they wanted, but if you get the timeline wrong for this and you leave it too late then they will have gone elsewhere. Expectation on response times depends on the channel they are using to contact you, and particularly with fast-paced channels such as social media, a faster response will be expected than say by post, so this is something to be aware of before you set up lots of different ways for customers to contact you – will you be able to reply in a timely fashion?
Start small and offer a few different ways to contact; phone, text, email for example, and add in further channels as your business grows.
How you Respond
This one is very much down to your own interpretation. A customer may contact you via email to explain a problem they've been having, but do you reply to them on email or do you give them a call? As a general rule, if someone has emailed in it is because they want to make sure they get their point across exactly how they want to, and they can also send in photos if they need to. More often than not, a courtesy call to say you've acknowledged their email – even if you have yet to investigate the issue – will go a long way.
It goes without saying that the method you choose to respond to a customer requires a lot of common sense. For example, you wouldn't text someone who has called with a problem, and you wouldn't necessarily call someone up to read out your current special offers.
Anticipating problems before they arise will certainly help to cut down on time spent resolving issues that could have been nipped in the bud. If you know an order is not going to get dispatched on time, or if you are running late for a face to face appointment, a courtesy call will go a long way. Most often than not, the phone is the best way to contact customers about issues or delays which they need to be immediately aware of; although you might think an email is more professional, you are relying on the customer checking their email regularly and the only way you'd know they have received the message is if you speak to them yourself directly.
Of course it doesn't all need to be negative. In fact, some customers may be so impressed with your services that they contact you with positive feedback. Don't be afraid to request permission to use this feedback to help further promote your services – but make sure you do seek their permission first, particularly if you are using photographs to help promote your work.
Once you have tightened up your communication strategy you might want to think if there are ways in which you can actively contact customers. Some of the main reasons to contact customers are:
Happy Birthday/Merry Christmas Cards
According to Royal Mail, 82% of consumers open postal mail these days, which when you compare to the average open rates on marketing emails is substantially higher, and for good reason. We are bombarded with technology every single day, and so when a company sends you postal mail or gives you a call, the personal touch does go a long way.
Special Offers/New Services
Customers love to be kept up to date when there's a special offer on, no matter what industry you are in. Postal mail and email are the best ways to promote these, although if you know that a particular customer always buys a certain product or service and you are about to run a promotion on it, a phone call to them to let them know can drum up more business and keep them coming back.
Similarly if you are about to offer a new service or range of products, let your customers know!
Post-Problem Courtesy Contact
Once a customer issue has been resolved, it's always worth giving them a call to check they are now completely satisfied and that there's nothing else you can help with. This is particularly effective when coming from a manager or a more senior member of the business that the customer has not been directly dealing with; it shows that their custom is important to you.
Consider your industry and think about how often you might expect each customer to shop with you over what period of time. Some industries may only ever see customers once, and some may see their customers several times a month, so make sure you set out your expectations. If you then see that customers aren't coming back as regularly as you think they should be (and you suspect they may be shopping around), you can put a customer retention strategy in place. This can take the form of a letter or a phone call, or even a promotional flyer to remind customers what services you offer and the prices you charge.
Whilst an email is often the easiest and cheapest way to contact a large volume of customers, in many respects the traditional marketing methods are still often the most effective when it comes to small businesses. You may spend out a bit more on print costs or call charges, but if you get the strategy right then it will more than pay for itself over the lifespan of your customer.
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