Developing Good Customer Relationships
Building Trust and Goodwill With Customers
Think of the last time that you stood in a long line in a store, or struggled to reach the right department in a call center. How did it make you feel? Chances are, you felt frustrated. But you may also have felt that the company didn't value you as a customer.
Experiences like these can cause you to take your custom elsewhere. In time, if other customers do the same, the company's future will be in jeopardy.
Now think what happens when you have a positive customer service experience. You're happy, your needs are met, you're likely to return to the company in future. You may even recommend it to your friends. The organization has benefited directly, too. The money that you spent, along with that of other satisfied customers, will have helped it to invest in new products and services for the future.
In this article, we'll look at how you and your team can build and maintain good customer relationships.
Why Good Relationships Matter
John Kay, a professor at London Business School, noted the importance of strong relationships in his 1993 book, "Foundations of Corporate Success." He suggested that companies can build competitive advantage by developing good customer relationships.
These good customer relationships generate income, but they also provide invaluable information about your customers' needs. If your organization can respond to these needs, it can become even stronger in the future.
You can find out more about John Kay's ideas in our article on his Distinctive Capabilities Framework.
We focus on external relationships in this article. However, you can use many of these concepts to build great relationships with your internal customers.
Strategies for Building Good Relationships
There's a lot that you can do to build positive relationships with your customers;
"Your call is important to us" – how often have you heard this, only to have to wait 10 minutes to talk to someone?
If you want to provide good customer service, you need to hire enough people to give good customer service. Sure, you can automate call routing, and you can optimize staffing levels with intelligent use of queuing models. However, you are certain to disappoint customers if you haven't got enough people on duty.
Be very careful what you measure. If you try to maximize the number of cases-per-hour that your people handle, then you will only have yourself to blame when customer relationships fall apart. Give your people the space that they need to deliver great customer service, and measure their performance based on customer satisfaction.
Develop a Customer Service Mindset
Next, develop a customer-oriented mindset: you must understand your customers' needs, and you must work very hard to meet these.
This is essential, even if you aren't working directly with customers. After all, you need to understand the issues that your customers face, so that you can help your people address these.
Do what you can to support them in this. For example, you could hold regular meetings to discuss customer feedback, learn from it, and agree next steps.
They can build trust by being authentic. Help them to show their true selves when they interact with customers – for example, by offering information about themselves that they feel comfortable sharing.
If your team members make mistakes, encourage them to apologize, explain honestly what went wrong, and make amends. What's more, support them and praise them when they do. (Beware of liability issues here; however, these are often not as significant as people sometimes fear.)
Rapport is a step up from trust: it's about mutual liking and respect. When your people build rapport with customers, the relationship will become a pleasure. Team members will enjoy speaking to customers, and vice versa.
Help members of your team find something that they have in common with each customer. Then encourage them to listen to customers with empathy. This will break down barriers and create a more genuine relationship.
Trust and rapport come into their own if your people need to deal with unhappy customers. Customers are more likely to accept apologies and solutions if they have good relationships with your front-line people.
Develop Good Communication Habits
Clear communication is key to good relationships, because it helps everyone make informed choices.
Encourage your team to use the 7Cs of Communication when they're writing emails and other communications. Lead by example by making your own messages concise and to-the-point.
Remember, too, that communication with customers must go two ways. They need to be able to get in touch with your team easily, especially when they have a problem.
So, make sure that your team members include their contact details in all of their communications, and that this information is also easily accessible online. You may want to set up other communication channels, such as a a forum or online chat, so that customers can connect with your team in a variety of ways.
Nowadays, some customers prefer to use social media to get in touch. Make sure that your organization's social media accounts are monitored regularly, and that you respond to any comments – positive or negative – promptly and professionally.
Reward Loyal Customers
If you do a good job, some of your customers will go out of their way to support your organization. That's when it's important to say "thank you."
Make sure that your team members know about special discounts, free gifts, and loyalty programs that they can use to reward loyal customers. Encourage your people to come up with their own ideas for customer rewards, too. These can be small but meaningful. For example, a handwritten Thank-You note or phone call costs very little, but can make a lasting impression. (If you are thinking of giving gifts in a business-to-business context, be aware of any relevant anti-bribery legislation.)
Train People Regularly
It can be easy to lose sight of the need for great customer service when people are busy. So, offer regular refresher training on why it's important for your team to develop good relationships with customers. You can use role play to demonstrate how to build, maintain, and repair relationships. Let your team members act out scenarios that show what can go wrong in an interaction, and then practice how to turn the situation around.
If your team interacts with customers every day, keep in mind that this can be draining, and it can even cause burnout. Our article on emotional labor has strategies that you can use to lower the impact of emotional exhaustion.
Good customer relationships are the cornerstone of successful business. Your competitors might be able to match you on price, quality, or market appeal, but they will struggle to compete with you if you have good customer relationships.
To develop these, use the following strategies:
- Resource appropriately.
- Manage intelligently.
- Develop a customer service mindset.
- Create trust.
- Build rapport.
- Develop good communication habits.
- Reward loyal customers.
- Train people regularly.