Leading With Change + Innovation

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“If you really want to know about business, you should refer to Scott Steinberg.” -Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group

Customer Service Expert: 10 Ways to Build Better Business Relationships

As any customer service expert can tell you, good working relationships with customers and colleagues are extremely important. But great ones are even better. Your clients are the lifeblood of your business, so developing and cultivating a healthy relationship with them is key to your success. A side benefit is that every key trait that can build better and more lasting relationship with customers can also help you develop better peer-to-peer relationships with coworkers, including employees and supervisors, as well. The following ten strategies can help customers become enamored with your business, and keep talented colleagues from leaving. Remember to keep these points in mind as part of your communications, outreach and customer service strategies. The more you practice the following methods, the more people will want to work with you. Remember Walt Disney’s advice: “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.”

1. Maintain a Positive Attitude

You’ll never work well with everyone unless you remain as positive and sympathetic as possible: Think of it like diplomacy, not negotiation. Problems exist in every business, but what’s important is meeting these challenges with an optimistic attitude. You will be surprised at how much quicker you will achieve a positive resolution if you approach issues and confrontations from a positive standpoint and show others that you hear and value their opinions. Remember: The image that we project to the world is often how we’re perceived – you know what they say about judging books by their covers. You can’t afford to blow up in the face of a tough client, belligerent coworker or irate supervisor: All instances can cost you time, money, needless suffering and even potentially your business or job. Anybody can complain or argue when things get hard. It’s those who set about solving the problem practically and enthusiastically that succeed.

2. Don’t Try to Change Others’ Viewpoints

When doing business, you can try to change others’ viewpoints, or you can be flexible, accept they and their viewpoints for who and what they are, and roll up your sleeves and do what it takes to work with them and get the job done. Relationship problems are often exaggerated because of biases, judgment and predispositions, including views of how the world should operate or others’ reaction. (As Tolstoy observed, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves.”) Remember that it’s far more difficult to change others than it is change your reaction to them. It’s all too easy to make assumptions about the others’ position, and what they think and feel or be judgmental. However, it’s better to be as impartial and empathetic as possible – listen, learn, and work with them to more quickly and skillfully address points of concern.

3. Reward Loyalty and Stay Connected

Wherever possible, go above and beyond the norm to serve your customer, and offer them added value for working with you: Outstanding and loyal customers deserve outstanding treatment. At a bare minimum, when dealing directly with shoppers, business writer Danny Duric suggests developing a reasonable customer loyalty program that involves seasonal offers and discounts. In all cases, stay in contact with business connections always be looking to provide help, expertise and assistance: You can’t simply tune out or switch off once a customer has committed to the sale. Whether reaching out via email, telephone, or social media, out of sight is out of mind, and a partner who disappears in the middle of an ongoing transaction is none one you’re likely to do repeat business with.

4. Know When to Say Yes

TechRepublic’s Kevin Eikenberry says it’s important to say yes to requests that are within your capacity to provide, even if they require you to work a bit harder than usual. Ultimately, clients will be grateful and will remember your dedication: We tend to remember those who go above and beyond. Moreover, the more vale you bring to the table, and more often you do so on your client or customer’s behalf, the more valuable you become. This will improve your relationship, make you more memorable, and make you more difficult to replace in clients’ minds.

5. Know When to Say No

Conversely, Eikenberry says you need to be able to say no when necessary to requests that fall outside of these boundaries. Sometimes, he argues, the customer isn’t always right. Oftentimes, clients ask us to assume responsibilities or perform work that is outside of our capability to offer. If these requests go beyond the scope of your contract agreement, within reason, don’t be afraid to steer them another way: Rather than simply say no, try to provide introductions or leads on other resources (i.e. agencies or freelancers) who can perform the service needed. This will keep you in your client’s good graces and, in the end, they will appreciate your honesty in not stretching yourself too thin or wasting their time.

6.  Know When To Make Exceptions

For example, if you have a loyal customer who may have missed a deadline for a product return by a few days, go ahead and process it anyway. In special occasions, or under special circumstances (especially for repeat buyers), you can always make exceptions to your rules: The aim is to follow the spirit of the arrangement, not always the exact letter. Doing so shows others that we appreciate them, understand their perspective, and value their business – even if it costs us in the short-term, since it helps build trust and positive relationships, there’s still much to be gained. While it’s important to follow practices and procedures, a little give and take here and there can make a world of difference in how others view you and the level of service you provide.

7.         Excel at Your Job

You want to provide the best work possible, as reliably as possible, and at all times: Think of every day as you would a job interview – dress to impress, act like a trusted and caring professional, and deliver output and productivity to match. As discussed before, everyone’s a customer, and everyone’s watching. With word of mouth the best form of advertising, it pays to remember: People talk, including colleagues, clients, strategic partners and the public at large. Amazingly, Forrester Research says that only 37% of brands received good or excellent customer experience index scores in 2012, while 64% of brands got a rating of “OK,” “poor” or “very poor” from their customers. Equally eye-opening, RightNow reports that as many as 89% of consumers began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience. These stats show the importance of excelling at customer service, and always putting forth your best foot, firsthand.

8.  Speak to Customers With Respect

When communicating with your customers, never patronize or talk down to them. Likewise, keep dialogue and messaging approachable, inviting, and straightforward. The more distant or disengaged you appear, the greater the gulf you place between yourself and your audience. Always onsider others’ opinions, backgrounds and stances, and be open and honest while speaking in a language that all can understand. The mantra “show, don’t tell” readily applies here: You must couple words with actions. When you speak to audiences in plain English, and treat them as you’d wish to be treated, they’ll pay you the same respect.

9. Say Thanks

One of the best ways to enhance customers’ opinions of your brand, and your relationship with them, is to thank them for their contributions. Especially so when you do so as a surprise. According to Entrepreneur magazine, research shows that customers spend more and vendors are more likely to pay on time if they are thanked regularly. Regardless of the impact on the bottom line, it’s a good habit to get into. When a customer purchases from you or your business, slip in a personal note thanking them for being such a great customer, or reward them by spotlighting or sharing their contributions for others to see. In some cases, you might also send them a free gift, coupon or offer that rewards them for their patronage. Data clearly shows that customers spend more, employees accomplish more, and vendors are likelier to be more consistent in their purchasing patterns if they’re appreciated. Make treating them well your mantra.

10. Cultivate a Social Community

There’s much talk in the business world about how organizations can use social media, but not nearly as much as on how to use it effectively. Your main goal in using the medium should be to create a living, breathing conversation and community where customers not only communicate with you, but other customers as well. The same way neighborhoods strive to be friendly, inviting and welcoming to all is the same way you should approach online forums and social media platforms.

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