In this the digital age, when everyone can be connected to everyone (or nearly everyone) almost all the time, I wonder: how connected are we, especially to our customers? Sure, they can reach us at all hours with all sorts of means, but how in-touch are we with our customers? How many of these contacts are merely follow-ups in an ongoing discussion about a project or topic?
Technology makes it convenient to communicate, but perhaps it has become too convenient. That is, technology is replacing the human contact that used to allow for a personalized touch. While working for an ad agency years ago, I would regularly e-mail PDFs to clients for proofing. That worked well for both of us. The client, after all, was usually quite busy. Plus, I had better things to do than drive 10 minutes or more merely to drop off a proof.
I often worried, though, about one day becoming so reliant on technology (notably e-mail) that the customer relationship would falter. Think about it. You get into a routine with a customer, using e-mail or other forms of technology to communicate, then one day: Poof! You learn the client has replaced your firm. “But,” you exclaim, “I’ve been there for you all along!” Have you, really?
Spend a few moments today assessing the relationships you have with your customers. Do you provide personal contact on at least an occasional basis? Meeting in person can be difficult for customers hundreds of miles away. But you can still stay in touch in a meaningful way. Some suggestions:
Send greeting cards. Sure, you send out a bunch in December. It’s a nice touch, but what about the other 11 months of the year? You could send out cards around July 4 or Thanksgiving. How about a goofy card right before Halloween? (How about a goofy card any time? Customers love to get a chuckle in the mail)
If you know your customers well, send cards celebrating family milestones like birthdays (even those of pets), anniversaries, graduations, and such. Be creative. Set yourself apart from the typical salesperson. Show that you genuinely are interested in them.
Send links to relevant articles. Do Web searches for relevant articles and blog columns, and send out e-mails with the link(s) embedded. You’re trying to show you care about their businesses, so don’t include a sales pitch. The message need not be long – something like, “Thought you might find this article of interest” – will suffice.
Get away with your client. Treat the person to breakfast or lunch. Take the person to (or offer tickets to) a ballgame, the theater, or some other public event.
Buy from your customers, and refer them whenever you can. Sales is supposed to be a mutually beneficial relationship. It’s not a one-way street. Help your customers prosper whenever you can. Along those lines….
Invite your customers to networking events. Don’t assume they know about the events, either. They may be too busy to follow e-mails and other announcements. Plus, the business may not be a member of the Chamber of Commerce or trade association. Meet your customer at the door, and pick up the entrance fee. As you scan the crowd, think of who would be good partners for your customers, and make the introductions.
It’s important to show that you’re not just a salesperson; that is, an order taker. You’re now becoming more like a business partner. You are genuinely interested in seeing your customers succeed, and it shows through your actions.
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