How to Create Customer Relationships that Count

Posted August 26, 2016

By Karen Peacock

Connecting with customers is a crucial part of success for any small business—but simply making a connection isn't enough. You have to make sure you make the right connection, and then use it to drive innovation that keeps your customers coming back.

Small business owners often experience their biggest ah-ha moments during one-on-one interactions with their customers. Spending time with customers and prospects, learning what matters to them, and then testing your hypotheses can create a continuous feedback circle that both delights customers and powers your business forward.

[Give your customers more: Choosing the Right Tech for Amazing Customer Experiences]

5 Ways to Connect with Customers

You can make those customer connections and gain insights in a variety of ways. Here are a few of my favorites—from making one-on-one interactions really work to ways that you can use tech tools and data to help you keep your business thriving and innovating.

Hands-On Customer Testing

Don't just ask customers what they like about your product or service; put something in front of them and watch what they do.

Say for example that you're marketing a food product. Make five versions of it, and then go to your local farmer's market and see how people react. Let them taste it. Which version sells out? How much of the under-performer do you end up taking home?

Talk to your customers as they buy. Was it the flavor combination? Would a price tweak make the whole line appealing, or is one SKU a total bomb? Testing in small batches is a terrific way to keep from scaling a product too soon and risking an expensive flop.

How to build customer relationships

Broaden Your Customer Knowledge

Understanding as much as possible about your customer's overall life will deliver real insight into how you can make your product or service better.

Say you operate a spa with a client base of busy people whose only free time consists of their commute in and out of work. You can simplify their lives by making it easy for them to sign up for an appointment using text messaging. Send a text reminder: "Hey, it's been a month. Your favorite therapist is open at your favorite appointment time. Just type 'yes' to schedule."

Pay Attention to Customer Actions

Don't simply listen to what people say, because sometimes they say things they think you want to hear just to be polite.

Consider a dry cleaner who notices that her customers often get caught short by an unforeseen business trip. Starting a rush service might sound like a great idea, and customers might say they agree. Want to save yourself time, money, and a potential headache? Run what the tech world calls a 'lean experiment.'

Instead of investing heavily in same-day cleaning, create a test environment by offering the service for a week—even if that means taking a few orders to a dry cleaner in another neighborhood to turn it around for you. You save yourself an expensive build-out, and you'll know whether or not people actually embrace the new service.

The Customer Data Connection

Small businesses differentiate with personalized service, and your business data can help you build on that personal advantage. Here's the key: use your data to get to know and remember your customers on an intimate level, and then focus on delivering value.

Back in the old days, a florist might keep an index card box full of handwritten customer data—birthdays, anniversaries, a list of extended family members. Today you can automate all that. An email marketing tool—combined with your customer spreadsheet and what's in your own head—can be an effective mix for sending out reminders for important gift-buying dates.

In this case you want to identify a customer's recurring need and figure out how to note it in your system. The benefits are two-fold; it makes shopping easier for your customers, and it drives more purchases for your business.

A small pet-store owner might use business data to create an automated pick-up service that understands what a customer ordered last time, what she might want to add on, and keeps her credit card info on file. All that customer needs to do is pick up her phone—or better yet, send a text—saying "fulfill my usual order for pickup at 5 p.m. today." That kind of slam-dunk customer service fuels sales.

A Simple Customer Survey Yields Powerful Results

A three-question survey can produce something called a Net Promoter Score that provides canny insight into how many customers love your product or service enough to be your champion.

Ask these questions in your simple survey:

  1. On a scale of zero to 10, how likely are you to recommend this product or service to a friend or colleague?
  2. Why?
  3. Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

People who answer the first question with a nine or 10 are your word-of-mouth promoters. Folks who reply with zero to six are your detractors. Those who respond with sevens and eights don't move the needle for you. Adding up the number of nines and 10s and subtracting the detractors yields your Net Promoter Score.

You can conduct this survey using either physical post cards or an easy online software tool like SurveyMonkey. Either way you'll achieve meaningful, actionable insights.

Years of experience with this type of survey has shown me time and again that it is the nines and 10s who help drive your business. Your goal is to acquire more of them. So, learn from the word-of-mouth promoters you already have, listen to customers who aren't your top promoters, apply the feedback they share about your products or services, and you will be well on your way to a strong base of happy, repeat customers.

[Get more from your customers: Encourage Customer Reviews for Small Businesses Success]

Customer-driven innovation will keep your business moving forward, and your customers will ultimately determine whether you succeed. Make your connections count by engaging in authentic one-on-ones and by using data—and your own observations—to get to know your customers as real people.

Senior Vice President Karen Peacock oversees Intuit's small business offerings including QuickBooks, Payments, and Payroll. She believes in giving small business owners and entrepreneurs the support they need to focus on their customers, their products, and their craft.

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