Developing customer relationship skills
Making a difference in your business
If you are going into business for yourself there are a few things you have to consider.
I’m assuming you already have decided what you want to do, either you have a special skill or you found a product that you can sell or manufacture. Either way you figured out what to do, but that will not guarantee success. Now, what does?
This is a hard question to answer. After all there are many other companies in the market that have been doing what you propose to do for lots of years, so that gives them experience. They already have clients, that gives them credit and reputation.
Then, there is the current economic crisis. It’s definitely not the time to go into business for yourself. Or maybe it is. After all you are just starting, your cost structure is low, you are not carrying any extra weight, so it’s easier to make it work and if you do, at this stage, when a lot of companies are going under, if you make it to the other side right now, you will be one of the few that will do it and you will be in a position to become the big fish.
So, what can you offer?
Where and how can you make a difference? And what will that get you?
Obviously, you need a good product or service. You are just starting, so you’re bound to make mistakes. Try to learn from them and correct them as soon as possible, never leave it until the next day. A good service or product is the basis of your reputation.
But most clients are willing to overlook a mistake once. So, you need to focus on another detail, which is something that most companies overlook and this will be your secret and the key to success: Customer Relationship Management.
Based on personal experience, as a business owner, I find that what makes our company different from the rest is the way we treat our clients. That has allowed us to progress and develop, even though we still have a long way ahead of us. Now, it may seem obvious, but apparently it’s not, because time and again I watch other companies do the same mistakes when it comes to dealing with clients. Why? I’m not quite sure.
When I mention Customer Relationship Management (CRM) I’m actually going beyond the notion of the Model that is implemented in a lot of companies to manage interaction between company and clients, designed not only to find new clients, but to retain them.
I am indeed, in the essentials, referring to such a model, but I’m trying to go a bit further, trying to capture the human feel in all that management.
You see, the CRM idea always makes me think of big companies, all the hierarchy and models applied with no notion of actually to whom it is directed, that is a lot about bureaucrats and bureaucracy and forms and models and no faces and names.
Well, the relationship with customers has to be completely different, it needs to be personal.
As owner of a new business you can do just that, your business is starting, its dimension allows you to do it yourself, or have someone do it for you, to have a proper follow up with the clients, but not just that, it allows you to give proper come backs to their needs and questions and that will make a difference.
A lot of times, bigger or smaller companies that have been on the market for many years don’t provide a good customer service to their clients. Their response times are very long, the clients requests and complaints get lost and at the end of the day the client is unhappy. This has consequences. But you can get ahead, by doing it the other way around.
Starting your own business
CRM – Customer Relationship Management
CRM refers to a model that was created to define a way to best interact with clients. It is based on the tools that allow this interaction and a change of attitude by the companies and its employees. The idea is to use software designed specifically to manage interaction with clients. These programs allow the company to store data on clients and to understand not only what the client needs now, but what he will need in the future, that way the company is in a position to foresee the client’s needs and to meet them accordingly. It also allows to come up with a communications strategy, how to approach the client, how to interact with him. Along with these studies and strategies comes customer service, making sure the client is taken care of, is happy and so remains.
At the end of the day this type of management promotes something very important if you have a business – word to mouth communication– and if your customer service is good, that word to mouth will be positive and you will see your business grow on account of that.
But this type of management is usually implemented in big companies. What I’m proposing, actually, is to take the main ideas that CRM uses and implement them in your particular case, which is, since you’re just starting, still a small business.
What you are trying to achieve is basically the same:
- Know what clients want;
- Meet clients needs;
- Make clients happy;
- Get more clients;
- Retain the clients you have;
- Improve your word to mouth advertising.
So, the same principles apply, but you can use different techniques. Actually you don’t need any state of the art software at this point and a million forms. You can manage customers relationships yourself, keeping a regular database with clients’ details and making sure you know exactly what is going on with clients and, of course, following some simple rules.
Your own strategies – Basic advices
Sometimes we just forget the most basic principles. In the end it’s fairly easy, but sometimes so easy, we overlook these principles. So, what should we do and why?
- Imagine you are the client: Figure out what you like and what you don’t like as a client and act based on it. What makes you happy, will probably make most of your clients happy. If you have employees make sure they know how you want them to treat your clients, otherwise you may be headed for a big surprise. It’s always a good idea, in these cases, to ask the clients from time to time how they are being taken care of by the employees and now and then send an unknown friend to pose as a potential client, just to make sure. This last one may sound cruel, but the fact is, it’s not your employees’ business, so you can’t really expect them to care so much as you (only natural). In time you will find that there are some workers, that even though the business is not theirs, care just as much, those are rare and keepers and once you find them you won’t need to worry so much.
- Listen to your client: You may know a lot in your field of expertise, but unless you really pay attention to what your client is saying, to what he is asking, to his needs and wants, you will do a poor job. A lot of people like to tell the clients what they need and want and assume they know best than the client. That sort of attitude will take you nowhere. The clients don’t appreciate it and will probably be out the door in a second. Instead, listen to what the client wants. That is not to say you will let him get away with a deranged idea that will never work, but if you listen you can, then, properly justify why that will not work and try to find something that does and that pleases the client.
- Answer promptly: No matter the question, answer promptly to the client. If you don’t know the answer to the question, let him know you are working on it and you will give him a reply as soon as possible. Also, keep him updated of everything that is going on. This one in particular is extremely important. In fact, if you think about it, it’s one of the most infuriating things there is when you can't have an answer from someone. You wonder why you haven’t had a reply, if they forgot about you, if they don’t care, if they read your question. If you are a client you want to know where you stand, after all it is your money. So, answer. Tell your client you received their letter, e-mail. Tell them you are working on it. If it takes too long, let them know you are still working on it. Also, if you are providing a service that takes some time, be sure to update them on how it is going.
- Fast cost estimate: Here is something I just can’t understand, hard as I try. Some companies take ages to provide you with a cost estimate. If they take so long to give a proper estimate, what can you expect about actually completing the work? And does the company actually want the work? That’s the client’s thought. And can you blame him? If you are asked for a cost estimate, give it straight away. If your price depends on thirds, call them as many times as necessary, so you can give a proper come back to your client and don’t make excuses. The client doesn’t want excuses, but results. Being fast when giving cost estimates shows the clients you want to work, you have energy, you are driven.
- Stop and breath: Never try to sort a situation immediately when it happens. That is, when you have a problem just stop, breath, think about it for a while, clear your mind. There are several scenarios for every situation and problem, you will only be able to see them all after a while. Only after this should you try to sort the situation and talk to your client.
- Admitting mistakes: Sometimes things go wrong, in big and small companies alike. It just happens. The important thing in such cases is try to correct the mistake as fast and the best way you can, but also to talk to the client, to explain the situation, what went wrong, why and how you are trying to fix it. Don’t send someone else to do it for you, do it yourself and do it fast (after sleeping on it), after all it won’t go away on its own and it’s best to do it as soon as possible, then the client finding out on its own or much later, when sometimes the situation is completely out of hand.
- Everything has consequences: Assume that everything you do has consequences, for you and for your client. With that in mind you will be much more careful in everything you do and that is good, because you will be able to foresee the consequences and avoid bad results.
- Be helpful: Sometimes you need to do some extra work or give the client something for free, before you actually have any gain. There are some things you can give and some services you can provide that will make the client happy and, in most cases, – not always – will guarantee the clients loyalty and that, in the end, he will come back. It means extra work, but usually it pays off.
- Provide extra information: A lot of times, most clients don’t have the know how in your field of expertise, either to understand the service your providing or the product you are selling. So, better to provide them with all the information that they need, the more, the better. That is, for instance, if you are selling the client a piece of land, make sure they also understand what they will need when they ask for planning permission. Though it’s not directly your service, it’s related, and that information may influence the choice of the land, which is what your work is all about. So, you really need to go that extra mile, that is all about foreseeing the clients’ needs.
- Finally, the golden rule – Comply to the time frame foreseen for completion – It doesn’t matter if you have to work at night, weekend or lunch time, if you tell a client you’ll have the work finished or the product ready for delivery in a week, then you need to have it ready by then. It’s unbelievable the number of companies that don’t keep to the schedules.
At the end of the day it all comes down to peoples' skills, that is what sets companies, products and services apart.
That is not to say that you can provide a poor service or sell a bad product, but a lot of companies provide good services and sell good products, what sets them apart is how they treat their clients, again it comes down to peoples' skill.
Now, for some people it comes naturally, others need to learn how, but everybody can do it, so long as we keep in mind exactly why we like to be treated. After all the saying "Do unto others as you would have them do to you" also applies here.
Therefore, be ready to make a difference, be that difference and without a doubt you will be rewarded with success.
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© Copyright Apr 17 2012 / Algarveview.hubpages.com. To use part or the whole article you must first get written permission from the author. Feel free, nonetheless, to use an intro of the hub with a link to the article here on hubpages for the rest of the article.
© 2012 Joana e Bruno
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