Ask SCORE: What’s the best way to communicate with my customers?

You’ve seen people so absorbed with their smartphones that they appear oblivious to what’s going on around them. True, everyone is entitled to a bit of privacy, and perhaps that message or video really, really important. However, spending too much time in a “heads-down” mode can be off-putting and, sometimes dangerous.

Many entrepreneurs, particularly those who work from home, operate their small businesses much the same way when they rely too heavily on email to communicate with clients. Email is convenient, particularly for work related issues and updates, but numerous studies have come to the same conclusion — customers want to be treated as people, not as return email addresses.

When you take a technology-centric approach to communication, you’re missing an opportunity to build a relationship with your customers. Don’t you think they would rather do business with someone they know? Wouldn’t you?

“Sixty percent of communication is non-verbal, 20 percent is tone of voice,” says Sam Richter, an internationally recognized expert and author on sales and marketing. “That means only 20 percent is actual content. So if you’re doing email only, you’re losing 80 percent of your communication.”

That’s why it’s a good idea for a home-based business owner to pick up the phone every now and then and talk with customers. The idea isn’t to fish for work, but rather check-in and see how they’re doing and talk a little shop. Maybe offer a thank you for their last order or quick payment.

That connection may or may not result in new work immediately, but it’s sure to leave a positive impression.

Just make sure the reason for calling is relevant, particularly if you find yourself leaving a voice mail. “Think about how busy you are, and what you want and don’t want to hear in a voice message,” advises Richter.

Here are some other suggestions for adding a personal touch to your customer interactions:

Make a date. Arrange a time to meet in person at a mutually convenient location, or close to the customer. Ideally, you want to do this as early in your work with the client as possible to discuss processes and expectations. But any opportunity to meet and catch up is a good one.

Write a note. When you learn of good news about your customers or their organization, send them a handwritten note of congratulations. Even a few sentences expressing heartfelt feelings are sure to make you and your business memorable.

Follow them. Social media has lived up to its name, adding some personality to our online connections. Make it a point to follow your customers’ Twitter feeds and blogs, like them on Facebook, and weigh in on discussions as appropriate.

Also, use these connections to forward timely articles on industry-related issues, and your customer’s personal interests.

But don’t be condescending. Insincere flattery and blatant attempts to earn someone’s favor can quickly turn a valued acquaintance into an unwanted annoyance.

For help communicating with your customers, contact SCORE — Mentors to America’s Small Businesses. SCORE is a nonprofit organization with more than 12,000 volunteers who provide free, confidential business mentoring and training workshops to small business owners. To contact Kitsap SCORE, email kitsap@scorevolunteer.org, call 360-328-1380 or visit kitsapscore.org.

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