Ask SCORE: How can I build solid customer relationships?

Keep your customers happy with a personal touch.

You’ve seen people so absorbed with their smartphones that they appear oblivious to everything that’s going on around them. Of course, everyone is entitled to their personal privacy, and perhaps the message or video on their phone really is that important, but spending too much time in a “heads-down” position can be off-putting to others.

Many entrepreneurs, particularly those who work from home, operate their small businesses much the same way when they rely too heavily on email or texting to communicate with clients. Digital communication is convenient, particularly for work-related issues and updates, but numerous studies have come to the same conclusion—customers want to be treated like people.

When you take a technology-centric approach to communication, you’re missing an opportunity to foster a relationship with your customers, a quality that is becoming increasingly critical when deciding who we want to do business with. 

“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 to check-in and see how they’re doing. 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. 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 one or two 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, connect with them on LinkedIn, like their Facebook page and weigh in on discussions as appropriate.

Should you use email to communicate with customers? Of course.. Should you text them? If they are comfortable texting, do it. But every now and then, look up from your screens and find a more personal way to communicate. It will definitely be worth the extra effort.

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