Treat Customers Like Family

After a careful marketing strategy, your customers are finally pursuing you. They want your goods, they want your services but how do you know you have a stable relationship and not just a bad blind date? You want your customers to return in droves, if for no other reason than because, according to the Better Business Bureau, gaining the trust of a new customer is five times more expensive than continuing a relationship with a current one. The best way to maintain a successful relationship is to stop treating your customers like customers and start treating them like well, like family.

Let's say your customer walks into the store for the first time. Do you remind them of a shark pursuing its prey? Or are you friendly and helpful? Customers will respond better if you take the time to learn a few things about them – their name is a great start – and create a human connection before moving on to business. Compliment their clothes. Ask about the sports team whose logo they boast. Even a comment about the weather will help move you out of the rank of the greedy salesperson and make you more of a person. Remember details they mention – their kids, their spouse, their goals. Are they purchasing the product because they are tired of fighting with their teenagers? Can you sympathize with a brief sentence about your own? Make the customer an individual, treat them like someone important. Actually listen to them, the way you listened to your uncle at your last family gathering. Then, when your customer leaves, take a few quick notes for future reference.

Once the transaction is complete, do what any polite family member would do after a party – write 'thank you' notes. I'm not talking about a bland, one-size-fits-all printout, though this will still outperform most of your competition.. Take a few minutes to scribble a handwritten note, only three to five lines long, thanking them for choosing your business. Remember those personal notes you took? Mention one. For instance, "I hope your children really enjoy your new Tivo, and you finally get to watch your own shows!" Or,"I hope the fishing rod you purchased helps you bag the biggest one on the dock when you go to the lake this weekend." Individualize it. Ideally, once you have made the sale, you can take a minute or two to scribble the note, while things are still fresh in your mind. Your customer will remember that you went the extra mile, and will most likely feel the thanks are sincere – making them not only more inclined to return, but also more likely to spread that good karma around.

If you really want to take them by surprise, give them a call. I don't know about your family, but my mother loves to hear from me – and she especially loves to tell me what I did wrong. After a few days, ask them a few brief questions regarding your service. The key phrase: "What could I have done to make you more satisfied?" Make sure you remember what they said and learn from it, too. If there was a serious complaint, make sure you follow up on it to solve the problem quickly and efficiently, with the ultimate goal of customer satisfaction. Outsource it to your company care department if you must, but imagine how your customer would feel if you called and really did follow up by asking how many fish he caught. He would think, wow, that salesperson really does remember me and really did listen!

Next on your list, maintain a file your customer. Make a note of when they return to your store, what they buy, and any other comments they made. Then, cater to their interests. If your fisherman said that he would be looking for a part for his boat in the future, keep an eye out for when an appropriate one would come in. If your Tivo buyer mentioned he would have to get a DVD burner to permanently record their favorite shows, give them a call or send them a letter when the item goes on sale. Better yet, give them a discount before you give one to the rest of the general public – and let them know it. After all, wouldn't you give your brother first crack at saving money?

Periodically, send them a letter – again, handwritten is best. Remember all those letters to your grandparents? Enclose a flier with a brief note:"I thought you might be interested in this new kind of bait being developed, since you don't like the sliminess of the other brands." Touch base with them once a quarter. In this high tech world, databases abound that will alert you when you haven't contacted someone in three months. Keep your name and your concern at the front of their mind, and when they shop, you will be at the front of theirs.

People would rather buy from someone they know, someone they believe genuinely cares about them and their needs. I'm not talking about forcing a relationship to increase your profits, although that will certainly happen. Instead, try to genuinely meet the needs of those you come in contact with. Help them solve their problems. Don't forget about them once you have their money. Foster a good relationship, rather than a sales pitch. You will find that your customer will share his positive thoughts with others, creating an extended family of customers for life.

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