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6 Ways to Cultivate Better Customer Relationships

file0001768686577It’s a mantra hammered into the heads of anyone who has ever owned a business, worked in a service industry or stepped foot in the world of sales: “The customer is always right.”

Beyond simply placating customers, however, the modern take on this tried-and-true saying has evolved into what some refer to as “relationship marketing,” or the art of building connections, rapport and personal relationships with customers. Today, customer relationship management (CRM) is an increasingly important aspect of running a business — and a successful strategy is an extremely useful and revenue-building tool for almost any business model.

Here’s advice from six entrepreneurs about cultivating customer relationships, building customer rapport and CRM best practices.

1. Know That Happy Customers = Returning Customers
Lee Hnetinka, business co-founder and CEO, has strong customer relationships to thank for his growing business. “Most of our business comes from relationships. Most of our users come from current users,” says Hnetinka. “Relationships are huge.”

Making (and keeping) customers happy has benefits that stretch beyond simply having satisfied patrons. Happy customers are more likely to refer your service, product or business to their friends, family and colleagues — and this grapevine effect is invaluable.

In turn, a great CRM strategy builds brand loyalty and improves your business’ reputation. Satisfied customers who feel as if their needs are being met — or ideally, exceeded — are more likely to speak positively of your business, or review and rate it highly online.

2. Set and Manage Realistic Expectations
One of the most important factors that goes into an effective CRM strategy is providing customers and clients with realistic expectations — and following through with them, says Alexandre Winter, business co-founder and CEO. “The worst you can do is disappoint your users or customers. You might think you will sound lame if you under-promise, but you will never regret it,” says Winter.

When in doubt, under-promising and over-delivering is preferable to setting wildly unrealistic expectations that you — or your company — simply can’t deliver.

3. Be a Connector
Allyson Downey, business co-founder and CEO, offered advice for maintaining professional relationships in a recent article on business networking:

“Be a connector. The first thing you should ask yourself when meeting someone new is, ‘What can I do for this person?’ The first thing you should ask yourself when meeting someone new is, ‘What can I do for this person?’ It sounds a little self-helpy, but everyone needs something: a dentist, a lunch suggestion, help fixing their Wi-Fi network. Be the person who can make those introductions, and these connections will pay dividends to you for decades,” says Downey.

4. Document Important Customer Information
Downey also suggests keeping track of important customer details (names, birthdays, kids’ names and other relevant information), as well as sending cards or personal notes to customers at least once every year.

Downey urges business owners to go beyond the typical address book or spreadsheet to track customer or client information. “Entrepreneurs are managing hundreds — thousands! — of relationships, and I’m always astounded when I hear they’re just using Google spreadsheets. A CRM isn’t just for customer relationship management; we use it to keep track of reporters, investors, prospective hires and more.”

5. Respond Promptly
Elliot Hirsch, business founder and CEO, believes that quick responses can leave a lasting impact on customers. Prompt responses to customer inquiries, feedback or comments can be the difference between a mediocre client relationship and a great one.

“We live in a real-time world, and our clients have diverse schedules, so we feel strongly that immediate responses to requests — personal and within minutes, even a simple ‘message received, can we help you with anything else in the meantime?’ acknowledgement — are very important and deliver a big Wow. It seems minor, but it goes a very long way to demonstrate not only how much we truly care, but also showcases the clear benefits of using young nimble companies like us, as opposed to old incumbents,” says Hirsch.

6. Think Like a Salesperson
Matt Hartman, business founder, previously worked on the tech side of startups. While he recruited a few customers through personal relationships, he struggled when it came to referrals. “As a product person and engineer, I was not used to traditional ‘sales.’ Simple things like setting calendar reminders to follow up made the difference between success and failure,” he says. Landlords who’d said no to his startup had fallen off his radar.

But things changed when he started acting like a salesperson. “Employing even the most rudimentary customer relationship management of touching base and following-up regularly, I was surprised at how many of those Nos eventually became Yeses. Even when the pitch and product weren’t materially different — the only thing that changed was persistence.”

Do you have any additional tips on best practices for CRM? Tell us in the comments below.


By Stephanie Walden

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