Like any relationships in our lives that we try to develop, cultivate and nurture, the customer relationship is as complex as any.
If you’re in a direct customer service business like retail, food, or accommodations, you know you have precious little time to get on a solid footing with your new customers, and you don’t have much (if any) opportunity to repair a poor first impression.
The key then, to solid customer relationships is, you have to build a connection, start developing trust, confirm the needs of the customer, and assess the mood they’re in, all in about 10 seconds. Wow, to give yourself a high likelihood of success, you better have a system in place before they even walk in the door!
5 steps to success
#1 – Environment. Ensure the environment is comfortable for the customer. Limit any distractions, be welcoming, and smile. Remember you’re serving them, not the other way around. Distracted customers can’t easily make decisions, so give them every opportunity to focus on you. Acknowledge them quickly and politely.
#2 – Question. Ask an open ended question to start the engagement, something they can’t answer with a simple yes or no. Try something like, “Thanks for stopping in, what brings you in to see us today”, or “Thanks for your email, when would you be available to discuss your needs?”. By asking these types of open-ended questions, it allows the customers to take the discussion into areas that you may not have thought about, which then gives you more opportunity to further understand the unique needs of the customer.
#3 – LQLR. Listen, question, listen, repeat. The early stage of the engagement is all about them and almost nothing about you. Listen for what problem they’re trying to solve. There will be time to make a pitch, but not just yet. The more you invest early in the relationship the more it will pay off later. People want to feel like they’re being listened to, and this is an opportunity for you to build trust, and, be viewed as the expert in your line of business.
#4 – Rewind. Summarize what you’ve heard and back it back to the customer. Something like, “So if I’ve understood you correctly, you’re looking for ….a way to….a product that will….a service that does not ….etc.” Again, it’s your understanding of the customer’s needs, issues and problems that builds a trusting relationship.
This is another opportunity to show you care and understand. If the customer acknowledges that you accurately understand the problem, go to step 5. If they say no, repeat #3 above.
#5 – Pitch. Briefly describe what you have to offer. Show them how your product or service will help them resolve their problem. Always test whether the customer understands what you’re describing. It’s important to test for understanding because even though you know every detail about your product or service, the customer likely knows nothing about it.
It’s very important to always emphasize the value that your recommendation will create for a couple of good reasons. First, you want the discussion to stay on value and not price, and second, if the customer is comparing you to competitors you want to make sure they very clearly understand the value that you provide. Again, this helps move away from price shopping.
You know that building trusting relationships with your customers is critical to your ongoing business success. Focussing on the early stages, and having a plan, are important places to start.