Take of Your Customers - They'll Take Care of You
If you are reading this, it is certain the Mayans were not correct in their forecast for the end of the world.
So let me pass on to you best wishes from all of us at SCORE during this holiday season and for happiness in the New Year. I hope you had a joyous time with family and friends, that your gift requests were answered and that, despite all the turmoil in the world, you experience real peace that surpasses what the world has to offer.
And, speaking of gifts, wouldn't it be great if you had the gift of being a mind reader? Then you'd know exactly what everyone you meet thinks. And, if you were a business owner, you'd know what your customers thought about your service, your prices, the hours you're available - and you could respond accordingly.
Unfortunately, extra-sensory perception has yet to become a teachable skill. So it's up to the business owner to be proactive and make customers passionate about his/her small business.
The benefits are obvious. Cultivating customer loyalty means more than repeat business. The most powerful form of advertising remains word-of-mouth, one customer's recommendation to his/her friends and colleagues - and strangers too, given the rise of Web-based search engine rankings and social networking services.
Here are some good ways business owners can start building a customer-based "fan club" for the business:
n Put themselves in their customer's place, by taking an objective look at every element of the customer experience, from the appearance of the shop or website, to information about what the business provides. To minimize any bias, the business owner should try visiting competitors to see what they do. Being observant during visits to other types of businesses or websites may also help them spot ideas they can adopt or adapt.
n Remember that courtesy is contagious. Simply being friendly is not enough. Customers want informed help when trying to make a decision. Business owners need to make sure employees are knowledgeable and accessible, but also know when to back off and let customers ponder things on their own.
n Watch the marketplace by staying on top of local and national trends that may influence customers' needs and purchasing decisions. That keeps the business ahead of the curve as more people begin looking for the same thing.
n Go the extra mile by helping a customer tackle a difficult problem such as finding a must-have item, meeting a tight deadline or offering a creative suggestion. Such things help give the business a customer for life. And it's even better if there's a chance to absorb some extra cost or time - although that is not always possible. In such a case, admitting the limitations and recommending an alternative can still win points for the reputation of the business.
n Ask them by using one of the many ways to get customer feedback, such as follow-up calls, online surveys or simply chatting with them when time permits. Each nugget of information will provide a clearer picture of what customers want from that type of business, and how well the owner is providing it. In doing this, care must be taken to not make decisions based on a handful of responses. Squeaky wheels may get the grease, but they may not represent the majority of the current or potential customers.
Good customer relations is one of many contributors to a strong, successful small business. Learn more by contacting SCORE, a nationwide nonprofit association of experienced business people who provide free, confidential business counseling to small business owners. The Sandhills chapter is active in counseling, mentoring and presenting free business seminars.
If you wish to speak to SCORE about your business, please register as a client by entering your information at www. edmisscore.org/0364 and one of our counselors will contact you.
In addition to counseling by appointment, the Sandhills chapter of SCORE has drop-in service, for those who have registered, from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Fridays at the Moore County Chamber of Commerce building on U.S. 15-501 in Southern Pines. The phone number is (910) 692-3926.
More information on SCORE's counseling activity can be found at the Sandhills SCORE website, www.sandhillsscore.org.
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