‘The customer is king.’ Most of us have heard (and said) this many, many times. It’s also become the mantra of every business today. Personally, I like how Amazon founder Jeff Bezos talks about it: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” Bezos hit the nail on the head.
If you look at the data, you’ll quickly realize why Bezos and other business leaders place such a high premium on improving the customer experience. According to Gartner, 75 percent of organizations are able to show that customer satisfaction leads to revenue growth through increased customer retention or lifetime value. On top of that, loyal customers are five times more likely to purchase again and four times more likely to refer a friend to the company.
But for small businesses, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain client trust and loyalty during times of crisis. As all interactions move online, one small misstep could mean lost customers. And even one lost customer for a small business can make it tough to recover once the crisis has subsided. The data supports this: A recent study by Thryv and America’s Small Business Development Centers (ASBDC) found that three-quarters of U.S. small businesses have already experienced a large drop in demand months into the pandemic. Meanwhile, 60 percent are reasonably concerned about their long-term recovery.
But one of the things I admire most about small businesses (and the entrepreneurs who run them) is their fighting spirit. So while things are understandably tough right now, there are certain steps you can take to maintain trust and loyalty with your clients – even if it’s remotely.
Get creative with how, when and where you communicate
Growing up, my mom always told me, “A word out of your mouth is like a bullet being fired from a gun. Once you say something, you can’t take it back.” That always stuck with me. It’s exactly the kind of advice small businesses should heed right now.
Communication style matters just as much as the actual information and services being provided. This will require small businesses (their owners and employees) to get creative with how, when and where they communicate with customers. Take, for example, a small business that typically holds quarterly business reviews (QBRs) with its clients at the client’s offices. Traditionally, these types of meetings can go for a long period of time, sometimes up to a full day filled with coffee, breakfast and lunch breaks.
But in this current climate, small businesses can’t afford to postpone or cancel these quarterly business reviews with important clients. In the words of the show business industry, the show must go on. But rather than simply gathering the team and holding the same old Zoom meeting, small businesses should find ways to make the altered version of their QBR meetings just as creative, dynamic and interactive as they would if they were sitting at their client’s office.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Recreate the boardroom or conference room setting in your living rooms. Add bookshelves in the background, set up baked goods, pads of paper, pens and a white board in the background.
- Create mini breaks (virtually) to allow all meeting participants time to use the restroom, get a refreshment or just stretch their legs.
- Ask every person in the meeting to present one specific idea during the meeting.
- Rather than use email to send the meeting recap notes and action items, create a private Slack channel where everyone involved in the QBR meeting can access the notes and ask follow-up questions.
Offer special services and personalized support
In times of crisis, budgets get tightened (or cut), resources are sparse and stress levels rise exponentially. But one thing that can go a long way in maintaining trust and loyalty with your clients is offering special services and support. This can be anything. For example, it could be simply offering your clients the opportunity to pick your brain on a specific topic. It could also be a free consultation (and analysis) of a project.
A recent study by Salesforce concurs with my theory. In fact, the study found there are five main reasons why people opt to support small businesses for a long time. These include:
- There was consistently excellent customer service.
- The small business offered a more personal experience.
- The small business offered unique products or services.
- Over time, the business and its employees understand a customer’s needs or interests.
- The small business has a unique character or flair about it that seems attractive to customers.
These types of gestures (and care) can make a world of difference to customer loyalty. They show your clients that you care, you aren’t only thinking about your own bottom line and you want to help them navigate through the murky waters of the crisis (just as much as you want to for your own business). When you take care of your clients (and do just a little bit extra), it could mean the difference between retaining a long-standing client and growing your relationship and business with that client after the crisis has ended.
Treat your client like an individual, not an entity
As a business owner, it’s easy to think of clients as entities. But given how isolated and stressed everyone is right now (as they’ve been forced to stay home for months), sticking to this mentality and approach could be harmful to your business long-term. One of the most appealing characteristics of small businesses (when compared to larger corporations) is that they have a mom-and-pop feel. Every interaction and engagement has a personal touch specific to each client and the personalities of their teams.
So what steps can your small business take to treat clients like individuals, instead of entities? Here are a few tips (courtesy of me):
- Set up one-to-one meetings with different stakeholders from the same client. Don’t lump them all together into the same meeting. Take the time to form a personal relationship with each one, separately.
- Don’t do the same thing in every meeting. Customize your approach, how you communicate and the style of the meeting itself to match the individual personalities, needs, priorities of each person.
- Send inspirational messages to each client based on the relationship you have with them. If one of your clients is currently in the process of instituting layoffs or furloughs with its staff, send an inspirational message or quote about resilience. Or simply mail them a personal postcard to say you care and are available to chat, without judgment.
If you want to make scheduling meetings with your clients seamless and grow your business, get in touch with our sales team for a product demonstration.