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Connecting with Customers

by Jeff Gau on February 2, 2012

Most companies will claim that they have the best product, the best service, and the best price. Regardless of the industry, we all have competitors that provide essentially the same services and for sure, the exact products at a similar price. So, how do we prove to our customers that we should be their preferred provider?

In a previous blog, I shared the valuable role a CEO can play in business development – attracting new customers. But helping retain the customers you have is equally as important and a key role of any leader.

For me, it goes back to the number one rule for growth: don’t shrink - or in other words, don’t lose your existing customers. I believe fostering long-term customer relationships is a day-in day-out commitment to staying close and personally connecting with them.

Here are five activities we’ve found to help nurture our relationships with customers and build loyalty:

1. Deliver what the customer expects and paid for.
It may sound cliche, but doing what you promised needs to happen each and every time your company makes a commitment. It’s almost one of those motherhood statements and certainly a minimum expectation. If you don’t deliver on this, nothing else matters and the next four activities I am going to share are meaningless.

2. Promote a culture of accountability.
As leaders, we all say our companies are customer-centric. But how do you validate that? At Marco, we strive to create a corporate culture that promotes customer satisfaction, and we have a process in place to hold ourselves accountable. Here’s what we do:

  • We have a consistent employee recognition process called C.A.R.E. (Customers are Really Everything).
  • We have been conducting customer surveys and tracking the results since 1994.
  • One of the questions in our employee performance review is “Does this person support our think ‘like a customer attitude?” If they don’t, chances are they will not be working here for long. It’s that important.
  • Question #25 on our annual employee survey asks employees to rate if “An attitude of ‘think like a customer’ exists at Marco. Last year, 96% of employees agreed or strongly agreed with that statement.

3. Host and attend special customer events.
Many companies invite customers to sporting events – from the Minnesota Vikings to St. Cloud State Husky hockey. We do that, too, and have found them to be valuable. We also regularly organize value-added events for our customers that aren’t centered around selling a product or service, but can be educational or just for fun. For example, we host an annual User Group Meeting for our telecom customers to network with other users and learn more about the products they already own (new features, software upgrades, etc.). 

We also host an annual Pheasant Hunt as a fun way to connect with customers. We invite 100 of our customers to join us and help us raise money for a charity. Little to no business gets conducted, but yet it’s a great way to build relationships.

4. Support charities and causes that customers care about.
It’s an easy decision to support charitable causes our customers care about and it is a regular practice of ours. Recently, we donated both dollars and volunteer hours to the Holly Ball event to help one of our largest clients raise money to support their hospice program. Another way we support our customers is by sponsoring activities their kids are involved in, such as basketball, choir, and dance.

5. Spend time in the field.
How much time do you spend face-to-face with your customers? It’s common for leaders to connect with a customer in the field when there’s a problem or perhaps an opportunity for business development. But I’ve found it to be a good practice to visit with customers on a more impromptu basis. Customers appreciate leaders who get out from behind their desks and conduct personal visits – whether that’s over lunch, taking a tour of their business, or perhaps just an informal conversation with them at their office. I dedicate time every month to personally connecting with our customers.  Next week, I’ll be taking a road trip through South Dakota to visit our offices – and those of our customers.

I feel a good practice for leaders is to make a commitment to stay engaged with your clients. Although we may all think we’re doing a pretty good job at this, I continually challenge myself to make sure I consistently dedicate time to this important activity.

Topics: Culture, Leadership

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