Over the course of my career (and truthfully, more times than I'd like to think about), I was faced with a significant customer that wanted to leave.
Especially if your business is reliant upon a few large clients or vendors for the majority of your revenue, a customer deciding to take their business elsewhere can be catastrophic--something I talk about at length in my book, All In, with my first business, Wilmar.
Founders constantly talk about the importance of nurturing customer relationships and finding ways to reduce that risk as much as possible. Which is why, whenever I've been faced with large accounts looking to move to a competitor, I've leaned on these seven principles in order to win their business again and again.
1. Always aim to personalize your service in small, meaningful ways.
Personalization is the key to winning over customers for the long term.
The way you do that is by listening closely to what their expectations are. If they seem like they're in a rush to get something done on the phone, tell them (without them having to ask for it), that you'll put a rush on their request at no extra cost. Little things like this tell a customer you're listening. You understand them.
2. Show you are engaged by making yourself available.
Businesses that win make themselves available to serve customers whenever they need it, regardless of the request.
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Of course, with some types of businesses, this can be difficult to execute without an outsourced customer service team. But in the digital age, it's not too much to ask employees to respond within 24 hours of a customer request. We all have our email connected to our phones. We all spend time checking our social accounts and messages. Part of working in today's day and age is being reasonably available--and it's the teams that remain aware of this advantage that keep customers engaged.
3. Don't make things difficult for the customer.
"The customer is always right."
This has been a business cliché for a long time, but that's because it's true. If a customer is being difficult, that means you should be accommodating. If a customer is frustrated, that means you should be patient. If a customer is requesting you to work a little harder, that means you should go above and beyond.
4. Prioritize the customer's needs ahead of your own.
Another cliché, but what I mean by this is, don't postpone a customer's request in order to file a low-priority report internally.
Customers love speed. They love to know you are being attentive, and that you care to get back to them quickly. On the contrary, if you are slow, they will become upset. And if you make them feel like they aren't a priority, they will find someone else who treats them accordingly.
5. Resolve conflicts by solving problems.
Nothing makes a customer feel more valued than by solving whatever problem they're facing.
Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words, and if you can hear a customer's request and get it done, that's when they'll trust you--not before. And if you can deliver that same experience consistently over time, that's how you'll start coming up in conversation when they talk about the work you do for them.
6. Handle any and all complaints in ways that show how much you care about keeping their business.
I firmly believe that great customers complain.
Complaining is a customer's way of telling you what they need in order to be satisfied, and what you need to fix within your business in order to provide a better product or service. It's a win/win, assuming you can look beyond the frustration of the moment. Complaints are direct requests, and they should be handled with a sense of urgency.
7. Communicate however much the client needs in order to feel at ease.
In business, it's far better to over-communicate than to leave things up to assumption.
When you're silent, people assume you've forgotten. And when you delay, people think you don't care. The secret to keeping customers engaged is to communicate with them regularly, and in a way that lets them know you care just as much about working with them.
These small things, especially when incorporated into the fabric of your organization, can be the things that save your most valuable customers from taking their business to one of your competitors--and leaving you high and dry.
PUBLISHED ON: JUN 11, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.
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