I’ve been spending a lot of time dealing with suppliers recently and the experience set me thinking. Most of them didn’t seem to be very good at talking to me, their customer. Too often I found suppliers not delivering on what they said they would do. I had to chase.
We talk about the importance of engagement in marketing but this doesn’t end when your efforts succeed and you receive your enquiry which (hopefully) grows into a customer. My own recent experience was disappointing. Too often I got the feeling that a supplier wasn’t really bothered about me, they were focused on my business for the value they would gain. The fact that I (their customer) was trying to get some benefit from the relationship felt incidental.
I believe that a good and solid business should be built on developing long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. These are relationships where the trust and confidence bridges between customer and supplier grow ever stronger. Effective communication is a vital part of this development process. Here are 5 tips/ideas that might strike a chord to help you build stronger, more valuable relationships with your customers/clients.
1. Be Responsive
First and foremost, just do what you say you are going to do! This may not sound much but it amazes me how often it doesn’t happen. Of course, sometimes events conspire against us and it may not be possible to do this. If this happens…
2. Be Proactive
If there is a problem, be ready to talk about it. Take the initiative to deal with a situation. Don’t just wait for your customer to call you. Even if you think that your customer will not be happy about what you have to tell them, having the gumption to speak to them and address the issue shows a real commitment to the relationship. It can actually be a great way of making your relationship stronger.
Often it isn't the problem that's the issue - it is how you deal with it!
You never know, you may find your fears of a dissatisfied client are unfounded. Problems happen. Objective, open discussion will resolve most.
3. Is your communication effective
Just because you have said something isn’t the whole story. You may feel you have explained things but has your customer understood what you mean? It can be useful to ‘put yourself in the other person’s shoes’. Might you have been misunderstood? Likewise, if your customer says something you, could what they say have different meanings. A simple example:
“We will deliver on Friday”
Does this mean the customer will receive the goods on Friday? Or is the supplier actually saying we will ship on Friday. The goods will not actually arrive until the following week. Clarification of this sort of message can avoid a problem later on. In my experience, ignored issues are more likely to get worse than go away. On the other hand, clear effective communication is a great way to build confidence.
4. Be ready to hold your hands up
None of us is perfect. Sometimes, everyone gets things wrong. Yet why are so many people reluctant to admit their failings? Often too much time and energy are spent defending a position or excusing a mistake instead of trying to resolve the matter. This can distract from the business in hand. If you have made a mistake, hold your hands up. Equally, it is reasonable to expect your customer to do the same! The best way forward is to work to rectify the issue and focus on how you can avoid the same problem in the future. If your customer uses the situation as a stick to beat you with, maybe your relationship is fated anyway!
Whether in business or life, some relationships work, others don’t. If you find yourself in a bad one, better to get out.
5. Records are valuable
I don’t know about you but, when you lead a busy life, I find it can be easy to forget things. I have learnt (sometimes the hard way!) that unless I give myself some sort of reminder, tasks sometimes slip my mind, or details of a discussion get blurred. In Tip 3, above, I talk about effective communication. If there is no record then different views about what was said, or even what was intended, become entrenched – and potentially divisive. Sometimes written notes are very helpful. These don’t need to be formal. Just a few words of reminder can be valuable when you come back to a task.
Notes can either be personal, for yourself alone or something you might share by way of confirmation to your customer. There is no single ‘right way‘. It is about finding what works for you and your business. There are all sorts of task and time management tools available. None will work unless you are committed to using it effectively. Personally, I am a real fan of a ‘to-do’ list where I can add notes. Simple, but it works for me.
Build strong relationships – the value will follow.
Focus on your customer, your relationship and delivering real benefit. Make sure you take into account your own needs too. A good relationship is mutually beneficial. Build a good relationship and the value will flow to everyone. The beneficial relationship is the objective. The value is the consequence.