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Successful Business Advice: Love Your Customers

Business is not just about what you do.

Yet, as business owners, we spend so much of our time focusing on how to do what we do better. We read, we blog, we train, we attend workshops and conferences, go to events, network and so on. All under the guise that we can gain some edge in how we do what we do.

But what if the edge isn’t in what we do for our clients and customers?

My grandmother buys a new car every four years. And for the past three decades, she’s been buying her cars from the same guy at the same dealership. Is it because the Buicks they sell are somehow better than the Buicks at other dealerships? Or maybe it’s that this specific salesman does his job better than the other salesmen do.

Certainly he does, to some degree. But I’ve spoken with him, he’s not the most knowledgeable salesman on the lot. He’s not the best dressed or most polished either.

Yet my grandmother keeps coming back. She won’t even consider buying from another salesman, let alone look at a different make of car.

I’ve asked my grandmother about why she keeps buying from him. Her answer is a simple, “I like him.” Now she doesn’t mean that in any flirty way. I’ve been with her when she’s bought a new car and there’s no weird flirting going back and forth. It’s just that she likes him.

And in their interactions is a little known secret to business success and customer loyalty – feeling. It’s not what you do that’s important with your clients and customers, it’s how they feel about what you do that’s important.

Let’s say that again:

What you do isn’t nearly as important as how it makes your clients and customers feel.

Would you say that’s true in your business?

If it is, why do you think most small business owners spend much of their time on the other?

(note: image from Storeyland on Flickr)

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Comments

  1. Without a doubt I think that’s true in every business. I mean, look at it this way, if it were all about the product and the actions of the company selling it, we’d all be buying from the same people. In fact, that has little to do with it…the feeling the customer has is everything. That’s why different people shop for the same/similar items from different companies.

    Now, certain things like the company’s reputation and the performance of the product gives the customer a certain feeling, but I’ve seen crappy products sold far more successfully than great products simply because the crappy products had a sales force that really knew how to tap into the customer’s feelings the best.

  2. Lindsey says:

    I totally agree! I think it’s becoming pretty undeniable. If nothing else, the revelation about Zappos paying their employees to quit in order to weed out weak customer service demonstrates that the feeling customers walk away with is what’s going to make them come back. That’s why I’m a Nordstrom customer for life!

  3. It’s all about customer relations. The guides to affiliate marketing emphasize the need to establish a relationship with your customer to ensure loyalty

    With good customer relations, you could be the more expensive merchant and they will still come

  4. Hello, Dawud. Indeed, there’s so much truth in that statement – “What you do isn’t nearly as important as how it makes your clients and customers feel.” What matters is the end result of making the customer feel good about wanting to do business with you, again and again, much like your Aunt with that car salesman.

    Yet, we can only control our own actions, the way we do business, and not the reaction of the customer towards us. We can’t hope to please or create loyalty in every customer, but we can certainly tailor our CS behavior, to follow that pattern which brings out the most desirable results from the most number of people.

    Thanks for a very perceptive post, as usual.

  5. In customer service roles most employees have this drilled into them many other business forgot that customers that feel valued keep coming back. You can’t forget the basics when it comes to dealing with customers – many business do and they fail to reach there potential because of this.

  6. Mari Adkins says:

    It’s exactly true.

    If Apex readers didn’t like the materials within our magazine or our books, we’d go under in a hurry. And we appreciate our customers and they appreciate us – word of mouth goes a long way!

  7. CFI,
    I’m guessing you know also know plenty of great products that don’t get get sold because the sales team/marketing approach doesn’t evoke action.

    Why do you think this is?

    Lindsey,
    Nordstroms is great. I will always show where I feel I’m cared about. Sounds silly, maybe, but that’s how you create more than customers – it’s how you create raving fans. That’s what Apple did. And that’s why Apple is so distant from Microsoft in customer loyalty.

    Niche Traffic
    I think it’s important to define customer relations, though. It’s not just what you do for the customer. It’s what they experience…what they feel…in what you do for them.

    Thoughts?

    Recycling,
    We can only control our own selves, that’s true. Yet we can learn about what our customers need, want and expect and meet them where they are. This changes the relationship with our customers.

    alan,
    Without a doubt. Small business owners have similar issues. It’s odd when you think that owning your business might change how you relate to your customers. I guess it’s something we all just need to learn.

  8. What’s the old saw: All things being equal, people would rather do business with people they know and trust?

    Really, I think it’s just icing on the cake if we *like* them. I’m thinking of several small biz owners, doctors and dental hygienists (sp). Maybe the appropriate, more inclusive adage is “The devil you know…”

    RE: Apple, I would argue that the loyalty they’re accrued stems from stuff other than spectacular customer service. Compared to Microsoft, yeah, they rule, but come on, that bar is abysmally low. I like Apple because the products are better, and easier/more fun to use. That’s why I pay my extra money, and that’s why I’m an evangelist.

    I’ve actually found the customer service at the stores to be pretty surly and unhelpful (“Genius” Bar, I’m looking at you!); it’s certainly no Nordstrom’s. But they’re the best game in town so…

    Well, you know the rest.

  9. Gene Damschroder says:

    I can’t tell you how true this really is! I experience this all the time in my offline business.

    I was telling my friend the other day who is in a “service” industry, that this is incredibly important. But he feels a client is a “one shot” deal. So he doesn’t really care how they’re treated, as long as they “close”.

    Personally. I think that’s a load of bull. I’ve had clients come back over and over for years and years.

  10. medical alert says:

    I never have the kind of experience. But I want to be a good salesperson to sell products, services, even myself to the company to gain one good position. What kind of feeling should a salesperson give to his clients?

  11. pokeren says:

    It’s all about customer relations. The guides to affiliate marketing emphasize the need to establish a relationship with your customer to ensure loyalty

  12. Jonathan Frank says:

    I feel like most sales people don’t give any personal service anymore. It seems like you can see the greed and the need oozing from most sales people. Very rarely do I find good old fashioned sales techniques that leave you feeling good and smiling after a transaction. You would think that with all the “work shops” and “training” that this would be improving. Just my opinion.

  13. Mari,
    How are you using word-of-mouth marketing to promote Apex?

    communicatrix,
    Sure, I can go with you on the customer service bit with Apple – and Microsoft setting the bar so low, but how does using your Mac make you feel? I mean the experience of it.

    Gene,
    Do you think your friend’s perspective is based on their perceived experience? And if they had a different experience – with customers returning – would that change their perspective?

    medical,
    Big question, really. But how about trust, caring and honesty. Basically, remembering that we’re all human and treating people as people not as commodities.

    pokeren,
    So how do you establish the relationship?

    Jonathan,
    I hear you. Why do you think that is? Wouldn’t companies have figured out long ago that sales happen naturally when people like people?

  14. Mari Adkins says:

    Dawud: How are you using word-of-mouth marketing to promote Apex? I’d bet that most of our WoM is accidental – such as we’ll be standing in line somewhere discussing something and someone overhearing will invariably ask questions. Or we’ll be wearing Apex alien head t-shirts and someone will ask questions. And we’re always ready with answers and business cards. (Good business cards are important! I found this out real fast)

    Too, our friends and supporters don’t hesitate to do much of the same – and we return the favor. All of us make great use of blogs and message boards to spread the word, as well.

    I recently signed Apex up for Utterz and Twitter, too, but haven’t quite gotten into that groove yet, but I’m getting there.

  15. Mari,
    Have you read Andy Sernovitz’s book on Word of Mouth Marketing? Gives some great tips on how to be an active part of Word of Mouth.

  16. Mari Adkins says:

    No, I’ve not seen that book, Dawud. But I’ll keep an eye out for it. Thaks for the recommendation!

  17. Mari Adkins says:

    This is why I try not to read blogs this early in the morning. I don’t do day well…LOL I realized the link was there after I sent my comment. Thanks again. 🙂

  18. Kelly @ Pass the Torch says:

    More and more I’ve been able to see what a difference the relationship makes. I notice it in my own dealings with salespeople. I’ve been with the same insurance agent for 23 years. And I’m not even sure I’m getting a good deal – I just don’t feel like leaving him.

  19. Mari,
    You can use the link in my reply above to visit Andy’s site.

  20. Mari,
    No worries. I’ve done much odder things in front of many more people.

    kelly,
    I hear things like this all the time. I think it’s intrinsic that we want to build relationships with people around us. That just shows human nature.

    The question is how to use those natural tendencies to develop and grow your business. I’m not talking about manipulating. What I’m talking about is allowing something natural to take place in the relationship.

    Thoughts?

  21. This applies to website design too. I definitely do my shopping at sites I like the look of.

    To be honest if you have never heard the name of the company before this is the only thing you have to go on.

  22. Yes, it’s important to make people feel good, but delivering a solid product or service is a big part of the puzzle in many industries, more than intangible “feelings.” Making people feel good is important, so is delivering a competitive product or service – I don’t see one as inherently more important than the other.

  23. James,
    It’s true. A site should look cared for. Hard to think the information, products or services are worth much if the site looks uncared for.

    Simon,
    Oh, I’m not talking about making people feel good and selling them useless crap.

    But think for a minute, what moves you to buy? You can’t deny that how you feel about something plays a roll. Now how does that change if we’re talking about what you feel about the person you’re buying a service from?

  24. I think this goes along with the mindset that if you give the customer an experience they will never forget… they will never forget it! Profound I know, and it can bite us in the tail or can raise us to the clouds. Of course the destination is up to us and the experience we give our customers.

  25. Stephen,
    So true. Provide each customer with an unforgettable experience and not only will they remember you, they’ll remember to tell their friends about you. Gotta love word-of-mouth marketing.

  26. Our real estate business is very much people and relationship oriented. Of course we spend much time keeping up with the ever changing conditions of our market (new interest rates, new laws, etc.). However, at the end of the day our clients must both like us and trust our competency before they’ll feel good about the job we did for them. The payoff for us is a referral based business!

  27. You really know what you what you are talking about! Join the http://www.sbtv.com community and share your thoughts on small business.
    At sbtv, Small buisness is our only business.

  28. He must be an amazing salesman to keep your grandmother coming back every four years. I have my favorite brands prefer buying from friends in the business rather than someone I have no connection to. Establishing a relationship like that over the Internet tends to be much more difficult. It’s all about price, speed and reliability.

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