Establishing expectations early key to long-lasting customer relationships
In business, the first opportunity to set those expectations is prospecting and early sales conversations.
In these early stages, doing the small things can be really impactful. Follow up quickly, arrive to meetings early, provide only useful information and support that information with insight that is easy to understand. Essentially, demonstrate that you respect them and value their time, because you will want the same.
Once a prospect becomes a customer, there are other areas that require attention to maintain the positive growth. Don’t overlook the details needed to manage these relationships. To ensure details aren’t missed, implement a customer management plan that includes these key areas:
- Set Goals and Boundaries
In a business relationship, both parties enter with their own goals. It’s important to clearly define and share those goals. Be on the same page and have an understanding of what your customers are looking to achieve. Communicate the steps necessary to accomplish their goals. At the same time, it’s important to set boundaries. Say no when necessary. Insist deadlines are met. Don’t allow yourself or your team to be talked to in a manner that is offensive or hostile. When both parties agree on goals, boundaries and expectations, a successful partnership is practically inevitable.
- Planning is Everything
Strategic planning and defining project deliverables will guarantee the project remains on track. Whether the project deliverables affect your customers or your business, it’s crucial to clearly define the scope-of-work. Take time to outline the project details, budgets and metrics to alleviate any confusion associated with the work. Establish clear deliverables with realistic timelines, review each deliverable with the customer and answer any questions prior to moving forward.
- Communication is Key
George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communications is the illusion that it has taken place”. As a business owner, it’s your job to ensure that it does. Develop a conversation early on and communicate until it hurts. Strong communication increases customer retention, improves a customer's trust in you and enables a better customer experience. Communicate, listen, be proactive and be personable to ensure valuable connections are made with each customer.
- Be Realistically Transparent
Transparency opens the door for stronger, and often, more profitable customer relationships. Customers are attracted to honest, realistic and truthful companies. It’s vital these traits shine through in your work ethic. From invoices to project plans, to payment collection, be clear, upfront and to the point. Provide an explanation about processes, pricing and updates to overcome customer uncertainty. Recognise conflict quickly and admit errors when they occur. Acknowledge mistakes, apologise for the oversight and assure your customers a solution has already been implemented. All relationships have a strong chance to thrive through open and honest communication.
- Under-promise, Over-deliver
This is a common sales mantra that every team member should follow, regardless of their role. Strive for excellent customer service by doing more than you say and exceeding the customer's expectations. You’ll not only impact your individual credibility but the business’ credibility too. To successfully accomplish this, be aware of what you, your team and your business can actually accomplish.
Aligning expectations early on is important to cultivating valuable relationships and ensuring success for the long haul. Outline these expectations in a customer management plan and insist your team follows that plan. When executed consistently, an effective customer management plan will improve customer experience, customer retention and increase referrals.
Many business owners will find the notion of creating a customer management plan daunting. We suggest working with someone who has helped other business owners through the process.