Sunday, April 16, 2006

Does His Wife Like Mayonnaise or Mustard?

Stanley Marcus, of Neiman Marcus, said, “Consumers are statistics. Customers are people.” Getting to know the people that are your customers is the catalyst for sustaining long-term business relationships.

While talking about one of my key customers my boss once asked me, “Does his wife like mayonnaise or mustard on her sandwiches?” Since my customer was a building manager who employed my company for elevator service I wasn’t sure how the mayo and mustard question made sense. But his point became clear: when you are selling, especially a service, you are selling a relationship. A good relationship is rooted in knowing people: their likes and dislikes, family background, hobby interests, etc.

Here are 6 tips to jazz up the relationships you have with customers:

  1. Communicate regularly. When I worked for Otis Elevator it was surprising to know that the clients with the least amount of elevator problems were more likely to cancel service and hire the competition. The customers with fewer problems had less communication from an Otis mechanic or rep whereas the customers with the most problems had constant communication. The “problem customers” actually had more personal contact and thus stronger personal relationships. Communicate what you are doing for your customers – especially when your actions might not be immediately visible. You might call a customer to let him know that you double-checked the shipping schedule, contacted your warehouse or handled all of the paperwork – just words to give your customer peace of mind.

  2. Communicate with purpose. Dropping in or calling a client just to chew the fat only bugs your customer and wastes his time. A website designer might call his customer and say, “We haven’t provided updates to your website in the last few months and I have a great idea about how we could add an online customer satisfaction survey.” A carpet cleaning contractor might say, “While I was cleaning the 2nd floor I noticed some new stains and so I went ahead and spot treated the areas.”

  3. Spice it up. Use different approaches for building customer relationships. A combination of email, direct mail, newsletters, phone calls and face-to-face visits will maintain customer contact without irritating them.

  4. Write handwritten notes. People do read these! Write, “It was great seeing you yesterday at the luncheon. I’ll give you a call in a few weeks.” Or write, “Spring is around the corner and I thought of you. Give me a call when you are ready to look at our new spring arrivals. I can bring them by any time.”

  5. Walk in their shoes. If you read an article, read a book or see something on the news that would interest your customer drop them a note or make a quick phone call to tell them about it.

  6. Provide entertainment and participate. Don’t just give your customer tickets to the Dallas Cowboys football game. Instead, invite your customer and spouse to attend with you and your spouse. This enables you to get to know your client away from the office and to find out if his wife likes mayo or mustard on her sandwiches!

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