Does your business have customers or clients?  A customer is anyone who purchases goods or services.  He may visit your business only once, or very rarely, and doesn’t need or want to develop a relationship with you.  A client, on the other hand, comes in regularly.  You may know his name and his preferences, and he may respect your opinion and request your advice.  For most businesses, one of the secrets to success is to turn customers into clients.

It can be much easier, and less costly, to keep an existing customer in place than to find a new one.  New prospects must be convinced that you’re good at what you do, and that you’re interested in keeping them happy once they decide to do business with you.  On the other hand, your existing customers may already know you and like you, and by using a few tried and true techniques, you may be able to turn them into loyal customers, or even clients.

1. Change from the transactional business model. Certain businesses move from one transaction to the next, knowing that customers aren’t likely to remain loyal over the long term.  For example, a real estate agency sells a home and moves quickly to the next transaction with the knowledge that the home buyer won’t be back for a while to purchase another home. Auto dealers make a sale – a transaction – and move to the next customer who visits the car lot, allowing a lot of good will to drive off after a successful sale.  Instead of moving from transaction to transaction, focus on building a stable base of clients who will recommend you to their contacts and come back later for another purchase.

2. Go through an extensive discovery phase. When engaging a lead or prospect, ask questions. What does the customer want or need, and how can you meet those needs? Learn by listening, by reading facial expressions and body language, before you attempt to “pitch” the prospect.  Instead of thinking only about how to make a sale or get his name on the dotted line, consider how you can create a win-win situation that will benefit the client as well as yourself.

3. Lay out all the facts. Transparency avoids misunderstandings, so be clear, open and totally honest with all of your prospects.  If you’re in the business of providing services – an accountancy or legal practice, for instance – prepare a statement of work for each prospect you engage to avoid misunderstandings down the road.  Don’t hide fees and other costs in the fine print. An open, transparent business builds trust quickly, and that may keep clients coming back time after time to make more and more purchases.

4. Turn clients into stakeholders. Listen to new clients and ask for their opinions and advice. Then, follow that advice. A new client won’t quibble with his or her own ideas – the ones you use as the basis for the sale or delivery of services.  A client base is the product of collaboration between business and consumer to deliver the best outcomes for both parties.

5. Offer incentives. Demonstrate your concern for client care by offering regular incentives to keep clients coming back to your store or office for more.  Seasonal sales, a free tire rotation, a free one-hour consultation, coupons, special events, sponsorships – all of these are incentives to engage prospects and leads, and to keep existing clients in place.

6. Be proactive. Over-deliver. Provide more than the client expects.  Know, understand, respect and appreciate the needs of your clients, and meet those needs every time. Your client base should grow as you develop more and more satisfied customers.

7. Keep open lines of communication. Make it simple for a client to reach a company representative with a question, or to place another order. Start collecting phone numbers, email addresses and other means of reaching clients. Then, provide useful, free information regularly to demonstrate your concern for each client’s satisfaction and to enhance the buying experience, whether your business is Internet-based or brick and mortar.

8. Ask clients for suggestions to improve delivery of services and products.
Consumers can be invaluable sources of information to improve the delivery of goods and services.  A simple “Client Satisfaction” card left on the counter or desk can be pre-printed to rank various aspects of the sales experience from 1 to 10. If you see a lot of 1’s and 2’s, those are areas that can be improved. Conversely, if you see lots of 9’s and 10’s, you know your business is doing it “right.”  Use post-sale surveys to collect data that can be used to refine your marketing and service delivery. Or simply ask clients who’ve bought from you how you can improve their buying experience.  Buyers are likely to provide valuable information if you simply ask them to provide suggestions.

9. Finally, fix it. If a client isn’t happy, fix the problem quickly. Have a real human being answer the phone, and empower that client-care representative to fix complaints.  Even if you lose money on a transaction, if you take the time and make the effort to fix complaints, those clients are likely to remain loyal to your business and even recommend your company to friends and business associates.

Smart business owners recognize that long-term success depends on repeat business. Build a stable client base and those buyers are likely to be back again, adding value to your business with each new sale.

 

The information contained herein is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.