Twenty customer care actions that build sales

It's easy for just about anyone in business, including companies, salespeople, and marketers, to fall into a pattern when dealing with customers.

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By John Graham

It's easy for just about anyone in business, including companies, salespeople, and marketers, to fall into a pattern when dealing with customers. We all develop shortcuts and templates to simplify our daily routines, which also make it easier to manage the workload. With more to do and less time to do it, a smooth routine is appealing.

While such an approach may help us get through the day, it can also be dangerous, particularly when the competition is waiting for even the slightest opening that may get them through the door.

Customers don't want to be taken for granted, or receive attention only when we want to sell them something. They respond positively to signals that say, "We really appreciate having you as a customer."

Here are 20 customer care actions that will enhance customer satisfaction and build sales:

1. Contact customers when it's not necessary. Apple consultant Craig Batt checks with clients a week or so after doing a job. Not only does he ask for feedback on what he did, he also passes along helpful information that's not directly related to his work. It sends the message that he not only appreciates the work, but the relationship as well.

2. Let them know how much you like working with them. Why take a chance or assume that they know? Letting them know in writing why you like working with them puts it squarely on the record, and it usually winds up in a frame on the wall in the customer's office. If you don't tell them, how will they know?

3. Ask them what you could do to make working with you easier. Even when you have a good working relationship with a customer, there may still be something that bothers them. While it may not be a relationship breaker, it can still be a burr under the saddle. It's always good to uncover the issue and get rid of it.

4. Tell their story to others. Word of mouth has power, perhaps now more than ever. So when it's appropriate and you have the opportunity, speak up about your clients. "I know that company and they're good people. They've always treated me fairly." Such words carry weight.

5. Pass along leads. A good lead may be the greatest gift you can give anyone. A customer will appreciate it far more than tickets to a game or a round of golf. Although a lead is free, it has tremendous value for the recipient. It also shows that you care.

6. Do something a little extra. Bill Donahue, the owner of Crown Supply, an electrical and fire alarm wholesaler in Providence, RI, always thanks his customers for doing business with him. Then he realized that it's the people in the field who call and actually place the orders. It's their loyalty that makes the difference. Bill knows they can call other supply houses. He sends a personal thank you to them several times a year, along with a gift card.

7. Make suggestions for improving their operation. Your knowledge base is unique and your experience can complement that of your customers. Your helpful suggestions give meaning to being a partner.

8. Pass along helpful information. Customers will view you as a resource if you pass along useful information. Whether it's an article or an idea, it lets them know that you are thinking of them.

9. Lend a hand. Every customer has a crisis or some time when they need help. Ed Testa of Champion Capital, an equipment leasing company, spends a lot of time at trade shows, but not where you might expect. You won't find Ed at a Champion Capital booth. He'll be busy working a client's booth. "They're always short handed," he says, "and they appreciate the extra help." He also gains a lot of business that way.

10. Use the power of recognition. Whether it's recommending a customer for an award or suggesting them for a news story, you can play a role in helping bring them well-deserved recognition.

11. Be candid when asked for your opinion. It's a pivotal moment when a customer asks your opinion. Will you be a wimp or will you be candid? Candor creates respect, even though someone might not agree with you.

12. Show your loyalty. After you do a good job for a customer, that's when one of their competitors may want to give you their business. You may be flattered, but think twice before compromising your loyalty.

13. Don't cut corners. When customers have been around for awhile, there's a tendency to put them in overdrive, doing what's necessary, but also coasting. If the customer doesn't figure this out first, a competitor won't be far behind to move right in.

14. Come to a customer's defense when you hear criticism. There may be times when "silence is golden," but not when someone is criticizing a customer. That's when it's the right time to make known your experience.

15. When something hasn't gone well, let the customer know what you will to do about it. Yes, things go wrong, no matter how hard we try. When this happens, jump on it quickly and tell the customer what you're going to do to solve it.

16. Respond reliably. A recent survey of buyers found that getting back to them is a top priority. A highly successful life insurance salesperson serving wealthy clients credits part of his success to returning every phone call and answering every e-mail the day it is received.

17. Leverage the power of "free." Insurance agent Mark Rosenthal has a free offer for a helpful tool he prepared. It's called "Organizing Your Personal Affairs," and it's about getting important information together. Other ideas are to make reports, survey results, and articles available without charge. But remember, free means free, no strings attached.

18. Take the initiative. Step up to the plate and act before you're asked. Initiative shows you have ideas and are capable of undertaking new and challenging tasks. Showing initiative may be the best way to be viewed as outstanding.

19. Keep your word. If you say you're going to do it, do it. If for some reason you can't, then explain why and do it quickly. It's easy to get a bad rep, but it's very difficult to get rid of it.

20. Show respect. Getting too friendly with some customers can undermine the customer-salesperson relationship. There should always be some distance as a way of showing respect.

Individually, each of these customer care actions has value, but when taken together their impact can be enormous, even transformative.

John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm. He writes for a variety of business publications and speaks on business, marketing, and sales issues. Contact him at 40 Oval Road, Quincy, MA 02170, (617) 328-0069, or jgraham@grahamcomm.com. His blog is grahamcomm.com/wordpress, and his Web site is grahamcomm.com.

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