There are more ways to communicate with customers than ever. The internet, email and mobile phones are changing the way you can interact with customers. And yet it's poor communication that makes many business relationships break down.
As a small business, it's up to you to initiate good communication. You can't rely on your customers to tell you what they think. Not everyone takes the trouble to complain, so many dissatisfied customers simply go elsewhere.
Getting communication right involves thinking about how you interact with customers at every contact point. To communicate well you need to understand your customers and respond to their needs.
The secret of good communication is to tailor your approach to the individual. One useful theory you can use is that your customer will have one of four temperament styles - aggressive, passive, analytical and expressive. Each of these personality types approaches buying decisions in their own way. Look out for them and respond accordingly.
The aggressive type is an extrovert who is controlling, practical and decisive. To get on their wavelength, avoid small talk and get straight down to business. Give them options so they feel they're staying in control.
The expressive customer is also an extrovert but they are also more sociable and impulsive. They will respond to an enthusiastic presentation style and need time to talk. Go for the big picture and avoid too much detail if you want to win over an expressive customer.
The passive person is an introvert. They are friendly but can be totally indecisive. You cannot hurry this type of customer. They hate sales pressure and need assurance.
The analytical customer is organised and critical. They are perfectionists who can suffer from 'paralysis under analysis'. Give them plenty of detail and proof to win them over.
More than 70 per cent of our communication is perceived non-verbally - so when you meet and greet your customers, your body language sends signals that have a big impact.
Using open body language is a good way to create a rapport. Stand up straight, smile, make eye contact and, when sitting, don't cross your arms or legs. Showing the palms of your hands indicates an honest approach.
Another useful technique is to mirror your customer's body language. Many people copy gestures unconsciously anyway. It sends the message that you like and agree with the person you are talking to.
Remember to listen. If you are a big talker, you may have to curb your natural tendency to interrupt or dominate the conversation. To develop a dialogue with your customer, ask open-ended questions and listen to the answers. It's worth using the same words and phrases your customer has used to show you are listening and to build rapport.
Good communication is not just about responding when your customer walks in. You can actively plan a communication strategy that will ensure you build good customer relationships that reward you with more business. Customers like to be kept informed at all times.
Put in place a complaints procedure. Complaints handling is one of the main factors on which customers rate a business. More than 50 per cent of people say they complain and those complaints are often to organisations they actually like. A well-handled complaint improves their perception of your business. Saying sorry is not an admission of guilt but it's always appreciated by the customer. Remember, the crime is not making the mistake, it's making it twice.
Make regular contact using a communication method most suited to each customer, whether phone, email, text, in person or via a newsletter. It's worth asking customers how they like to be contacted. Most people will have a particular preference - and may find other communication methods positively annoying. Keep the lines of communication open so you can respond to your customers' changing requirements. As you build the relationship, you will strengthen the ties that bind and develop a loyal customer (and fan) base.
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