November 2008: Business Building

Words: George HedleyNovember 2008

Customer Care Equals Cash

The holiday season seems more stressful every year, with too much food, lots of fun and not enough productivity. At our company, we try to take some time to stop what we're doing, give gifts and thank those who make it all possible — our customers and clients. Last year, my suppliers, subcontractors and service providers gave me one bottle of champagne, two wine-and-cheese baskets, three wall calendars, four logo shirts, five boxes of chocolates, six plates of cookies, seven cans of nuts and 88 Christmas cards.

Give yourself

Did all those gifts and cards really matter? Three weeks later, I honestly couldn't remember who gave me what. But, I do remember a special party I attended. For several years in a row, the property management company that manages our income real estate sent us an expensive tower of fruit and nuts as a holiday gift of thanks. Last year, I was discussing their annual gesture with them and commented the gift was nice, expensive and appreciated, but that seeing her in a casual, fun setting would be more beneficial to our ongoing business relationship and probably cost the same. She listened. Instead of gifts, she held a fun holiday party at a top restaurant for her best customers and their spouses. I estimate the total cost was about the same as the gifts she'd previously given, but the impact was much greater. She gave us her time in a personal way. We got to know each other's wives, husbands, employees, friends and her other customers. It was a great event.

Show customers you care

The No. 1 reason a customer will stop doing business with your company is an attitude of indifference: He doesn't think you care about him as a customer or as a person. You bid the work, get a contract, do a quality job, give good service, bill him, and then never call him again. What do you do for your customers to show you care about them on an ongoing basis? How do you stay in touch? What do you do to help their businesses' success on a regular basis? In today's competitive marketplace, you've got to set you and your company apart and leave a lasting impression. An impersonal holiday card or standard yearly gift for every customer is a waste of time and money, if you want to deepen your customer relationships.

Customers want to know you care about them, their businesses, their challenges, and them as people. The best way to develop loyal customer relationships is with face-to-face time. I call these relationship building sessions. You must spend quality time with your best customers. Most construction businesses only have 10 to 20 repeat customers who make up most of their profitable sales. As your loyal customer list is relatively small, it doesn't take a lot of time to keep in touch and build profitable relationships with these top customers regularly.

Chart customer care

Make a chart of your top 20 customers. Keep track and visit them in relationship building settings at least every two or three months. These settings must be face-to-face. They should include breakfast or lunch, trips to the ballgame, dinner meetings at your local industry associations, golfing, fishing or hunting — anything that gets you together in a fun setting where you can really get to know each other. Remember, meeting about jobs, negotiating contracts, arguing over change orders or calling on the telephone don't qualify as relationship-building settings.

One-on-one time will allow you to discuss what really matters to your customers: their likes, dislikes, families, friends and futures. Find out how you can do a better job for them or give them better service. Build trust and confidence. Laugh, learn and grow closer. Give them advice on how to grow their businesses or improve productivity. Discuss how they can make more money. The key is to show them you care about their future successes in any way you can.

Give personal tokens of appreciation

When you see an informative business article or book addressing an area your customer is trying to improve, send a copy to show you care about his future. If you know your customer likes golf, get him a picture book on the world's best golf courses. If his spouse likes fine wine, get her a bottle of the best wine you have ever tasted. Get the point? Make it personal.

Time is money. Meaningful time with your customers is big money. Remember, doing a good job, quality workmanship, bids, faxes, emails, job meetings and phone calls don't count as relationship-building sessions. Make it a priority to invest in your future by investing time in your customers. Customer care in a special way will return big cash and create loyal customers who only want to do business with you.

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