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Robert Gerrish
Small Business Coach & Author

Robert Gerrish has owned businesses in London and Sydney. He is currently working as a business coach helping fellow entrepreneurs to succeed in their business. Robert has a background in Marketing and Business development. He has columns regularly published in several newspapers and business magazines.
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Top 10 Customer Service Tips for Entrepreneurs Making the Most of Your Existing Customer Base - Robert Gerrish

For many, one of the greatest moments in business is the joy of attracting a new customer or client. In such circumstances it is easy to get so caught up in the excitement, that we forget to spend time on realising the value of one of our business's best assets - our existing client base.

Sure, receiving orders from existing clients may not be as exciting as attracting new clients, but often this is where the real growth potential for our business lies; this is where untapped profits can be found. Moreover, existing clients can show us the best path for business development - that is if we invite them and listen carefully to what they have to say.

I'll explain. It's generally accepted that acquiring a totally new client costs a whole lot more than generating an order from (or via) an existing client. The extra cost is in all the unpaid time spent on research, proposals, marketing and promotion, meetings, follow-ups and so on. However, there are ways to bring in "new business" from "old clients" that provide considerably more profitable and satisfying results.

The first thing you need to do is develop the mindset that your current customer base is your most valuable asset. Treat your clients as if they are your lifeblood, because that's exactly what they are to your business. Responding to their needs should take priority over prospecting for new clients.

Now this can be a hard concept for some to accept. Indeed, you may strongly disagree. Admittedly, if your business is strongly sales led - let's take real estate for example - it would be natural that an attitude of 'onto the next sale' dominates the culture of your business.

Even so, is it really prudent to attach less importance to past customers than to future ones? I think not. In such a case the solution may involve developing a side of your business that, in effect, takes over the relationship once the sale is made: sales staff get on with selling (their priority, and often the focus the principal holds), while customer relationship staff develop further opportunities (their priority).

These are the behaviours of many large corporate organisations. Not only can we learn from them, we can actually enjoy much greater success in relative terms as we have the benefits that being small can bring. Our relationships can be much more personal; we can react to situations quickly; we can make changes to our procedures immediately.

When looking to grow business through your existing customer base, it's necessary to fully grasp their needs and understand their relationship with you. If you listen and observe carefully, you will find that your clients are often telling you what more they need, they are signposting where your opportunities for expansion lie.

Handled correctly, your existing customers are in effect your Research and Development (R&D) team. By listening, observing, questioning and trialing, you can develop new service and product offerings that fit the needs they are articulating, rather than market testing new products to new audiences.

Seeing your customers as members of a kind of quasi-R&D team can save you a good deal of time and money and has the added benefit of producing increased goodwill. One of the most powerful steps you can take in relationship building is to ask questions relating to a recent transaction.

When was the last time a supplier demonstrated to you a genuine interest and concern in their standards of service? Can you remember being invited to suggest how their product or service could do more, go further, be better?

Sure we may see a 'suggestions box' pop up now and again, but invariably this is just a token gesture and an outdated one at that.

Staying in touch with your clients just for the sake of staying in touch is yet another essential action that is regularly overlooked or at best, handled very irregularly. You don't want to bombard past customers with sales pitches or hassle them with daily phone calls, but you can keep in touch enough to keep your business present in their mind. Enough to show that you genuinely value their business; value their relationship with you.

A popular means of this kind of customer contact is provided by the internet. Many businesses are now developing regular newsletters that provide useful information and invite clients and their acquaintances to subscribe.

These should not be full of special offers, nor full of boring irrelevant tales of how brilliant you are. Newsletters should carry news - news that is of interest to your customers. A good newsletter will help establish you as a specialist; as a business that has an opinion; a business that cares about its customers.

Past customers should be respected every bit as much as new customers. Honour your deadlines and guarantees. Do what you say you're going to do. Better still, do more. There is no surer way to lose credibility than failing to live up to your word. Respond quickly and never be late. When clients know they can rely on you, they return and will speak highly of you to others.

Remember, the more you invest in your business's major asset, the more return you will reap. Happy clients make for a happy business. Satisfied clients are more likely to refer others to you. Stay in touch and the chances are they'll promote your business for a very long time.

 

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This article was written by Robert Gerrish who supports business owners on a path to loving their work. His website is brimming with resources for those going it alone in business. A great example is his FREE report featuring 101 practical tips direct from business owners. Get this and more at:
www.flyingsolo.org




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