Communicating with customers is an important part of running a business. If you want a healthy cash flow, you need to understand and effectively conduct customer outreach.
Customer outreach is meant to benefit your business and encourage more people to buy from you. But, it can end up hurting your business reputation if it isn’t carried out right.
After 30 years as an entrepreneur, I know a few things about establishing a customer outreach plan, keeping a business reputation intact, and improving outreach processes.
What is customer outreach?
Customer outreach is the process of connecting and communicating with customers and enhancing relationships. When you interact with customers with social media, review sites, email, or mail, you are doing customer outreach.
Though online customer outreach is important, it doesn’t need to be the only way you contact your customers. Your customer outreach plan can also include cold calling, talking to community organizations about your industry, and speaking with customers in person.
Why is customer outreach important, anyway?
Customer outreach is a great communication strategy for your business. With outreach marketing, you can tell consumers about your products, promotions, and news.
But, outreach strategies aren’t just about advertising and product awareness strategies. Talking to customers can also help you discover consumer needs so you can develop in-demand products and improve customer experience.
While researching business ideas, I did a business market analysis to find out what niche to get into. In 1988, I founded the business that is now called Top Echelon, LLC, with my previous business partner. We knew we wanted to start a software company, but we weren’t quite sure who our target audience would be.
Before we launched our company, I looked for industries in the phone book. During my marketing outreach, I spoke to different professionals to find out their business needs. Finally, I landed on recruitment agencies. After interviewing agency owners, I realized there was a definite need for ATS recruiting software.
Even though I hadn’t started selling products, the customer outreach I did led me to develop Top Echelon’s business plan. My customer outreach program was the first step in testing my business idea. Finding out what consumers needed was invaluable to my entrepreneurial dream, and it is still important to this day.
How does customer outreach impact your business reputation?
When it comes to customer outreach, your business reputation is on the line. How you conduct yourself when you communicate with customers directly ties into how customers view your business.
On social media, you can post updates about your business and join the online conversation with customers or leads. With review sites, you should respond to customer complaints and praise. Send emails and mail containing business promotions or company news.
In some cases, you will reach out to people who are unfamiliar with you or your business. In these situations, their first impression of your business is from your outreach.
Customer satisfaction could hinge on your outreach plan. If customers think you are slow to respond on review sites, send too many emails, or post too frequently on social media, their interest in your business might decrease.
Your business might be seen as a nuisance if your efforts are over the top. And, if you never respond to complaints, customers could see your business as unresponsive and uncaring.
The way you communicate with customers paints a picture of your business. What kind of picture do you want to paint?
How to improve your outreach process
As a small business owner, you already have an advantage over large corporations when it comes to customer outreach. You can be personal during your consumer engagement, instead of treating them like a number.
Whether your business is big or small, there is always room for improvement. Here are three ways you can improve your customer outreach processes:
1. Provide support to customers
Small businesses can give that extra, personalized support customers want. Timeliness is important to many customers, and they will view your business as trustworthy and reputable if you put them first.
Instead of waiting on the phone and getting tossed from line to line, customers want to talk to someone who will help them quickly. Or, if a customer sends an email, posts on your social media pages, or writes a review, they expect a reply.
Participating in online discussions, whether it be on social media or review pages, is a great way to show you support your customers. Let customers know that their questions, comments, and concerns are all important to you by being timely and giving them the support they want.
At my companies, my team is dedicated to giving support to customers. If we receive an email after business hours, we make sure to reply the next business day. Many of the reviews we receive are in response to the support we provide. In fact, we pride ourselves on it. A business’s reputation and customer retention can depend on support.
2. Don’t bombard customers
When you send emails, deliver cards or brochures in the mail, or post on social media, customers don’t want to be overwhelmed with repetitive information.
Outreach should give customers useful information about upcoming promotions and news. When you post on social media, you don’t only advertise your business. You should post useful information about your industry, the economy, and interact with customers about things other than what you sell.
For example, don’t post the same news multiple times a day. Instead, post once a day, and change up the content you post. Customers will find more value in what you post if you keep a balance.
3. Get ideas from customers
One of the most important parts of consumer outreach is to gain useful information from your customers. What products do they need? How much would they be willing to pay for the products? When you talk to customers, you can find the answers tothese questions.
Customers can be your most valuable innovators. At my businesses, we make note of ideas customers share with us. For example, we recently added some features to our small business accounting and payroll software because multiple customers requested it.
Customer outreach is an important part of growing your business. It also can impact how customers see you. By providing a good first impression, and maintaining that good impression, you will develop strong relationships with customers.
To improve your customer outreach plan, keep it simple. Give customers the best support you can (better than what you would expect from a vendor), provide valuable content, and listen to what consumers have to say. Follow these steps, and you’ll be on your way to a healthy business-consumer relationship.