In the good old days, a town’s small businesses (the barbershop, the general store, the soda fountain) served as the hub of a community. Employees and customers were typically on a first name basis, and any sales conversations began with inquiries about family and life events.
Even if you still live in a small town where that sort of community exists, it’s possible that you make your living online, dealing with customers you’ll never meet face-to-face. Although it takes some extra effort through the web, you can create real relationships that make clients feel special and encourage loyalty, repeat business, and word-of-mouth marketing.
In that regard, small businesses online can have an advantage on major corporations. When you make a purchase on Amazon, there’s no relationship – you’re there because it’s easy and cost-effective. Where small businesses can’t always out-price the big boys, they can make up the difference with a few useful methods of outreach:
- Create a Culture of “˜Thank You’ – Even if your company uses automated services online, it’s possible to instill “˜thank yous’ into the process. Beyond simply using those words after an order is placed, it’s great to get even more creative. Why not send out a thumb drive or keychain bottle opener with your company logo whenever an order over $20 is placed? Your customers will remember the gesture and feel appreciated.
- Follow Up – On eBay, the most successful sellers rack up lots of positive feedback. That same principle applies to any business. If you’ve collected a customer’s email address, use that to send a message a few days after a transaction to make sure they’re happy with their purchase or your services. Ask how you can improve and serve them again in the future.
- Get Personal – Although collecting birthdays or personal information may not be the best idea with online-only transactions (most customers will wisely be careful about revealing too much), phone calls are a great chance to form a relationship. Of course, some customers just want to take care of business and be done with it. It’s still a good idea to always ask people about their day and show that they’re dealing with a real, genuine person.For longer-term customers where it’s appropriate to gather birthdays or family information, utilize this by sending a birthday card, email or small freebie. I’ve been loyal to my auto insurance agent for years, and it has a lot to do with the birthday card his office sends me each year!
Although small businesses online can’t reach out and physically shake hands with their customers, it is possible to simulate that interaction as closely as possible. What other methods have you used to make personal connections with your clients?
About The Guest Author: Christopher Wallace, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Amsterdam Printing, has more than 20 years experience in sales and marketing. At Amsterdam Printing, a leading provider of custom pens and other promotional items such as custom USB drives, Christopher is focused on providing quality marketing materials to small, mid-size and large businesses.
Shaking Hands Photo via Shutterstock