effective ways to build customer relationshipsIn the old (pre-internet) days, building customer relationships was fairly simple. Customer would come into your store or office and you’d greet them, make a little small talk and catch up on what was happening in their lives while you took care of their business needs. Now, many of us have customers with whom we have an almost exclusively virtual relationship. If your business is anything like mine, you probably have a number of customers whom you have never met face-to-face. Even when I had my photography studio, a lot of my suppliers and a few of my customers were located in faraway states and, at best, I might see and talk to them in person once or twice a year at conventions.

So, in this virtual world, how can you build client relationships with that same personal feel that we enjoyed in the brick-and-mortar days? There are many easy and effective ways to build customer relationships that can make the best of both worlds. Here are few examples to get you inspired in your business.

Send a Handwritten Note

Emails are quick and easy to dash off and there is definitely nothing wrong with sending an email to your customers. But there is still something special about getting a personalized, handwritten and signed (not typed or pre-printed) welcome or thank-you note in the mail. You know it makes you feel special when you get one. It’s going to do the same for your customers. I wrote a post a while back about the benefits of gratitude here if you need a little more incentive.

Surprise Your Customers with a Treat

One of my professional photo labs developed a practice some years ago of putting lollipops in their shipping boxes. Even though I’m not a huge sweet eater, it was always kind of fun to see what we’d get—and guess which photo lab was my kids’ favorite. They also called customers to wish them a happy birthday or surprised them a floral delivery on special occasions—or for no reason at all.

Make Note of Special Events

Take the time to find out important events in your customers’ lives. Sending a birthday or anniversary greeting. Celebrate a new baby with a personal note or even a small gift or gift card. Do they have a child graduating? Did they get a new job or promotion? Help them celebrate. Whether you send a personal note, a greeting card or some kind of gift, it’s a great way to let your customers know that you see them as more than a number.

Go Above and Beyond

One of my business mentors told me his secret of business success was to “under promise and over deliver.” The longer I am in business the wiser I find that philosophy. Several years ago I photographed a military wedding. Shortly after the wedding, the groom was deployed to Iraq. Sadly, he was killed in action just a week before he was to return home. The bride’s mother called to let me know and asked if I could have a portrait made for his funeral. Imagine my gratitude when, on hearing the reason for my rush order, my photo lab not only printed the portrait at no charge but also made sure I had it in time to frame and deliver before the service. There is nothing that will garner you loyal customers more quickly than constantly surpassing their expectations.

Give Back

Are your customers involved with a charity? Are their kids members of a band, sports team or dance group? Participate in or sponsor a fundraiser for the group. Help promote the organization or charitable cause. Your community, whether virtual or local, is the source of your continued success; giving back is not just good karma; it’s also good business.

How do you build relationships with your customers? Please share your ideas, questions and comments below.

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