Doing Business on a First-Name Basis

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When “Mom and Pop” still owned the local store, customers could go in and get a friendly hello and highly personalized service. For generations, much of our business was done on a first-name basis, often over handshakes and coffee, not contracts and email. For most of our shopping, that level of personal connection has been lost. Yet it still exists, even thrives, in the world of small business.

Big businesses focus on efficiencies, not back stories. I am a huge proponent of systems and procedures for a small business, but you should never do them at the cost of losing personal connection. The good news for small businesses is that people still crave personal connection when they spend their money. Even more interestingly, recent technologies have actually made it easier for small businesses to conduct their business on a personal level, even if they are working with a customer half the world away.

Personal Mindset

It starts with developing a personal mindset in your business. This consists of you valuing the individual over the group. The customer you are with is the most important person in the world. So, no, you should not answer that text message right in the middle of a meeting.

To get personal with customers, you need to start to really care about them. Some, like my father, are naturals at this. He finds out personal history and connects on an emotional level with almost all of his customers. If you are not naturally empathetic, you should start to add up the value of caring. One loyal customer is always worth way more than one unknown prospect.

On the most basic level, you should at least learn the names of your customers. If you have a retail business, make it part of your procedure to ask for and memorize names of regular customers. If you don’t recognize a customer, ask them if this is the first time in your store, and start a conversation with them. For other types of businesses, collecting names is easier, since it’s right there on the contract. Start using those names as you talk and start having conversations with your customers about their lives. If you can frame everything you do around the personal lives of your customers, you will be loved.

Culture of Communication

As it stands, you may have very infrequent communication with your customers. This makes it harder to do business on a first-name basis. So here’s what you do. Create a culture of communication. From the very first moments that you begin to work on a sale with a new customer, be profuse in your communication. Keep them informed what is going on, check in on them, etc. In essence, get to know the customer and let them get to know you.

After the sale, don’t stop. Keep checking in, making sure they are happy with what they bought from you or seeing if there is anything else that you can help them with. Also consider a marketing strategy that provides education and information to your customers, via tools like blogs, email, and social media.

Tools to Communicate

This is where everything is turning on its head right now. It wasn’t that long ago that doing business on the internet was the ultimate in non-personal communication. Then came social media. Businesses are using tools like Twitter and Facebook to become more accessible to their customers. The smartest business owners are learning how to create ongoing, two-way conversations with their customers using these tools.

Not every one of your customers uses these tools, but for the ones who do you have an always open door to communicate. Likewise, they can always reach you with a question. The same can be said of email, but our email habits are different then our social media habits. Online tools like blogs and Twitter allow us to let our hair down a little and give customers a glimpse into our lives. They also allow us to share our knowledge and to be on hand to help out with questions and issues that arise in the lives of our customers. When you are friends with your customers on Facebook, you can send birthday greetings and other personal messages easily.

Online tools have made it possible to easily merge business and personal. Some are uncomfortable with this blurred line, but it is only recent history that has forced us to separate the two. Before the age of the big box store, there wasn’t such a clear line between business and personal. When you did business with people you knew, you naturally cared about them and found out about their personal lives. Today, that same thing is happening online, and it is a good thing.

With today’s tools, you have little excuse to stay aloof from your customers. You can interact with them on social networks. You can chat with them on Skype, having virtual meetings no matter where in the world they are. Most of all, you can stay in touch. All of this allows modern businesses to get to know their customers on a first-name basis.

How well do you know your customers?

Creative Commons License photo credit: dimnikolov

Bradford Shimp is the publisher of All Business Answers.

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