What is Customer Relationship Management, sometimes called CRM?
To trendy business gurus, it is a data management system that consolidates all the data about your customers and allows all levels of your business to access that data so as to provide the best customer service and contact.
But that's like saying the right way to service your car is with a box of tools!
Customer Relationship Management is all about the managing of good relations with customers and prospective customers.
The key to winning and keeping customers has always been about relationships. People like to do business with people they like. The question is how do you do this?
CRM is about understanding your customers' likes, needs and behaviours and how you can respond or meet these, and of course, about using this knowledge to maintain good relationships with them to the benefit of your business.
CRM is about creating relationships with your customers so that they enjoy positive experiences when they engage with you. Positive experiences build customer loyalty and champions for your business. Customers whose expectations are met with exceptional service are highly satisfied and likely to return to buy from you over and over again.
Indeed, once you have identified the best ways to do this in your business for your customers, you can and should investigate systems that record and provide relevant data about your customer as required.
But you need to do something with that data to build and maintain relationships.
In a small business, time is at a premium.
Yet you cannot ignore the importance of making sure that you develop and maintain a relationship with customers, exactly for the reasons outlined above.
Here are 8 ways in which a small business can build customer relationships.
1 Be personal
A small business cannot rely on "brand reputation" like Apple or Toyota. How a customer sees your business is dependant on how they see the people they deal with.
"Off-hand" contact methods like email or snail-mail can lead to misunderstanding because of the lack of voice inflections or facial cues, and it can seem impersonal.
A telephone or even better, a face-to-face meeting makes contact personal and provides a full experience. As much as possible, you should try to maintain face-to-face contact because the more face-to-face contact, the more your relationship will grow.
When things go right, you can celebrate as friends; and when things go wrong, it's hard to argue with a friend.
2 Respect their time
If your time is at a premium, you would respect someone who respected your time - why should your customer be any different?
Don't just encourage customers to "just drop in". You will inevitably be busy or engaged. Respect their time as well as yours by allowing them to schedule meetings with you, even social calls, so that you can set time aside and provide attention exclusively to them.
Be aware of your conversational style. Small talk helps build relationships, but recognise when enough is enough and time to get down to business.
3 Agree on your mutual goals
Relationships are two-way streets.
Funny that, so are businesses - you sell and they buy. Both must be happy with the way the traffic is going on that two-way street.
The best way to do this is to have a conversation about your mutual goals. What do they want pout of the relationship and what do you want out of the relationship? If nothing else, this conversation will show you their service expectations, and show them your terms of business.
Check this from time to time, especially if your relationship with them is on a project by project basis.
4 Under-promise and over-deliver
Make this a habit.
The temptation for us, in wanting to make the customer happy, is to promise delivery within the shortest timeframe we think we can commit to.
Often it's not!
One of the businesses we have worked with before was a cobbler. Whenever someone dropped off a pair of shoes to repair, he would estimate the time he would take and double it. Then, on completing it within the time he thought he could do it, he would contact the customer for an early pickup.
His Google reviews were consistently 5-star reviews citing how he always finished the work early.
5 Be transparent - especially when something goes wrong
Be human, and allow yourself to make mistakes.
But make sure that your customer does not forget you are human and that you do make mistakes. Be open about your mistakes.
The important thing though is about how you fix those mistakes. Sometimes, being transparent when something goes wrong is actually an opportunity for you to show them what you can do under pressure, and they will reward you for it.
While they may be frustrated at the time, your being "the real thing" and honest with them will ultimately satisfy them.
6 Use social media for service
This is one acceptable method of "off-hand" communication because people are so used to using social media for all points of contact. However, there are troll behaviours out there, and one frustrated comment can be disastrous. Never post immediately but compose, reconsider, and then post.
Social media can be used to make broad announcements like opening hours or special products and services in the week; highlight some special terms; show off products and services, and through regular personal posts create a consistent presence to give you a front-of-mind position with your customers.
7 Don't be petty
Despite respecting each others time and despite agreeing on mutual goals, there will come a time when something petty crops up that can lead to petty behaviour.
How many of us have not returned a phone call because we felt we had been slighted? How often have we not followed up on a referral because we thought "it wasn't a big one"? Have we not missed had a client miss an appointment and not apologise?
The issue is how we react.
We can react in a petty way and that could burn bridges. Or we could brush it off and carry on building the relationship for the long term. Which leads us to the eighth way a small business should build customer relationships.
8 Build the relationship over time
Rome was not built in a day, nor were social friendships.
Don't expect a strong relationship with a customer after a good sales presentation and a follow-up the next day over coffee.
It takes time to build your credibility, upon which the relationship will be based. The customer may not fully trust you when you first meet or engage with them; they may remain stand-offish even after the first couple of years. Be open, honest, consistent and persistent in meeting with them, engaging, and providing service.
Exercise the first 7 ways to build relationships over time and the relationship will develop.
Exercise all 8 and you will wake up to find that you have strong client relationships that are an asset in your business.
CRM is not about the software that records the interactions and schedule contact in the same way as servicing a car is not about the wrench you use.
CRM is founded on the "relationship" in Customer Relationship Management, and you need to be consistent and conscious in developing this.
In our free eBook called "Business Isn't Just Numbers", we discuss the Six Business Success Factors that small business owners need to develop in their businesses in order to be successful. One of these Success Factors is The Pursuit of Customer Fulfilment and our eBook outlines the four main touchpoints your business has with customers at which you should develop these methods of building relationships.
That's not the end of the story - tell us of your experience. Leave a comment on what you think about developing customer relationships.
If you would like us to review your relationship management and marketing overall, contact Teik at or call 08 9242 2085.