How do you effectively develop rapport with customers? How do you connect and compel those who have “raised their hands” and said “yes, I want to connect with your company” to continue coming back for more and, better yet, to spread the word about how great you are to others?
In a world marked by increasingly sophisticated technology, it may seem trite but it’s true that developing rapport with customers is not rocket science. In fact, my advice which, initially, may sound very general, is simple: take steps to truly understand your customers and their needs.
As I work with businesses – large and small – I am often shocked to find out how little they actually know about their customers and how little effort they put into learning more. Many make assumptions based on their own needs/preferences. I find this is most common among small business owners who started companies based on their own personal passions and, therefore, assume that know exactly what it is their customers need. But big businesses are not immune. The more familiar, comfortable and entrenched we become with the businesses we represent the more we are all at the risk of failing to truly understand customer needs and preferences.
Developing true rapport with customers involves the following steps, I believe:
- Have an open mind; recognize that you may not have all the right answers or know all there is to know about your customers’ needs. Be open to perspectives/opinions that may be different from your own, particularly if those perspectives are critical of what you have to offer (this can often be difficult to do!).
- Provide numerous opportunities and options for customers to interact with you. These might include in-person, via phone/hotline, email, social media, suggestion boxes, surveys/polls, etc., etc. Make it as easy as possible for customers to connect with you and share information and provide a variety of options for doing so to address the needs/preferences of different types of customers.
- Develop processes for gathering, synthesizing, analyzing and sharing the information you receive. This can help you identify trends, areas of common concerns/delight among customers.
- Create two-way conversations – be responsive. Don’t ignore or overlook input that you receive. Respond/engage in conversations even when you receive negative feedback/input. Again, be open-minded and willing to listen non-defensively.
- Be conversational vs. corporate in your approach/tone. People establish rapport with people, not companies/organizations. This is particularly pertinent for those hoping to connect with consumers via social media. Would you rather “friend” a person or an organization?
- Listen and learn – it is relatively easy and inexpensive to gain market insights through conversations and connections with customers, potential customers and consumers at large. The keys, though are to be open-minded and to take steps to capture, assess – and act on! – the information you receive.
Developing rapport with customers is really no different than developing rapport with the people we encounter daily in our personal and professional lives. We need to be genuinely interested in these “others,” we need to listen more than we talk and, importantly, we need to be willing to change ourselves to meet the needs of those we serve.