Relationships are important in life. They make us feel safe and help us deal with stress. Relationships aren’t only important in your personal life, though. As a business owner, you should also build professional relationships. Relationship building from a business standpoint can help you get new customers, retain current customers and manage your reputation.
What kinds of relationships should you build?
The three most important types of relationships you should build are with your customers, employees and members of your community. Read on to learn how to build each type of relationship.
You’re probably already doing this, but first and foremost, you should be building relationships with customers.
Customers will be more comfortable continuing to use your business if they feel they know you personally. They will probably also be more likely to talk to you if they have a problem, rather than telling everyone they know (or turning to Yelp with a one-star review) if they have an experience they perceive as negative.
Sixty-five percent of your business probably comes from existing customers. How can you keep those customers? Build a relationship with them! The average business loses 20 percent (and some can lose up to 80 percent) of its customers because the business fails to cultivate and nurture relationships with customers.
And repeat customers are extremely profitable. They spend more, and they are 60-70 percent more likely to convert (take an action you want them to take, such as filling out a form on your website).
Talk to them and ask for feedback.
If your business is a restaurant, walk around to the tables and ask customers if everything was okay. But go a little further and ask them how they’re doing. Don’t pry into their lives, but do show genuine interest in their experiences at your business.
And make it easy for customers to complain. I know; it’s frustrating to hear negative comments about your business, but encourage that conversation.
Let customers know they can come to you with problems. You might just save your reputation by receiving fewer negative online comments and by being known as the business owner in your city and industry who is easy to work with.
Negative online reviews in search results can cause you to lose up to 70 percent of potential customers. While you have no control over what consumers say about your business online, you can at least make them feel more comfortable coming to you with their problems, giving your business a better chance of avoiding those negative reviews.
If a customer does leave a negative review, be sure to reply and make it right for the customer. Online reviews are important, and consumers read your reviews. If you reply to negatives and attempt to make amends with the customer, you could salvage that relationship (and your online reputation).
Make sure your customer service is excellent, as well. If your interactions with customers leave something to be desired, customers won't feel comfortable talking to you or your employees, and it will be that much harder to build customer relationships.
Zappos is known for its customer service. The company goes above and beyond. Once, when a customer's shipment was delayed, Zappos sent them a unicorn. They gained a customer for life by doing this. You don't need to send all your customers life-size stuffed animals every time something goes wrong, but resolve complaints quickly and efficiently so that customers are happy enough to return to your business.
It’s important that your employees feel safe talking to you about their thoughts and problems. Make sure your employees know they can come to you when they are having a problem or they need help with anything at work.
We talked about listening to customers, but don't forget about your employees in the process. Welcome employee input. Listen to their ideas. Let them know you value their feedback.
And protect them. A trait of successful leadership is that you protect your team. If you do this, they'll feel comfortable coming to you with problems rather than leaving issues unresolved (or leaving the business altogether).
Keep open communication with your employees. Check-in and see how they're doing every once in a while. Ask if they need anything from you. Be there for them, and they will be more likely to continue working at your business.
This will not only help build your reputation, as your employees will want to tell friends and family (and all their social media friends) that they love their job. Employee retention could also save you money:
One-third of new hires quit a job after the first six months
Employees who feel engaged at work are less likely to look for a new job
Employee engagement can lead to an 18 percent higher customer retention rate
Keep employees engaged, and keep open communication with them so that they feel valued (and more likely to stay).
And if you need help getting your team to be on the same level, you may want to try some team-building exercises.
Of course you want to nurture your current customer base, but what about meeting new people? Here’s why local business owners should build relationships with people who aren’t (and might never become) their customers:
The obvious answer is that it’s possible that they will become a customer, but there’s more than that to building a relationship with a stranger. I’m not saying you have to become best friends with everyone you meet, but meeting new people and networking can do a lot for a local business.
Any time I meet someone who owns a local business, I want to visit the business and tell my friends about it. If people in your community meet you personally, they will probably want to use your business the next time they are in need of a service or product you provide.
Members of your community can be one of your most valuable resources. If you are in need of help, and you've been networking at local events, you're more likely to have met someone who can help you out.
Building relationships takes patience. You will have to invest time in building those relationships. You can’t just walk up to someone and say, “Hey, want to have a business relationship with me?” (Well, you could, but you probably shouldn’t. You wouldn’t just walk up to someone and say, “We’re friends now.” Approach business relationships the same way.)
Take the time to cultivate those relationships. You don’t have to invite everyone you meet at a networking event over for dinner, but get to know people. Talk to them. Give them your card and/or your email address.
As a busy business owner, it’s going to be hard to take the time to meet new people, but here are some places where you can meet others:
Final Thoughts on Relationship Building
When you're working to build relationships with members of your community, keep these three ideas in mind:
Be willing to reciprocate. Remember that there is a give and a take in all relationships. If you aren’t willing to be there for someone who has been (or even who would be) there for you, that person will be less likely to help you out if you need it.
It’s not all about the benefits. Don’t be so focused on the end goal that you forget that it's possible you won't benefit from the relationship. And hey, that’s okay. You have friends who won’t help you move into a new home, but you still think of them as friends. Similarly, sometimes your business relationships won’t turn a profit or bring in foot traffic.
Be genuine. Treat others as you'd want to be treated, and welcome conversations, feedback and new ideas. You'll make new friends and maybe even get new customers in the process!