How to Build and Maintain Customer Networks

As an entrepreneur, I know first-hand how important it is to connect with customers. Building relationships is key to learning your customers’ needs. And, you may gain more returning customers, referrals and net income in the process. You may even get them to become friends with you.

As a small business owner, you have an advantage when it comes to building customer rapport. The size of your company allows you to reach people at a more personal level than big businesses, which turns into stronger relationships with customers.

Here are five ways to build customer relationships and keep them coming back.

Build your network–it’s your sales lifeline. Your network includes business colleagues, professional acquaintances, prospective and existing customers, partners, suppliers, contractors and association members, as well as family, friends and people you meet at school, church and in your community.

Contacts are potential customers waiting for you to connect with their needs. How do you turn networks of contacts into customers? Not by hoping they’ll remember meeting you six months ago at that networking event. Networking is a long-term investment. Do it right by adding value to the relationship, and that contact you just made can really pay off. Communicate like your business’ life depends on it.

Harness the Internet–Another crucial step to building a strong network is to maintain your brand’s authenticity, transparency, and accessibility. Use your online presence to plainly state what your company does and what you value. And then allow your network of customers to vouch for you. The Internet and social media are great democratizers; they give everyone a voice.

Promise and deliver–Most people have the best of intentions, but sometimes they just don’t follow through. While that’s annoying in personal relationships, it’s downright deadly to a business.

Keep in touch–The worst thing for a business is to get a reputation for failing to do this. People like to know that their friends are thinking about them. They also like to know that the companies they care about have a vested interest in them (and not just financially). A quick e-mail or telephone call speaks volumes.

Use loyalty programs that go beyond earning points–Most businesses already have loyalty programs to encourage customers to come back. One of the most popular programs involves earning points for every purchase that can later be exchanged for goods. While this is a good start and certainly better than nothing at all, savvy companies will get more creative.

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