Ask Score: Consistent communications is key to customer relationships
In recent columns, I have highlighted several characteristics that give small businesses an edge over bigger competitors. The first one was a personal touch with clients/customers. Small-business owners have ample opportunities to develop face-to-face, person-to-person relationships with prospects and clients.
I suggested growing your business demands more than being good at what you do. It also requires building professional relationships. To do that, you must earn your customers’ trust.
How can you foster that trust, especially as your business grows? You might know all your customers by name now, but in a few months or years, you might find you can’t keep up with those personal connections.
Your business communication practices will need to be able to speak on your behalf. This is a vital need.
That’s why it’s so important to create consistent communication policies and methods in the early stages of your business. Even if you’re a solopreneur, setting high expectations for your business from the outset can ensure you provide quality service as you grow.
Here are a few practical ways to provide consistent communication your clients and customers can trust.
Logo and branding
Someone who sees your logo on a regular basis is more likely to take the plunge and invest in your products or services. Make sure you have a distinctive logo that represents your business mission.
You don’t have to be a graphic designer to develop a winning logo. Online design services and crowdsourcing platforms can get you started with something that looks professional. Avoid cookie-cutter fonts and clip art, and steer away from anything too kitschy. You’ll want to be proud of your logo for years to come.
Don’t forget to obtain your logo in various file formats and sizes to accommodate the various ways you’ll use it, including in your social media profiles.
Are you still scheduling appointments by phone using pencil and a paper calendar? Do you send emails back and forth trying to find a time that works for everyone?
A scheduling tool can help free up the time you spend scheduling clients by letting them choose a time on your calendar. An online scheduling tool can prevent administrative errors and even make the cancellation and rescheduling process easier for clients. Remember, everyone appreciates convenience.
Email newsletter template and canned responses
If you choose to send an email newsletter, decide on a schedule you can maintain. You might want to start with a quarterly mailing and increase frequency from there.
But don’t just keep your mailing list in an Excel spreadsheet and then type up a quick note to everyone. Use email newsletter services to select a simple template and upload your logo. By keeping a clean, consistent format — maybe all it takes is a color scheme that matches your logo and a few short paragraphs — you can keep your customers updated with business happenings without making them question why they shared their email addresses in the first place.
If you receive a lot of email inquiries, consider writing canned responses or templates that can be used to respond to your most frequent queries. It will take some time to craft these messages and customize them for each individual request, but having a template response to your most common questions can ensure consistent customer service, no matter who’s tending to the inbox.
Phone and voicemail etiquette
Have you ever called a business phone number only to be greeted by a brusque “Hello?”
Consider writing brief phone scripts to guide you and your staff as you answer phone calls and direct inquiries. A simple, “Thanks for calling Widgets Incorporated. This is Marcia, how can I help you?” sets a better impression (which might be your first!) than a random greeting.
Remember to keep your phone manner professional for your voicemail, too. Make sure your outgoing message indicates your business name, hours of operation and when customers can expect a response. Be sure to review your messages on a regular basis, and delete the ones no longer needed so customers don’t get discouraged by a full inbox.
Don’t have a business phone line yet? Consider a dedicated line or VoIP phone number you can forward to your personal phone. Not only will you avoid missing calls from potential customers. You’ll also be able to create boundaries to encourage work-life balance, such as directing business calls to voicemail or an answering service after your working hours.
If you want a checkup of your business communication methods, contact your local SCORE chapter and request a meeting with a SCORE mentor.