Customer Relationships: What Successful
Small Businesses Do Well

James Monroe, Business Management Expert and Author

Relationships take work, but successful small businesses know it is worth the time and investment. Here’s how they do it.

How do they do it? How does a small business (on a small budget) bond with its customers as well as—or better than—giant corporations with their massive social media and advertising campaigns?

It’s about relationships. The small businesses I most enjoy patronizing take the time to build relationships with their customers, which results in repeat business, referrals, and positive reviews.

5 Ways to Build Your Small Business’s Customer Relationship Capital

Here are five ways my favorite small businesses develop strong customer relationships.

1. Human Connection

Some business owners have a knack for making you feel like a friend, not just a customer. They don’t just holler, “Let me know if you need anything,” from across the store. They greet you with a genuine smile and words that feel personal, unlike those coming from a standard sales script.

They pay attention to body language and respond appropriately. Do I want help and advice? Do I want to be left alone? Should they ask a question or two to help me zero in on something I might like? They seem to know.

When appropriate, they share personal stories and invite me to do the same, so we have a conversation, not just a transaction.

My purchase (or their service) becomes a personal experience. Even their websites have a personal vibe.

Not long ago, I was in a local shop buying some clothing for my daughter’s birthday, and somehow the owner and I ended up talking about our weddings. I have no idea how she brought that up and the conversation didn’t last longer than twenty seconds, but here I am, weeks later, remembering that moment and writing about it.

Since then, I’ve been to dozens of grocery stores, restaurants, drug stores, and retail shops, and I’ve forgotten about most of them. But I remember that store and that transaction clearly, and her shop will be my first stop the next time I’m looking for a present for my daughter.

And their written communication also has that personal touch. Their words and phrasing reveal their personalities and reflect how they value their customers (including me).

My favorite small businesses write like that friend. Their newsletters, marketing emails, and texts convey the business’s (or owner’s) personality. They are filled with local references that remind me of everything we have in common.

They don’t just push products. They remind me of why I like doing business with them.

2. Service Oriented

People who are good at working with customers don’t see themselves as subservient; they see themselves as customer advocates. When they interact with a customer—in person, online, by text, or by phone—it’s with a sincere desire to help. And when you’re the customer, you can feel the difference.

A service mindset is not the same as being overly flattering or clingy. It’s listening carefully, identifying customers’ needs, and making them happy.

Companies big and small that have a service mindset empower their employees to put their customers first. They avoid too many rules or policies and instead encourage their employees to take care of each customer’s needs the best way they can.

3. Professional and Approachable

My favorite small businesses look sharp. They have nicely designed logos, web pages, and signs that convey a little personality. Like large companies, they have well-marked vehicles, consistent branding, and clean and pleasant showrooms or shops. They look every bit as professional as their bigger competitors, and they make a good impression.

But they can also get to know their customers and anticipate their needs.

Even though they look every bit as professional as larger companies, their smaller size gives them the freedom to exercise their service mindset in creative ways.

4. Admit Mistakes

Customers often expect perfection, and when things go wrong, they may blame you.

So, when the person in front of them (or on the phone with them) says, “I’m sorry we made a mistake, and we want to make things right,” it defuses the situation immediately. And when a small businessperson enlists the customer’s help finding a solution, they can turn a potentially unpleasant conversation into a satisfying one.

The other day, I got an email from a small company saying the product I ordered would be delayed and cost more than they initially stated. But the email began with an apology for the error and explained what went wrong. It gave me options and let me choose the way forward.

And the note made me feel like the person writing it cared. So, we worked out a solution that made me happy.

5. Use Technology Well

I saved this for last because technology works best when small businesses have mastered the other five things.

When a small business has adopted a service mindset and communicates in a relatable, human way, technology can help them get more done without sacrificing the personality and localism that makes them stand out.

Every time a customer schedules an appointment, receives an invoice, or is prompted to write a review, it’s an opportunity for the company to express its personality and commitment to customer service.

Smart small businesses see every piece of communication as an opportunity to do two things: conduct some business and remind the customer why they like the company.

Fortunately, Index by Pinger makes it easy for you to foster this personal relationship with your customers and build your business’s “relationship capital.”

The Beatles said that “money can’t buy me love,” and they were probably right. But when small businesses show their customers some love, they just might end up making more money.

For more tips on running and growing your small business, visit the Index Small Business Resource Center

steve strauss portrait

James Monroe

Jim Monroe is an author, business leader, marketing and product strategist. He is passionate about helping young managers be successful by avoiding common mistakes. His latest book on management is “Don’t Be a Jerk Manager: The Down & Dirty Guide to Management.”

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