The Power of a Personal Network

Ben's Mazda

Ben's Mazda

They say life can change in the blink of an eye, but you never really appreciate how true that phrase is until someone blinks.

On July 7, 2011, at 4:30pm, life blinked for my 20 year old son, Ben and the ripple effects of that blink reach beyond comprehension.

He was hit directly in the driver’s side of his car while crossing an intersection by a woman driving 50 mph. He had thought the intersection was safe to cross, a two lane divided highway, because from his view, he only saw a tractor in the slow lane. It wasn’t until he was in the middle of the intersection that he saw the woman in the high speed lane. It was too late for either of them to change their course.

She is fine. Shook up, jarred hard by the air bag deployment but was treated and released.

My son will be fine…eventually.

His internal injuries are such that the best they can hope for now is stablizing him while they focus on his collapsed lung and allow the multiple fractured pelvis to heal. In three months they will see if additional surgeries will help to reconnect the many internal parts that are currently not functioning normally.

It is at times like these when you learn how valuable your network is and the interconnection you have with other networks. As I waited through the night for word from the surgeons, 12 young people literally and figurative surrounded me with their love for my son. The next day 19 of Ben’s friends waited outside ICU patiently for their turn; two by two, to sit by his side and hold his hand.

Ben’s network began a cross over, friends connecting with me on Facebook, liking my comments, emailing me, asking to put my cell phone in their phone. The generation gap bridged, hugs exchanged and the networks of myself and my son are forever connected.

The prayer chains of more churches than you can count around the country began sending up powerful prayers on Ben’s behalf. People began calling, email, texting, Facebooking, Tweeting and visiting with offers to help, food, hugs, cards, flowers, and prayer.

But then the help became more concrete.  Offers to take my teenage daughter for a few days, wheelchairs, shower seats, crutches were offered, legal assistance, counseling – all help from my network that has been carefully built over the years. Customers, peers, friends, neighbors – the offers have been unbelievable.

I am sharing this because in this blog I often talk about the power and value of building customer relationships. When you treat customers, employees, vendors and peers as friends, they not only buy from you and refer you, they line up to offer their assistance when life blinks.

My gratitude is overflowing. My heart is so full with thanks and appreciation and wonder at the generousity of those in my network. For all of you who have reached out or simply saw a status update on Facebook or heard through the grapevine and offered up a quick – “help Ben get better” I am so very grateful.

I hope you never have to know the full extend of your personal network. But do know – without a doubt – that your network is a powerful gift. When you reach out to build relationships, you just never know how they will benefit you or make your life richer.

Thank you to all of you!

One week later - Ben's First Walk

One week later - Ben's First Walk


Communication Key to Building Customer Relationships

100 tips in 100 DaysI received a lovely surprise in the mail today. A friend and colleague of mine, Leslie Ungar, president of Electric Impulse Communication, sent me a copy of her new book 100 Tips in 100 Days, 100 Tips to Communicate Your Competitive Edge. It is a clever, information packed, must-have to help you communicate your message in a most effective manner.

I flipped open to the first page of tips and found this gem:

Open with a WOW

“….It is your job to WOW your audience in the first three minutes.”

Think about that initial greeting or opening conversation with a potential customer. Would you classify “How can I help you?” as a WOW greeting?

Here’s another classic opening line: “Hi -let me know if you have any questions.” Gee, I’m greeted and dismissed all in one sentence.

How might you reword that initial conversation opener to include a WOW moment?

Leslie’s book offers 100 tips that help you communicate to potential customers one-on-one, to a group setting as in a speech, to a variety of people at a networking event or in a board meeting. By putting each tip in place, one at a time, the reader begins to gain confidence in their style, their approach and the value they bring.

100 Tips in 100 Days is a pocket-sized book – perfect for the purse or briefcase – you’ll want to keep it close at hand so that you can flip open to a tip at random and improve your communication techniques.

To effectively build customer relationships you have to master the art of communication – both speaking and listening. I invite you to head over to Leslie’s Leader’s Need to Speak blog to learn more from her and to consider purchasing a copy of her new book, 100 Tips in 100 Days.

Disclaimer – Leslie did send me a copy as a gift and she and I have worked together on projects in the past, but that in no way, takes away from the value that her new book offers. One visit to her blog or newsletter is all the proof you need to know that Leslie offers an encyclopedia of great information!


Answering Your Phone: Is it You or Memorex?

woman computer phone

Often our first interaction with our customer is over the phone.  If you had to rate that experience from the caller’s perspective – how would you do? 

A+ – you answer the phone personally with a warm greeting and a smile on your face

F –    they have several confusing options with a menu that goes on forever, none of which pertain to every caller

It is time to try on the shoes of your customer.  How do YOU feel when you call a company and are greeted by a machine that says “please listen carefully as our menu options have changed,” and so on?

Is the first thought “Oh no, here we go again.”

For me the worst is the company that thinks it is really HIGH TECH and you are suppose to SPEAK your options.  How many times do they get it wrong?  My blood pressure begins to rise and I haven’t even started the process of getting my questions answered.

How many times have you said to yourself – I just want a REAL person to talk to?

Imagine how your customers feel? 

I recognize that larger companies probably feel that an automated system that often separates the calls according to type and then attempts to provide answers without ever hearing a human is cost saving, but what does it do to the customer relationship?

Get Human is a website that offers a listing of companies and their customer service numbers and the shortcut secrets to help you connect with a real person.

When callers do reach a real person – what is the tone of voice? What do they say? Is their script so memorized that it sounds like a pitch and the words are slurred together so the caller has to say “is this ABC company?”

What policies or procedures do you have in place for telephone answering?


Is There a Difference Between Customer Service and Customer Relationships?

Customer Relationships are just like good friends

Customer Relationships are just like good friends

They sound similar but do they mean the same thing?  I asked the question of the Build Customer Relationships group on LinkedIn this week and overwhelmingly the answer was NO.  Everyone agrees that customer service is the foundation – what gets customers in the door the first time and turns them from prospects to customers but it is only when we work to build customer relationships that we enjoy a long term – REPEAT – business with our customers.

Susan Garvey  had this to say:

Actually knowing and ensuring each customer receives the type of service they want, not what we THINK they want. This can take any number of forms beyond the obvious such as prompt, informed attention by capable associates, the right products available when needed, etc. The best overall customer service usually comes down to some very basic requirements that most customers want ~ genuine, not scripted or “forced / manufactured” service, help available when it’s desired and not being offered or having products pushed that are of no real need to the customer. Making sure the customer feels and IS valued and always treated as such.

If you were to create a Customer Relationship Experience rather than a Customer Service Experience – how would they look different?  Or would they?  Do your employees understand the concept of building relationships with each person that comes in the door or calls on the phone? Share your tips for success here.


Build Customer Relationships with a Thank You

Put customers first

Today is my 300th blog post and I just want to say thank you for those that subscribe, those that are first time visitors and all of the rest of you who stop by on occasion to read my blog postings.

This past week I asked the question – how do you say thank you without using the words and Patrick Hazlewood had an awesome answer:

Although every interaction with the customer is part of the “sale” or “sale process,” including post-sale follow-ups or customer service responsiveness, not everything must be a sales pitch. We engage customers by listening to them, interacting with them, and then acting upon we learned.

What makes a sale, the individual who says “hello” and may point you in the right direction, the one who helps you find the style, color or initial size of choice or the individual who runs back to get you the appropriate size for you?

We say thank you by making processes better, products better or easier to use/open, producing new products that fit needs or meet desires (even if previously unknown by the consumer). We say thank you for your business by being honest, prompt and efficient in recalls or fixes/corrections. We say thank you by listening. Thank you.

I just love his message.  So many simple yet powerful ways to let our customers know how important they are to us and to our business!  Thank you, Patrick, for your wisdom


Building Customer Relationships – New LinkedIn Group



Build Customer Relationships

I once heard someone say – if you can’t find exactly what you want – build it yourself. I love the lively discussions that happen on LinkedIn in the various groups. I belong to several; local groups with a variety of business types and industry specific groups for speakers, writers, customer service and HR professionals.

I have answered questions and joined/started discussions but I felt like something was missing. We talk about CUSTOMER SERVICE but I didn’t see a group that dealt with the “relationships” we have with customers.

Customer service is what happens the first time we see the prospect and hopefully turn them into a customer. It is all about that experience. But what about AFTER the sale?

So today I started a new group called Build Customer Relationships with the goal being the creation of a platform where we can share ideas for how to keep that relationship alive once the customer walks out the door so they Remember – Refer and Return.

I started by asking – What is the most important part of building relationships?

Zane Safrit • The most important thing? How do you build a sustainable business without building customer relationships? Riffing quickly here we can see our economy’s performance over the past few years reflects a lack of customer relationships and the investments in meaning, purpose, engagement, leadership required to build them. It is possible to see our economy’s recovery dependent on resuming that primary purpose of a business: to create customers.

Ivana Taylor • Well – you have to give yourself credit too. Building customer relationships is like motherhood, America and Apple pie. Yet we still think it’s more important to bring NEW customers on (and it is important) but then ignore the customers that have been with is.

So the most important thing in building customer relationships might be just to STOP IGNORING your existing customers and treat them with love and attention.

Jay Izenman • This is it, Answer the phone!! There is no better thing to build a customer relationship then answering the phone, getting back to people and just making them feel wanted as a customer. If you don’t talk to your customers, you will have nothing to build. And thats it in a nutshell…

Mike Link • In my experience, I have found that the ball is dropped after the sale. Too many sales reps out there think their job is finished as soon as they make the sale. Big mistake! To build and maintain customer relationships, the communication after the sale is just as important, if not more important, than the actual sale itself.

Those aren’t the only comments – others mention that building relationships requires trust, honestly, integrity and so much more.  All good conversations.

I hope you will consider joining Build Customer Relationships. The discussions are monitored and I’m requesting that we use the forum for discussion not as a sale platform.

What do you think is the most important component to building customer relationships?


Do You Convey Value?

I have been saving a torn out letter to the editor since May 26.  The letter struck a cord with me. 

This election year the local school put a levy on the ballot. They wanted the residents to vote for adding a sizable tax amount to our real estate taxes for the purpose of…..well, I don’t know that we ever knew.

I have one child in the school system and she participates in many extra activities, most of which we now pay for as we go.  I received a letter that talked about some of the programs that are available but it didn’t say what would happen if the levy didn’t pass. 

Yes, isn’t it nice that we have all of these programs.  How is that tied to the levy.

The letter to the editor from Kathleen Hooker, a friend of mine and a savvy business woman and articulate communicator had this to say, shortly after the levy didn’t pass:

“While I am disappointed thta Hudson voters defeated the school levy, I am not surprised. As someone who monitors macrotrends for a living, there is a fundamental shift occurring in society; the emergence of the “value-added buyers.” This buyer desires transparency to make better decisions against their own judgement of value, calculated as current value (e.g. property values or test scores) or future value (student job prospects, quality of life). ……The school district should tell us about its investments like corporations publish in their annual reports and we can become better investor partners in the Hudson City schools.”

Beautifully said.  Our customers want to know the “whys.”  All the more reason we need to strive to build a relationship with our customers.  As Kathleen put it – we need to make them better investor partners. 

How many of you have had to raise your prices (or perhaps you hesitate to raise them) and then have to justify the price increase to your customers?  Do you say something like – it is the economy or cost of living or do you actually take them on as partners and let them know how the price increase affects them and why you’ve come to the decision.  Perhaps your suppliers have raised prices.  Perhaps a local vendor you used went out of business and now you have shipping costs you never had before.

Full disclosure or as Kathleen says “transparency.”  If our customers see we are being up front and honest – they will trust us and remember, people buy from those they like and TRUST.

Do you convey your value? Do you invite your customers to be trusted investors in your relationship?

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Effective Communication Builds Customer Relationships

I had the pleasure of facilitating a communication workshop earlier this week and the results were riddled with “ah-ha” moments. 

The group took a test to determine their “color” communication style and then they broke into groups to identify:

  • key elements of their communication style
  • pet peeves in communication
  • topics they like to discuss
  • tips for effectively communicating with them

Part of the group, identified as the BLUE communicators, like to tell stories and make people happy and were empathetic and don’t like to be cut off.

Another part of the group – the GOLD communicators, wanted “just the facts” and didn’t want the back story and couldn’t stand to listen to the drivel.

Oh my goodness – the two groups were shocked to discovered their opposite approaches and all of a sudden the conversation got derailed with people offering up times when they struggled to effectively communicate.  I couldn’t have planned it better.  The participants were saying things like “no wonder you interrupt when I’m talking” or “now I understand why you have to tell the back story to something rather than just getting to the point.”

The group learned that by sticking with their own comfortable way of communicating rather than trying to be sympathetic to other communication styles, they struggled to develop a relationship of trust and mutual respect.

We then broadened the conversation to include the customer.  When a customer needs to tell a big long story  and the sales associate just wants them to get to the point – we have a situation were the lack of patience and respect are felt and the customer doesn’t feel listened to or valued.

Bottom line:  when communicating with our customers, our peers, our boss or our family members, we need to be aware of the fact that different people communicate differently.  We need to try and mirror their communication style if we want to build relationships.

The one thing all four communication groups agreed upon:  they all wanted to be respected when communicated with. 

Great stuff! What is your communication style?  Take the Color Communication Quiz.


Customer Relationships Begin AFTER the Sale

Reading some more in the book What the Customer Wants You to Know and came to the chapter about communicating with your customer. 

Author Ram Charan says:

The final step to ensure long lasting and profitable customer relationships is to incorporate post-sale servicing into the overall process. The sale does not end when the contract is signed. It is the customer’s experience – and, in many cases, the experience of the customer’s customer – that develops the long-term relationship. Only if the customer is satisfied that he has received all that was promised, and that the solution does indeed address his financial concerns, have you succeeded. And that success is not an end unto itself, but rather just another step in a long journey of working with your customer to continue to solve problems and develop new approaches to doing business together.” 

I was talking with my friend yesterday who shared a story about a company he knows that has incorporated into their selling process the sale of an on-going service package.  Unlike most companies who focus on the initial sale, this company starts the sale by explaining the value of an on-going relationship.  They use this as an opportunity to say in touch and make sure that the customer’s ever changing needs are met. 

Establishing a need for an on-going relationship gives you the chance to continually meet/exceed expectations and keeps you in the forefront of the customer’s mind.  In the case of the customer relationship – absence DOES NOT make the heart grow fonder.

I’m reminded of a mortgage specialist who told me she can quote right down to the person’s name the number of mortgages she has closed that went into foreclosure.  How can she do this?  After the contract is signed, she keeps up the relationship; calling to see how things are going, sending little notes and emails to keep in touch.  On the front end, she works very hard to ensure that the right people connect with the right mortgage product so they don’t go into foreclosure.  In an age of unpaid mortgages due to loss of income or buying too much house for their budget – she starts off by being open and honest and continues the relationship long after the boxes have been unpacked.

Selling is a finite task.

Building relationships that last long after money has changed hands, leads to life long opportunities to serve the customer’s needs and referrals that grow your business.

Do you have a process in place that encourages continued communication after the sale is complete?


Building Relationships at the Rialto Bridge, Venice

rialto-bridgePeople buy from those they like and trust and the only way to build that trust is to learn about your customers as people not just cash in the register.

This became clear to me during a recent trip to Venice, Italy in which I visited a shop, Arte Venexiana, near the Rialto Bridge. I was looking for a unique piece of jewelry to commemorate my trip. I found a lovely glass necklace and asked the salesman if I could look more closely.

After handing me the necklace he got on the phone. Moments later, Elise entered the store – the designer who had created the piece I admired. In her hands…matching earrings. She asked my name. Learned I was traveling with my Mom and daughter – who were also in the store and she sought them out, exclaiming at my mother’s beauty.

She explained the process of her jewelry design. Told me about the Artist who made the glass beads. She personally put the necklace around my neck. elise-with-necklace

Exquisite. But pricey.

I thanked her and said I had to think about it. She gave me her card – made eye contact – pressed her hand to mine and told me how glad she was to meet someone who admired her artwork.

I shopped the rest of the day but her necklace and the warmth with which she treated me was ever present in my mind.

I returned. She came running out from behind the counter. Kissed me on both checks and told me how glad she was I’d returned. I made the purchase.

As she wrapped the necklace and earrings, she talked to her artwork, “you are so lucky, my baby, you are going to America.” She told me glad she was glad that I was the one who’d purchased something she was so proud of.

eliseI felt like we’d become friends.

I returned the next day to purchase gifts for friends and family. She remembered me and greeted me warmly – giving my daughter a free pair of purple earrings – she’d overheard that it was my daughter’s favorite color.

In parting she asked that I send her a postcard once I’d arrived safely home.

Imagine if every purchase we made was handled in such a personal manner. Imagine how good we’d feel about the value of our purchase. Would we return? Would we refer the establishment to our friends?

You betcha!

Look back over my interaction with Elise at all of the little things she did to build a relationships with me.  She knew I would leave and most likely not come back any time soon.  What reason did she have to go out of her way to build a relationship?  Yet, she saw the value.  It set her apart. 

Taking steps to build a relationship with your customers may seem time consuming, but the efforts and future benefits far outweigh the energy it takes. If you want loyal customers – become their friend; even if the friendship is only for a single moment in time. The experience will be remembered and the beginnings of customer loyalty will be established.necklace

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