Below is a guest post from Kevin Baker of my1voice:
We always hear about strong communication being a necessity in relationships to avoid a lovers’ quarrel, but what about when it comes to professional relationships? Many small business owners might not think those Dr. Laura Love type shows and columns have anything to do with their company, but in fact, they might.
A lot of the problems small businesses have with customers stem from communication issues. Whether it’s too much, not enough, the wrong type or just a misinterpretation between what is said and what is meant, at some point if customers don’t feel the love they don’t call Dr. Laura to fix it. They simply leave, and businesses are left without knowing why. Since there aren’t any radio talk shows or advice columns for small business owners trying to patch up troubled relationships with their clients, here are a few tips to help improve communications and build a long-lasting relationship.
Always be available. The lovelorn frequently complain about their significant other being cold and distant. Clients can feel the same way about you if it takes days or hours for you to respond to calls or emails. Small businesses especially need to make sure they’re available to clients because often one of the main reasons customers choose a small business over a larger competitor is the expectation of better service. For email, consider investing in a mobile phone with data service that allows you to receive emails wherever you are. For voice calls, consider signing on to a virtual phone service for business calls that allows you to forward your office phone to your mobile device as well so you- can take calls anywhere. Ideally, it should also email your voicemail messages to you – just in case you simply can’t take the call live.
Think before you speak. How many love relationships are damaged every day because one person makes a statement, the other responds, things escalate, and pretty soon the original issue is well overshadowed by what came after? The same thing can happen in business. It’s easy to let emotion overtake reason, especially under pressure. As the seller, though, you have to remember the cardinal rule of business: the customer is always right. Take that extra moment to calm yourself and think before you respond. If you can’t do it now, say you’ll look into the issue further and get back to the customer. Then sleep on it if you have to.
Don’t allow things to fester. This is the other side of the coin. Often in a relationship what starts out as a small issue can quickly grow if left unattended. The more time that passes, the more likely the other person will fill in your side of the conversation with what they think you’ll say. Do your best to answer small issues, complaints, etc. in a measured but timely manner so you can keep them small. And make sure your client knows you’re looking into the bigger ones.
Tread carefully with email. It’s a safe bet to say that few things have done more to put our love lives on edge than email. In addition to the fact that writing in a meaningful way generally seems to be a lost art, email lacks the ability to convey the tone and intention of the writer. As a result, the interpretation is left up to the reader; many a fight has resulted from what the writer thought was an innocent statement. If you find yourself in a situation like that with a client, resist the temptation to respond with your own email. Instead, pick up the phone and talk to the client. You’ll likely achieve three benefits. One is you’ll get a better idea of whether what you’re reading as a snippy comment was just a poor choice of words by the writer. Two is you’ll let the client know you’re taking the issue seriously. Responding to an email with a phone call is much more impressive than simply returning the email. And three, it’s a lot easier for people to be angry when hiding behind email than in a face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) situation. Making the call can help you take the teeth out of paper tigers.
Know where the line is between friendly and too familiar. Nothing kills a dating relationship faster than one person getting too familiar too soon. The same is true in a business relationship. While you may have some great and fun conversations as you build the client relationship, it’s still important to maintain the line between your professional life and your personal life. Remember, while you want them to feel good about you, they’re still your clients, not your friends. Answer the phone in a manner that is appropriate.
About the Author:
Kevin Baker is my1voice Product Marketing Manager for Protus (www.protus.com), provider of the highest quality Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) communication tools for small-to-medium businesses (SMB) and enterprise organizations, including my1voice (www.my1voice.com) the cost-effective, feature-rich virtual phone service that travels with the user from phone to web, award-winning MyFax, the fastest growing Internet fax service and Campaigner, an email marketing solution with advanced automation features. Kevin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.