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Ten Ways …

to increase customer interaction By Robert Ashton

Every business depends on customers. Some, for example farmer cooperatives, are even owned by their customers. As a young man I worked with both farmer cooperatives and traditional agricultural merchants. They sold seed, fertilizer and agrochemicals to farmers, then bought the grain they produced. These relationships between farmer and merchant were inevitably

quite intimate, with an interdependence that often ran from generation to generation. But even in these close working partnerships, poor communication and assumptions could lead to rifts. Customers on the whole can be surprisingly tolerant, not really

saying they’re not happy until it’s too late and they’ve moved their business. We all need to work hard to maintain an open and honest dialogue with our customers. This becomes more important when you can no longer afford to have a large salesforce on the ground. So how can you reduce the risk of taking your customers for granted? Here are 10 ways you can increase customer interaction: 1. Make time to listen - It may be more exciting to sell new things to new people, but selling new things to existing customers is always a better bet. Take a genuine interest in your customers’ business, and life, and you will inevitably pick up opportunities to do more business with them. This can make it economic to have people on the ground. 2. Build a user network - Encourage your customers to talk with each other and share good practice. This can sound counter- intuitive, but in fact they will rarely spend the time talking about you. Instead they will help each other make the best use of the products or services you sell. A good user group will solve user problems, saving you those panic calls for help. Naturally you moderate the group and so can discern its mood. 3. Have a view - There will be burning issues involving your industry sector about which you have a view. Don’t hold back on voicing your opinion in the media and online. Join in the debate and make objective, constructive comment. Become known as someone with a point of view. Encourage your customers, and those of your rivals, to join the debate. It can build your profile and win you sales. 4. Use social media - You might be reluctant to use Twitter and LinkedIn, but providing you don’t post trivia, using social media is a great way to keep your name in front of your customers. More importantly, following and responding to their social media posts will give you insights into their business thinking. Social media lets you discuss a topic with your customer when it’s on their mind. 5. Conduct a survey - If you want to know your customers’ views on something, ask them to complete a survey. You can do this


easily online using SurveyMonkey which very conveniently collates replies and presents them in spreadsheets and graphs. Sharing the results with those who took part can also prompt sales conversations. 6. Ask open questions - It may seem obvious, but if you ask more open questions, you will get more information from your customers than if you simply ask questions that demand yes or no answers. Let’s be honest; we all know the importance of asking open questions, but when busy, may not make the time. 7. Develop your product personality - There’s a lot of emotion in the decision to buy a car and probably very little in the choice of livestock feed. Think about how different Apple is perceived to say Dell. Both make computers, but only Apple has personality and so is for many, the computer of choice. Your customers will feel more involved, and so be more communicative if they feel your products have personality. 8. Start a campaign - There will be issues in the world that concern you and have a connection, however tenuous, with your products. Perhaps a social venture way back down your supply chain in a developing country. Adopting a cause, raising funds or campaigning for social change can engage your customers is new ways. 9. Make it personal - We have the technology to personalise even mass emails. Go beyond addressing each customer by name; add something unique to each in your message. And always, always, invite people to respond. 10. Get intimate - Remember that a trading relationship is like any other relationship, with ups and downs and varying degrees of intimacy. Just as your life partner will be more tolerant and understanding if your relationship is sound, so too with your customers if those relationships are healthy. Work at keeping close to your customers. You might wonder why I feel it’s so important to add depth and

breadth to your customer communication. In my experience, the more reasons you have to interact with your customer, the better the business relationship will be. Logical argument and clearly quantified benefits can only take you

so far. People have to like you to do business with you; even if you only meet your customer once in a blue moon. In my professional life I meet people from all walks of life. Too

often I find people who work for large organisations to be quite bad at building business relationships. They simply do not seem interested in life outside their corporate bubble. Customer conversations are business like and business focused. They interact in a ‘job role’ to ‘job role’ way, with no apparent interest being shown in the person with whom they are engaging. I often meet these people later, when they’ve been made

redundant and find themselves outside that bubble, very lost and feeling lonely. You really never can have enough contacts and, in particular, people with whom you engage both professionally and personally. Not only does this make your business more resilient, it also makes doing business more fun.

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