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Habits for Building Long-Term Client Relationships

Real success in business, the kind that exists on multiple levels, is dependent on building great relationships with customers, co-suppliers and colleagues. People who understand the role of strong relationships in successful business interactions share a number of habits. This article will explore those habits and help guide you in developing business relationships that can go beyond one-time projects to become repeat business and ultimately business partnerships.

Habits graphic

Habit #1 - Connect emotionally.

Rather than thinking of your contact as a potential sale, think of him or her as simply a person – someone you’d like to get to know better. Ask open-ended questions in order to learn more about them. Ask about his or her role in the company. Ask about hobbies. Ask about family. Most people like to share about themselves, so their answers can uncover areas of mutual interest. Perhaps you enjoy the same type of music or have been to the same vacation destination. Discovering common interests or experiences can result in an emotional connection that grows over time.

Habit #2 - Listen actively.

Make it your mission to listen to your customer’s needs and concerns. This means listening first and talking second. As mentioned in our article on Empathy, it’s important to listen completely without forming a response. If you interrupt, you’re not listening. If you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next, you’re not really listening either. Get comfortable with silence. It allows all involved to process what’s been said. You can then respond with a proposed solution or a question that will dig deeper to help you understand the issue better. Finally, summarize to ensure you understand and that expectations are clear. Your customers will see you as an expert who really cares and who can provide solutions.

Habit #3 - Be transparent.

It’s important to follow up often, whether a project is on or off track. Don’t be afraid to communicate possibly impactful delays. Customers will appreciate the early heads up so that they can move to a contingency plan, if necessary. By the same token, confirmation that all is going according to plan offers peace of mind. Either way, it lets customers know that you’re on top of it. Your customers are counting on you to help them be successful, and they will appreciate your proactive manner.

Habit #4 - Be reliable.

Effective management of expectations goes a long way towards fostering trust. Say what you’ll do and then do what you say. If you say you’ll call first thing Monday with a quote, then call first thing Monday with a quote. If you find you won’t be able to meet that deadline, call with an update. Few things are more frustrating than having to chase people down to get what they promised. By the same token, be honest about what you can and can’t do. If you think getting that quote done for Monday is questionable, say you’ll get it to them on Tuesday. Then if you do get it done for Monday, they’ll be pleasantly surprised to have it early rather than disappointed at it being a day late.

Habit #5 - Be trustworthy.

Customers may be sharing proprietary information with you, so taking the utmost care with that information is vital. Your discretion is expected and required. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever share. Joint promotional efforts can be very beneficial to both parties. Just be sure you both have a clear understanding of what should and should not be shared, and that your customer has an opportunity to review and approve everything before it goes public.

Habit #6 - Be a partner.

Most customers are looking for more than products alone. They want a resource who adds value such as industry knowledge or technical expertise that can give them a competitive advantage, grow their business and increase profitability. Strive to understand their business needs, goals and obstacles. Be sure to look beyond the specific request at hand, at the bigger picture, for how you may be able to help your customer gain efficiencies, improve performance or otherwise impact their bottom line for the better.

Habit #7 Act in a selfless way.

Reciprocal favors are very common in business. They’re like mini-deals that can help make things happen, and they certainly have their place. Doing something for someone without expecting anything in return, however, can really send the relationship to a higher plain because it means you’re approaching it with the other person’s best interests in mind rather than your own. For FLEXcon, it might be a Technical Service Representative making the trip to be on press at your facility for a very important job that you’re running for the first time, to ensure that it goes as expected. We don’t have to do it, and we don’t charge a fee for it. It’s simply an effort to be more helpful and to ensure your success.

Knowing that the goal is only to help will give your customers peace of mind and can open the door to gaining a better understanding of their business and challenges. Visit in person, ask questions, and really listen to the responses. Shadow their employees, if appropriate. The time you take to understand their needs in more depth will pay off in the long run. The fact is, selfless actions ultimately yield the highest selfish returns because they generate a feeling of team and being in it together. This in turn empowers your customers to be successful - and when their businesses are successful, your business will be successful. You may even find that you forge lasting friendships as well as strong business relationships.

Habit #8 Offer help before being asked.

Having someone anticipate your needs is always refreshing, whether it’s your spouse, a waiter in a restaurant, or a vendor for your business. For example, perhaps you have a customer who needs their jobs quoted a certain way that is different from your normal procedure. Knowing this and providing their quotes in the desired form without them having to ask every time shows that you’re paying attention and that you have their back. They can count on you. When you give your customers this level of consideration, it demonstrates that their business is important to you. Depending on the situation, it may even enable you to foresee an unrealized issue and offer a solution that pre-empts the problem altogether.

Habit #9 Take responsibility.

Own your actions, good or bad. Being able to admit a mistake does two things. First, it positions you to be part of the solution, maybe even before your customer knows there’s a problem. This can enable you to manage the potential crisis better and avoid additional fallout. Secondly, it gains you the respect of your customer as well as their trust. Knowing that you ‘fessed up means that they can take you at your word, which will work to your benefit in the future. We’re all human and mistakes happen. While trying to sweep them under the rug may be tempting in the short-term, it’s likely the truth will be discovered at some point, and then you’d really have egg on your face. Better to do the honorable thing now, simply because it’s the right thing to do. Besides, your customers’ trust is much more valuable than the cost of fixing a one-time mistake.

No limits to what you can achieve. 

Once your customer understands that you are a partner looking for ways to enable their success and growth, there is no limit to what you might achieve together.

At FLEXcon, we talk about these behaviors and how they can strengthen relationships with our customers, suppliers, vendors and co-workers. We’re constantly working on our ability to communicate effectively so that we can discuss and identify options, meet deadlines and have your back. Whether you need an inventory program for the custom solution we make for you, or a technical person on your floor to watch a trial, our goal remains to enable your success by working alongside you as your strategic partner.

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