***This article originally appeared in the January 23 issue of animation magazine (No. 326)***
A customer is the lifeblood of any business. Not to be confused with a customer who only provides transactional functionality, a customer is someone who depends on a service provider to help them in an emergency. A customer always relies on his service provider for advice, while a customer buys price-wise at every opportunity and always chooses the cheapest provider. A customer is someone with whom a service provider develops a relationship that can span many years or even decades.
A customer stays, customers go.
And make no mistake – customers, especially happy ones, don’t just happen, they build. It takes time, care, strategy, and Terminator-like perseverance to build a relationship strong enough to stand the test of time.
What’s good for the goose…
The same things that are required for a productive relationship in your personal life are the same things that are required for a productive relationship with a client. After all, the key to building a client is having relationship-building skills so you can build and maintain the most fundamental fundamental aspect of any mutually beneficial relationship: trust.
Here are some tips on how to achieve this:
1. Choose your customers wisely. Make sure the person you want to start a relationship with is someone you want to spend many hours a month with over the course of many years, being there for them through the good times and the bad.
Write down everything you want from a relationship with this client. Although “needs” are far more important than “wants,” make a thorough list of whatever comes to mind, let it sit for a day or two, review, and revise until it’s perfected. If a potential relationship with that client fits virtually everything on your list, you may have a keeper.
2. Be selfless. As the Sorcerer Supreme once said, “It’s not about you.” This is very appropriate for customer relationships. Step out of your own circle for a moment and only Focus on what the customer has to say and what their experience is. Only comment on what you have to say. Put everything in their perspective. empathy for their plight. Congratulate them on every mention of positive news or even the most humble of accomplishments. The more you listen and the more you bypass your own needs and agenda and focus on what your customer is saying, the more connected your customer will feel to you and more excited to speak to you in the near future and to work with you.
3. Let go. All relationships have ups and downs. That’s how a relationship with a customer works. Expect only the best results and work towards them, but prepare for the worst and learn to deal with it and overcome it. Should something negative happen to a customer, acknowledge what happened and then address the issue calmly and professionally with a respectful question-and-answer session where you and the customer put your heads together to figure out what happened. and more importantly what can be done to improve this it will never happen again.
Then let it go Release this negative energy from your relationship into its doom or it will fester and grow into an incurable male poison that will herald the end of your relationship and usher in the inevitable resulting professional and financial consequences.
4. Prioritize your relationship. Make your relationship with your customers your top priority. Always be there for her. Always deliver, no matter what. It is crucial that your client is confident that you will be available to them in any capacity they require. You must appear in a way that makes a customer feel like they’re your only customer, even though they know they probably aren’t.
Part of your agreement when first building your relationship should be to guarantee enough dedicated availability to give them great service. If you take on more work or more clients than you can successfully manage, you are failing in your promise and, moreover, violating their trust.
As with friendships or even marriage, a relationship with a customer is based on trust, consideration, empathy, meeting wants and needs, and providing and receiving a range of mutual benefits. If you can implement these values into your business, you will surely build and keep happy customers forever.
Martin Grebing is President of Funnybone Animation Studios. He can be reached at funnyboneanimation.com.