6 pillars of successWhen you want something to last a long time, you need to build it on a strong base.

Uncle Frank always said that’s why the trees in his yard had to put down firm roots before they started to grow.

When I built a new showroom for my car dealership, Frank Myers Auto Maxx, I dug deep foundations so that it would last for many years and allow the dealership to continue growing.

The same principles apply to one of the most important elements in the success of your business – your customer relationships.

You want them to be enduring and continually growing. So they must be built on strong foundations – not simply one-off contacts or slick marketing campaigns.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that there are six vital pillars that support strong customer relationships. When you put these in place, you will be well placed to have long-lasting, growing relationships with your customers.

The six pillars are as follows.

1) Making the Right First Impression

2) Being Easy to Do Business With

3) Remembering Your Customer Has a Choice

4) Making Life Better for Your Customers

5) Exceeding Expectations

6) Treating Your Customers as Individuals

Each of these pillars has an important role to play and the stronger each of them is the better your overall relationships will be. Today, let’s talk about Pillar #1.

Pillar #1: Making the Right First Impression

Strong relationships begin with the right first impression. You might think it’s not so important over a long period but the truth is those first impressions are hard to change.

The first impression will determine what people expect from you in future and may even determine whether they stay and do business with you. That’s why we need to make sure we get it right.

That first impression can come in many different ways and we have to work on succeeding with each of these elements.

As Uncle Frank often said, you have to “Inspect what you expect.” So you need to work through all the potential contact points customers might have with your business and make the impression as positive as possible.

In some cases, you can do this yourself. You can try to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and go through the process they would follow.

On the other hand, you can have someone else go through the process and report back on their experience. This is known as “mystery shopping” or “secret shopping”. You might well be shocked at what this could teach you about your business.

Just think about the different ways a customer can contact you and consider the impression they might get from each.

Often these days, the first step is visiting your web site. So have you done what’s necessary to make that experience as positive as possible?

Is your web address (URL) simple and easy to remember?

Do your web pages load quickly or do you expect people to sit around waiting for them to load? (Remember not everyone has fast internet access and the latest computer.)

Is the site focused on the customer or is it simply boasting about you and your business?

Does it have a look and style that is in tune with your customer base?

Is it easy to read and navigate or will people get frustrated trying to find the information they need?

Does your site make it easy for people to contact you some other way such as by telephone or personal visit?

People searching online tend to be scanning things quickly and jumping to quick conclusions so their experience with your website will have a big impact on the relationship they might have with your business.

What about when someone calls your store or office on the telephone?

Do people answering the phone have a standard greeting that is friendly and upbeat?

Is the person answering the phone helpful and pleasant to speak with?

Can potential customers speak to someone who is able to answer their questions?

If you have an automated system, is it easy for people to find their way around? Can they easily speak to a real person if they want?

If you have a recorded message is it up-to-date and friendly? Or is it talking about a promotion from last month?

When you have to call someone back, is it always done promptly?

You may believe that all of these elements are working well but you don’t know what is happening when you are not around. That’s why it’s a good idea to check it out, whether you do it yourself or have a mystery shopper do it for you.

Many business owners have been shocked to find what it’s like to be one of their prospective customers.

This step is not only crucial in creating the right impression with new customers, it is also key to building lasting positive relationships.

If you have a brick and mortar shop or office, it plays a key role in the first impression and the relationship that is established.

What’s the first thing customers notice when they walk through your door?

What do people notice before they reach your door? What is the building or neighborhood like? Does it all make a positive impression?

 Do people know where to go when they come in – for example, are they greeted by someone or given clear directions?

Does the overall impression suggest a successful business that people would want to deal with?

Is everything clean and fresh so that people enjoy the experience of being there?

If people have to wait, is there an area for them that is comfortable and makes them feel welcome?

Do you make it easy for people to find you through clear signposts from the road and good directions or a map on your website?

If you have a parking lot, is it clean, convenient and well-organized? Or is it badly-marked and full of potholes?

Does the layout of your office or store make it easy for people to find their way around and do you have maps and signposts to help them?

Is it easy for customers to approach and talk to your staff?

While doing some consulting work for a new car dealership, I found the customer waiting area was sticky, the coffee pot was filthy and the restrooms were disgusting.

The owner complained they couldn’t afford a cleaning service. However I explained to him that customers coming in didn’t know about that and didn’t care. They simply got the impression that this business didn’t care about the customer experience.

The sad truth is that there are too many businesses like this making the wrong first impressions on potential customers.

– They subject their potential customers to voice-mail hell rather than being easy to deal with.

– They have complicated websites that make it difficult for customers to find what they want.

– Customers visiting in person have to talk to somebody with no training who can’t or won’t answer their questions.

This puts many people off becoming customers and means others won’t stay long.

You can look at your own business and check out many of these factors yourself or you can use mystery shoppers to help you learn more.

However, here is one simple test.

Are customers leaving your store with a smile on their face or are do they look frustrated and unhappy?

If they are not leaving thinking that visiting your store is a positive experience, they will not be coming back and will not be passing the message you want on to others.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that people generally have low expectations of customer service nowadays and it’s remarkably really easy to stand out and be recognized as a great place to do business.

You can quickly become talked about in a positive way because of the top quality service you deliver to customers.

If you create a strong, positive impression right from the start, people will keep returning and you will have a firm basis for long-lasting customer relationships.

– Stay Tuned For Strong Customer Relationships: The Six Pillars/Part Two. Coming Soon.