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10 Common Mistakes When Communicating with Customers…and How to Avoid Them

By Beth Goldstein, Marketing Edge Consulting Group

Are you moving so fast that you're not sure if you're communicating your value effectively to your customers and prospects? Is your sales and marketing plan simply not having the impact you need to grow your business?

Much of business failure can be traced simply to the way companies communicate - or fail to communicate effectively - with their customers. Whether you're planning a new business, have just launched one, or have been running a company for awhile, it's critical to avoid the most common communication pitfalls. While most successful business owners recognize the importance of avoiding these gaffes, it's important to keep these 10 common mistakes in mind as you review your business practices to ensure you're amongst the group of successful entrepreneurs whose companies prosper.

FAILURE TO:

  1. Address Customer NeedsAs a business owner, how confident are you that you truly know what your customers need, want, or expect from your company?  Many business decisions are based on a gut instinct of what you believe customers want and not necessarily because you asked them directly. Don't be afraid to ask existing customers as well as former and potential customers to ensure their concerns and expectations align with the value you provide.
  2. Sell Benefits Versus Features. Often referred to as the "So What Factor" or "What's in it for me?" you must always remember that customers buy benefits, not features. Features simply support the value you provide so in communicating with prospects. Think about what matters most to them and focus your written and oral presentations on addressing that value (i.e., benefits). This doesn't stop after your first meeting. You must continually educate customers about the value they receive. Even if you believe it's obvious; don't assume your prospective customers "get it."
  3. Ask the Right Questions (Or Ask Any Questions At All!). No matter how well you think you know your customer, it's dangerous to assume you always know what they need or want. Continually ask them questions about their needs, desires, and interests and use the knowledge to ensure your services and/or products help them achieve their goals. You must actively listen to your customers. Even if you ask questions, make sure you're truly listening to what they tell you-this is both through spoken words as well as through non-verbal cues like body language, expressions, and tones.
  4. Follow Up Promptly to Requests of Any Type, Especially Post-Sale. Business owners juggle many tasks with long to-do lists. However, if you let days go by without following up on requests you leave an impression that your to-do list is more important that your customers. Make sure your communication is not just pre-sale but after you've gained their trust as customers. Unless you don't care about repeat business or referrals, make sure you follow-up with customers after they've made a purchase. This is as important as the communication you have with them leading up to the sale.
  5. Handle Complaints or Difficult/Angry Customers Promptly and Honestly. Studies show it can cost up to five times the amount of money to bring in new customers as it costs to retain good ones. Customers don't expect perfection, but they do expect courtesy and empathy from you when things go well and especially when things go awry. Always reach out to customers when errors occur (even if it's the customers' fault) since this will help you build and maintain a  relationship for the long term.
  6. Recognize or Act When Outside Factors Impact Your Customer. Customers do not reside in an isolated world. Recognize how external factors (i.e., recession, changes in pricing, or varying industry regulations) might impact their decisions and their ability and interest in conducting business with you. If you recognize these and show them that you're interested in working out terms that meet both their needs (maybe longer payment terms or a short-term discount) and illustrate flexibility and compassion, you plant the seed of a loyal and long-term business affiliation.
  7. Polish and Double Check Your Written Communication. Typos, careless errors, and simple grammatical mistakes won't leave the positive impression that you want to engrain in your customers' minds about your company and your brand. You must also recognize that there are differences between quality spoken versus written communication and presentations. Perhaps you're a great speaker and effectively present your ideas through one-on-one meetings and presentations. Don't let your written documents and follow-up destroy the positive impression you initially created.
  8. Use the Appropriate Method to Communicate. Depending on individual customer situations your communication methods might vary. Sometimes e-mail is acceptable and even preferred. But there are certain situations which require a more personal touch such as a phone call or in-person appointment. Make sure you under how your customers want to communicate with you and follow through in that manner. This also varies by generation so make sure you understand the differences between Baby Boomer communication methods and Generation Y.
  9. Manage Critical First Impressions. You only get one chance to make a first impression-make sure it's the one you want to make. If your first touchpoint is through a phone call or perhaps a visit to your web site make sure it's memorable and provides the visitor with a strong sense of who you are and why they should want to continue a dialogue and business relationship with you.
  10. Thank or Recognize Customers (Not Just During the Holidays!) Imagine how thrilled your customers are when they receive recognition from you on a special event (birthday, holiday, promotion). It's the small touches that can have the biggest impact on the relationship you are building with them.

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About Beth Goldstein, Marketing Edge Consulting Group
Author of The Ultimate Small Business Marketing Toolkit (McGraw-Hill), and President of Marketing Edge Consulting Group, Beth Goldstein has empowered hundreds of entrepreneurs and companies to create successful marketing and sales programs. Consultant, nationally recognized speaker, and educator, Beth runs Small Business Survival Workshops around the country and is the Lead Instructor for the SBA Emerging 200 15-state, program designed to help urban entrepreneurs strengthen and grow their existing businesses. Beth is the instructor for the business accelerator program in Worcester, MA and teaches Entrepreneurial Sales & Marketing at Boston University. To learn more about Marketing Edge's business growth programs, go to: www.m-edge.com or contact Beth directly at beth@m-edge.comor (508) 893-0976.

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