Time for a Check-Up? 3 Steps to Better Long-Term Customer Relationships

To maintain profitable, long-term relationships, the best sales people
make a habit of checking up on all their existing business relationships
on a regular basis, to ensure that they are continuing to achieve
their – and their prospect’s – goals.

I suggest to my clients that they carry out these "relationship
check-ups" about once every 4-6 weeks. Any sooner and you’ll
run the danger of crossing the line between persistence and stalking.
Any later, and there’s a good chance your customers will have forgotten
about you.

Following up with customers is important at all times. It is even
more so when you sense that there may be a problem brewing, such as
when you feel someone isn’t listening, when you aren’t getting any
real feedback or when you feel you simply aren’t getting along with
the other person.

Letting things go in the hope that "time will heal all things"
is never a wise course of action. If time healed all wounds, we wouldn’t
need divorce lawyers, therapists – or to serve alcohol at high school
reunions. If anything, time can make some wounds smart even more.
So if you feel you may have a problem in the making with one of your
customers, solve it now, before it can get beyond your ability to

If you don’t know how often to check-up with your customers
– ask them! An effective trust building question is: "I want
to ensure that I provide you with the best service possible. What
does that look like to you?"

The following 3-step process can help you check up on your relationships
with your customers, to make sure they stay as strong tomorrow as
they are today. One more thing to remember: never conduct a customer
check-up by email. While technology is wonderful, it lacks the personal
touch of a phone call or, ideally, a face-to-face meeting, which you’ll
sorely need if there is any mending to do.

Step 1: Ask questions
First, start your check-up by asking any or all of the following questions:

  • I want to ensure that I offer you the best service possible.
    What does that look like to you?"

  • On a scale of one to ten, how well are we doing? What would it
    take to be a ten?

  • Do you feel that I listen to you – really listen, hear and understand
    you? If you really don’t listen to the other person, admit
    it, and ask what could be done to improve things.

Note: Never respond to a customer’s feedback with
"Yes, but…"
or "I know…."
These phrases will discourage your customer from responding openly
and honestly. It’s extremely hard for people to give honest feedback,
so no matter what they say, don’t debate them, make excuses or try
to justify why you acted the way you did. Just thank them for their
candor, then after the meeting is over, consider what they had to
say carefully and with as little ego as possible.

Try on their feedback like a shirt. If it fits, use it. If not, discard
it. But before you discard anything, remember the old saying: "If
three people call you a horse, you’d better start looking for a saddle."
If you feel hurt or defensive, there is likely some truth to the comment.
If it weren’t true, it wouldn’t be so upsetting.

Step 2: Make commitments
While you’re still on the phone or in the meeting with your customer,
immediately commit to an action that you can unilaterally take to
improve the relationship based on the feedback they’ve given you.
This will encourage them to take action as well, and things will almost
certainly improve.

For example, if your customer feels you don’t give them enough advance
notice before dropping by, tell them that from now on, you will always
email ahead to schedule a meeting rather than simply calling or stopping
in unannounced and interrupting their day. Then, make sure to do it,
without fail.

Step 3: Follow-up
Lastly, arrange a follow-up meeting to check how things are going
as a result of the changes you’ve made in your relationship.

Gain mutual agreement about when the next meeting will be, to ensure
you don’t cross the line between persistence and stalking. Choose
an appropriate method of following-up, such as a phone call or an
invitation to lunch, dinner or coffee. Another effective approach
is to send a brief email to your customer summarizing the meeting
or phone call, and documenting the actions you have both committed
to taking.

When following up, go back to Step 1, and repeat these steps as needed.

In my experience, the insights you can gain by conducting this simple
check-up can be profound, and profoundly rewarding. As salespeople,
we make decisions every day about how we will listen to a prospect.
There are five "levels of listening" that we can adopt,
each with its own highly predictable outcome:

  • Ignoring
  • Pretending
  • Selective
  • Active
  • Empathic

The top 20 percent of all salespeople practice active and empathic
listening whenever they’re in a sales meeting or talking with
a client or prospect. In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective
, Stephen Covey states: "Empathic listening gets inside
another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it.
You see the world the way they see the world. You understand their
paradigm. You understand how they feel."

When was that last time that you felt someone was really listening
to you? How good did it make you feel?

The reality is, most of us don’t feel that we are listened to
very often. As a result, when we really are listened to, it makes
us feel good. In fact, it makes us feel great.

Your job as a sales person is to make your customers feel better
after the interaction with you than they did before. Listening to
them, really listening, with the intent to understand them, is one
of the best ways I know to make that goal a reality.