Barry Patrie You’ve no doubt seen people so absorbed with their smartphones or computers that they appear oblivious to what’s going on around them. Of course, everyone is entitled to privacy, and perhaps that message or video really is thatimportant.  However, spending too much time in a “heads-down” mode can be off-putting and, sometimes counter-productive.

Many entrepreneurs, including those who work from home, operate their small businesses much the same way when they rely too heavily on email to communicate with clients. Email is convenient, particularly for work-related issues and updates, but numerous studies have come to the same conclusion—customers want to be treated as people, not as return email addresses.

When you take a technology-centric approach to communication, you’re missing an opportunity to foster a relationship with your customers, a quality that is becoming increasingly critical when deciding who to do business with.  Customers do business with people that they know, like and trust.  It is difficult to create those relationships without personalized contact.

“Sixty percent of communication is non-verbal, 20 percent is tone of voice,” says Sam Richter, an internationally recognized expert and author on sales and marketing. “That means only 20 percent is actual content. So if you’re doing email only,  you’re losing 80 percent of your communication.”

That’s why it’s a good idea for business owners to pick up the phone every now and then and talk with customers. The idea isn’t to fish for work, but rather to check-in and see how they’re doing, and talk a little shop. That connection may or may not result in new work immediately, but it’s sure to leave a positive impression with your customers.

Just make sure the reason for calling is relevant, particularly if you find yourself leaving a voice mail. “Think about how busy you are, and what you want and don’t want to hear in a voice message,” advises Richter.

Here are some other suggestions for adding a personal touch to your customer interactions:

  • Make a date.  Arrange a time to meet in person at a mutually convenient location, close to the customer or at the customer’s place of business. Ideally, you want to do this as early in your work with the client as possible to discuss processes and expectations. But any opportunity to meet and catch up is a good one.
  • Write a note.  When you learn of good news about your customers or their organization, send them a handwritten note of congratulations. Even a few sentences expressing heartfelt feelings are sure to make you and your business memorable.
  • Follow them.  Social media has lived up to its name, adding some personality to our online connections. Make it a point to follow your customers’ Twitter feeds and blogs, and weigh in on discussions as appropriate. Also, use these connections to forward timely articles on industry-related issues, and your customer’s personal interests. Don’t be condescending; insincere flattery and blatant attempts to earn someone’s favor can quickly turn a valued acquaintance into an unwanted annoyance.
  • Do some networking.  Seek out opportunities to interact with customers and potential customers.  Things like Chamber Business After-Hours and other community activities are recurring opportunities to enhance those personal relationships with customers and potential customers.

SCORE believes there is nothing more important than communicating with customers both in person and through the use of technology tools.  Understanding what is important to your customer puts you in a unique position to help them by providing your expertise, products and services.

SCORE is available to help you develop a marketing plan for your business.  Call SCORE at 207-743-0499 for a free confidential consultation on marketing or other business needs.  For more information, visit www.oxfordhills.score.org.

This topic was selected for publication from the SCORE archive of resource materials by Barry Patrie, SCORE small business mentor.

The Personal Touch Goes a Long Way Toward Keeping Customers