Your company’s brand is your reputation, especially in service industries such as ours.
It’s comprised of your values and the quality of your work. And, most significantly, it’s what your customers say about you.
Your customers spread your brand message. The best way to have control over this message is to build stronger customer relationships. Here are seven strategies to do just that.
1. Start with a relationship-centered sales strategy
Build stronger relationships with your customers before they’ve even signed on. How? By optimizing your sales process.
Your sales and marketing materials ought to be based around an intimate knowledge of your target customer. Even before starting your first project together, your customer should feel like you know them well, their goals and pain points.
Business consultant Andy Raskin outlines a five-part sales process that does this well:
- Start with an external influence that’s impacting your potential customer’s business. This influence ought to be tied to the services you provide, as well. For instance, changes in the most common languages used for business around the world.
- Show how this change will create winners and losers. If companies don’t begin to offer materials in a specific language, they’ll lose out on major business opportunities.
- Depict the “Promised Land” — A world of increased revenue, etc.
- Introduce services that will place the customer on the winning side. Show how your services will get a company to that promised land.
- Provide evidence that your services will have this impact via case studies, customer reviews, reports, etc.
This kind of sales process shows that you know about your customer’s business and have vetted solutions for their problems. It simultaneously grows a strong brand and customer relationships.
2. Educate your customers
Provide additional value to your customers through educational materials like blog posts, case studies, webinars, and workshops. Here are some tips for providing brand-building/relationship-strengthening educational materials.
The best case studies tell a story. Stories rely on conflict and resolution to motivate the reader to keep reading. Effective case studies use the same approach to motivate the reader to act on what they’ve read.
The story arc of a good case study includes the problems a company was having and their current process; the goals and objections to implementing a new process; how that solution was enacted; and its outcomes. By including specific details and quotes from your customers, you can create a more vivid scene that other companies can relate to.
Create educational content with your customers. Let your customers promote your brand for you. If you have a good relationship with your clients, many of them will be happy to help. When you create articles, case studies, and other educational materials that feature your current clients, it gives others a detailed glimpse of what it’s like to work with you. Your customer will explain your company for you: the strengths of working with you, the quality of your work, etc.
Interview them and use their words. Customers will offer you an outsider’s perspective on your company that can help mold your own. How they see your company may be different than you expect, or the things they value.
As a bonus, you can also use customer language in other content. Dave Gerhardt, VP of Marketing at Drift, keeps a document of all of the language that his customers use to describe his company and uses it when he’s creating new content about Drift. “I could spend hours writing copy for our website, but the best copy I could use is when somebody else actually said it,” he explained.
2. Turn your customers into partners
Collaborating with your customers doesn’t need to be a one-time thing, like publishing a case study. Partnerships create long-term investment opportunities that benefit both parties. Examples of partnerships are affiliate or referral programs, or trading white-label services.
At Smartcat, we’ve designed four unique partnership opportunities for other companies in the industry — many of whom are already customers. These are for companies and individuals interested in becoming Smartcat affiliates or building integrations. Partners are more invested in a company than customers. They become new faces and names connected to your company; they become a part of your brand story.
Ask for referrals. Asking for referrals is essentially asking a customer to vouch for you. This takes and creates loyalty. Make sure these requests are personal, and not just a part of a mass email. When a customer does refer someone new to you, personally thank them with a phone call or handwritten note.
Entrepreneur.com contributor John Rampton recommends offering incentives for each referral, such as a percentage off of future work. This also can build a sense of partnership since both sides are getting value.
Referrals can also help you expand your reach in larger organizations. In this industry, the translation buying process is frequently not centralized within a large company. This means you may work with one small department without knowing how to expand to other departments or branches. Referrals can help with this problem.
Ask for customer reviews. Reviews are often an easier way for customers to vouch for your services. The same best practices apply as asking for referrals: making the requests personal, offering incentives, and thanking them for their time.
Promote your customers/partners on social media. One of the biggest mistakes LSPs can make when building their brand via social media is only promoting themselves. When a company’s social media content is automated and self-promoting, it sends a specific message about what matters to that company: only themselves.
Promoting your customers’ content sends the opposite message. Not only does this build loyalty with that customer, but also it demonstrates that you actually care about your customers.
Another way to build a partnership with your customers is creating content, like case studies, with them. We turn to this next.
3. Develop personal connections
When I ran an LSP, I built much of my brand around developing personal connections with my customers. In fact, over the years, many of them have become friends. While the friendships are genuine, they also make good business sense. When you develop a friendship with a customer, you’re further securing your business relationship, as well. Friends are often more lenient with mistakes, and more willing to listen and communicate. And, ultimately, it’s harder to fire your friends than it is a stranger.
Build a personal connection through real interactions. Email or call customers on a semi-regular basis. Personal check-ins can go a long way. Building a relationship is around fostering human contact, not just around work. I recommend talking about something not work-related. Ask about their families or vacation plans. This can initiate a real friendship.
Make at least one in-person visit. Especially with your best customers, taking the time to visit in person shows commitment to the relationship. In today’s digital world, meeting in person can offer a different, warmer perspective on people.
4. Set a value of transparency
A large part of your brand should be your company’s values, and we at Smartcat encourage transparency to be one of those values.
Relationship building is not just between the owner of the company and owner of the project. It strengthens the relationship between an LSP and their customer when there’s open communication between project managers and reviewers, between reviewers and translators, etc.
We designed our platform to foster transparency. Users of Smartcat can invite clients onto the platform to follow progress around projects. For instance, you can invite translation reviewers to follow and comment.
Transparency strengthens company loyalty. Once customers have these relationships established, they don’t want to have to train new people on how to work with them.
5. Be proactive rather than reactive
Solving problems before a customer has time to complain not only protects your relationship with that customer, it also protects your reputation in general.
Contact customers before a major issue arises. If you’re looking into a specific customer account and see, for instance, sales not matching your expectations, it’s time to reach out.
Being proactive can temper the effect of issues like missed deadlines. Human nature very often leads us to avoid addressing issues head on which, in the end, makes finding solutions much harder.
This isn’t just a company owner’s responsibility. Educate your project managers to be alert to signs that something may be amiss in the relationship. Educate all of your staff to overcome the tendency to hide bad news.
Being proactive and transparent is much easier when you have a positive relationship with the customers. It’s also dependent on the relationship that you have with your employees. If they are afraid to report bad news to you, they won’t do it for customers, either.
Send periodic reports and updates. Detailed reports create transparency and provide an avenue to start a conversation. Include goals your company is working on, such as improved quality or project completion time.
Implement a feedback strategy. In a recent post, we talked about how to use KPIs to set and work toward company goals. A goal of any growing LSP should be to maintain or increase your average customer satisfaction rating. Being proactive also involves gathering customer feedback and addressing their comments right away.
6. Don’t work with customers that aren’t a good fit
Sometimes customers just aren’t a good fit: you can’t resolve communication issues; they demand services far outside of your area of expertise; they get in the way of your core values.
In these cases, it may be better to let the customer go. If they’re dissatisfied with your company, they will lower your customer satisfaction rate and may spread negative messages.
It may seem counterintuitive to fire a customer; however, think about it from the perspective of allocating resources for better customers. Anthony Tjan, CEO and founder of the venture capital firm Cue Ball suggests setting new conditions (such as project price) where your ideal customers — the ones you’ve already built good relationships with — will self-select in.