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Customers: Here's what they really, really want


With the holidays behind us, many businesses are patting themselves on the back for ‘customer appreciation done well.” The holiday cards were sent on time, gift baskets of fruit or self-branded products have been delivered and holiday parties went off without a hitch. There, everyone feels loved! Right?

Not quite.

Did you know that some clients actually perceive lavish holiday parties as expensive and unnecessary? Some client gifts are passed down from the CEO (client) to support staff with little fanfare. And even those mailed holiday cards -- even those signed by the whole client team! -- are sometimes perceived as disingenuous and a waste of money.

How, then, does a company learn what clients really want and will make them feel appreciated?

I hear from clients around the world, that the good old fashioned phone call or in person client “check in” meeting seems a lost art. Even when these gestures come from the best intention, business owners who focus on mass appreciation risk that the individual client feels lost in the sea of gratitude.

For 2013, here are some tips to help your customers feel appreciated and heard:

1. Schedule regular “check in” meetings -- not to sell or promote your services, but just to see how the client is feeling, how the project is progressing, and if there are any additional areas you need to pay attention to. Resist the temptation to cross-sell and offer new services in order to build trust and credibility with the client that you truly are listening to their needs. You can respond with recommendations and services in follow up after the call.
2. Stay true to your company values . Customers signed up with you because of a set of beliefs, services, characters and values that you represent. As you stay consistent with those values, you build trust. If your customer senses disconnect, they may get scared off.
3. Be sure to connect with more than just the decision maker. The decision makers (client) often relies on the input and feelings of his or her team in forming client engagements. As you get to know the decision maker’s influencers and advocates, you can effectively “zipper” a stronger and more fruitful relationship within the company.
4. Ask your customers what is meaningful to them in terms of recognition. Perhaps your clients would appreciate a donation to a charity instead of a holiday party? Maybe they don’t like phone calls, but rather would appreciate a letter as contact from you? By asking your customers how they would like to hear from you, you open the door to communication wide and can personalize the appreciation .
5. Engage in true permission-based marketing . Similiar to #3, ask your online customers and audiences how they would like to engage with your company and brand. Would they like to hear from you weekly, quarterly, yearly? Do they want to receive your newsletter, media alerts or just blog updates? Are there communities, or areas, of interest that they would like to engage with, but the rest is not interesting to them? Asking your audiences how they would like to engage with you will cut down your marketing efforts and increase marketing effectiveness. To read
6. By all means, survey. But instead of just having the survey tool send an auto-responder, “Thank you for your time,” consider calling key clients in advance to let them know the survey is important to you, and then follow up afterwards to thank them personally for taking the time to provide input. This feels more intimate and rewarding to people who complete surveys and offer feedback.
7. Thank them for their referrals. Referrals are the least expensive form of marketing. In essence, someone else has pre qualified the prospect, initiated the marketing and pre-sold your services to a customer. This deserves a high-touch show of appreciation!
8. Offer freebies and goodies. Social media is a great tool to ensure your loyal customers, followers and fans feel appreciated. Use your Facebook business page to provide special incentive codes, special offers and rewards to those customers who proclaim their affinity for your brand online. 

A client who is unhappy may just leave you suddenly. Or, it can feel suddenly when in fact they have been given you signals and clues  for months. Being proactive about soliciting input, listening intently to the clients’ individual needs and wants, and responding quickly builds loyalty with customers.

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Lida Citroën

Lida Citroën is the author of Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition and Principal of LIDA360, a consulting firm that helps create effective market positioning through the use of brand strategies. She regularly presents at conferences, events and programs, teaching transitioning veterans how to understand their unique value and market them to future employers.

Citroën is an active member of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) and works closely with General Peter Pace’s program in Philadelphia, Wall Street Warfighters Foundation (WSWF). For more information, please visit, www.yournextmissionbook.com  and connect with her on twitter, @LIDA360.

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