Succeeding in small businesses is all about building good relationships. This means we need to notice and value our clients, customers, colleagues, vendors, and new people who join our circles. The key to this is open, sincere communications. We say, “Your business is important to us” or “We care about your customer experience.” (Hopefully we rephrase the latter, because when I hear those words, I think “phony”). But we have to show we really mean this by being a proactive communicator.
Resolve to keep the communications open and inviting.
1. If you’re not there to answer the phone, have a voice mail system, preferably with your own voice. You can keep the message simple. Mine says “I’m on assignment right now” and offers people the opportunity to leave a message or call my cell. If someone else can help them in your absence, let them know who and how to reach them.
2. Answer your voice mails promptly. Aim for 24 hours maximum, and answer the urgent ones as soon as possible. And, make sure you empty your voice mail box frequently. Nothing says, “I don’t care about you” as much as that recording, “I’m sorry, this member’s voice mail is full.” If you’re traveling or out of the office for an extended period, say so in the message. The same goes for texts. I don’t see well, so I ask people not to text me, unless it’s to say “call me,” “I’m late,” etc., and I do quickly respond to them with an “ok or “thanks.”
3. Answer your emails promptly too. Just about all email systems have the capability of posting an “away” or “out of the office” or vacation message. When I’m traveling, I post one about my intended date or time of return, and I tell people that if it’s urgent, to call me on my cellphone. Answer the email promptly too, also in 24-36 hours if you can.
4. When people respond to your social media posts or comment with a “like” and a comment, thank them for their comment. It shows that you read what they had to say and that you care. If they share something on your feed, thank them for sharing. It shows you’re aware of them, and makes them feel visible. When people “endorse” your skills on LinkedIn, take the time to message them and thank them for the endorsement.
5. Remember birthdays. Facebook and LinkedIn remind you. Also remember the holidays with a simple post to all for Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving, and the other important ones. I wish my Canadian clients a Happy Thanksgiving on their holiday; I remember those who served on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. I also try to keep a pack of sympathy cards on hand to acknowledge the passing of colleagues’ family and friends. Sending a sympathy card is a simple gesture that often means more than you know.
6. Share. If you see an article or post about a colleague, customer, or client, share it with them (assuming it’s complementary), saying something like “thought you might appreciate this” or simply “congratulations.”
Yes, this all takes time, but spread out across the day, it’s very achievable, and much easier to do than using that expensive home workout system you resolved to use this year (or maybe you can buy a computer stand for your spinning time). You can do this while you’re surfing the web at Starbucks (if you vowed to lose weight, skip the Frappacino while you’re surfing). I’ll bet this is one New Year’s Resolution you can keep.
Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.