When you decided to become a business owner, you likely did so because you believed you had something to offer that people would want, need, maybe even crave.
That's a solid plank of inspiration, but have you noticed the shift in customer attitudes? While there are plenty of businesses that continue to beat their chests in proclamation that what they have is what customers need, shoppers have turned a cynical eye to such tactics.
Consumers today want to share ownership in the seller-buyer relation. They expect to be the greater shareholder in this partnership
Consumers today want to share ownership in the seller-buyer relation. They expect to be the greater shareholder in this partnership. This means sellers need to step back from the strong come-on and take steps to better understand why buyers buy today—and why they won't.
It's no longer about how well you sell. It's about how well you relate. The good news is that you can do it, starting today.
What does 'relate' mean?
Think of the last time you shopped. You found what you needed, made your purchase and realized you'd probably shop at said establishment again. Why?
Was it because of the ease of the experience, the simplicity of the search-selection-purchase activity or even the vibe you felt while you completed your purchase?
It could be any one or all of these, and it's an indication that that business has developed a means and method that suites you.
This didn't happen by accident. The business understood you, and set about to make your experience positive and productive. And, possibly, when your excursion had completed and you were left feeling satisfied. You might have thought to yourself, "Yeah, I can relate to this."
When you believe a business recognizes what you like (and dislike) while you're shopping, you feel a sense of alignment to its methods, values and appreciation for you.
How do you relate?
You might think, "They made it so easy for me; I liked that. I'll be telling my friends about this place, and I'm pretty sure I'll be shopping here again."
The relationship is a sign of the customer's trust in the business, and that's why relating matters so much
The business took to heart the need to do the following:
- Identify a target audience
- Understand the audience's values, attitudes and biases
- Implement a structure and style that caters to the audience, and changes and adapts with it
Companies spend millions of dollars and millions of hours to discover what exactly makes their customers tick. Businesses dig deep into studying the habits of shoppers; it's nothing that's necessarily new, although the results these days are quite different than before.
Whereas the strong sell and powerful pitch once ruled, modern customers have the power to decide what's good and what isn't. They have all the information they need, from research and word-of-mouth, and they'll decide if a product is really what they want or need.
The business that recognizes this power shift is the one that puts the customer in control, offers information and assistance only as needed, then stays out of the way. Today's customers respond to this new method and are showing inclinations to maintain a relationship with a business when they believe there's a positive relationship going on.
Put another way, the relationship is a sign of the customer's trust in the business, and that's why relating matters so much.
The keys to relating
Of course, every business might say it values customer relationships, but "saying" and "doing" are two different things. To relate to customers you must let them lead the way after you've laid out what you understand they want, need, and like.
To be sure you've understood them (and that they understand that you understand), try this:
Relating to customers is a balanced mix of engagement and enablement. Develop a business method that lets your shoppers do what they came to do without your interference
- Talk less, listen more. Your customers want to be heard so give them a way to speak their mind about what they like and don't like about what you're doing. Social media hubs are a great place for this.
- Keep the relationship friendly but focused. Keep the interactions positive, pleasant and maybe a bit playful, but remember you're representing your business. Avoid straying into personal beliefs or biases; they do little to reinforce your business goals.
- Empathize, commiserate and collaborate. Customers not only want to be heard, they sometimes want to be "hugged" (figuratively speaking). Even if what vexes them is beyond your ability to resolve, a sympathetic ear can keep the relationship strong.
- Let them buy. All you need to do is provide the place, the products and the process for your shoppers—then step aside. Shoppers love to buy! They'll often purchase more than they originally intended if they've determined they have a good relationship with the business or brand, and they're not being pressured to buy.
Relating to customers is a balanced mix of engagement and enablement. Develop a business method that lets your shoppers do what they came to do without your interference. But give them the information they need to be successful in their quest and lend a hand and an ear, and give them a smile.
Customers will realize you enjoy what you do, and, more important, you enjoy and appreciate them.
A pleasant first transaction can become the beginning of a long relationship with your customers (who'll undoubtedly bring their friends along). Not only will you be in a better position to make a sale but also to make a customer-friend. It's a good feeling and it makes for good business—and who can't relate to that?