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June 21, 2014

ASK SCORE: Take care of your customers, and they’ll take care of you

TERRE HAUTE — Wouldn’t it be great if you could read minds? Then you’d know exactly what each customer thought of your small business — the quality of service, your prices, the hours you’re available — and respond accordingly.

Unfortunately, extra-sensory perception has yet to become a teachable skill. So it’s up to you to be proactive and make customers passionate about your small business.

The benefits are obvious. Cultivating customer loyalty means more than repeat business. The most powerful form of advertising remains word-of-mouth, one customer’s recommendation to his or her friends and colleagues (and strangers too, given the rise of web-based search engine rankings and social networking services such FourSquare).

Here are some good ways to start building a customer-based “fan club” for your business:

• Put yourself in their Place: Take an objective look at every element of the customer experience, from the appearance of your shop or website, to information about what you provide. Understandably, you may be a bit biased, so try visiting your competitors and see what they do. Being observant during visits to other types of businesses or websites may also help you spot ideas that you can adapt.

 • Courtesy is contagious: Simply being friendly is not enough. Customers want informed help when trying to make a decision. Make sure employees are knowledgeable and accessible, but also when to back off and let customers ponder things on their own.

• Watch the marketplace: Stay on top of local and national trends that may influence customers’ needs and purchasing decisions. You’ll be ahead of the curve as more people begin looking for the same thing.

• Go the extra mile: When you help tackle a difficult problem — find a must-have item, meet a tight deadline, or offer a creative suggestion — you have a customer for life. And it’s even better if you can absorb some extra cost or time. Note that you may not always be able to accommodate such requests, but admitting your limitations and recommending someone else will still win points for your reputation.

• Ask them: There are many ways to get customer feedback — point of purchase, follow-up calls or online surveys, or simply chatting with them when time permits. Each nugget of information will provide a clearer picture of what customers want from your type of business, and how well you provide it. Be careful not to make decisions based on a handful of responses, however. Squeaky wheels may get the grease, but they may not represent the majority of your current or potential customers.

 Good customer relations is one of many contributors to a strong, successful small business. You can learn more by contacting SCORE, a non-profit organization that offers a wealth of information resources, training, and free counseling designed to help entrepreneurs nationwide build productive, profitable businesses. For more information about taking advantage of these valuable services, visit www.score.org.

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