I’m just back from my honeymoon, we had an amazing time on a Med cruise-would recommend it to anyone. And for customer service there is literally nothing better, the staff are incredible. I’d almost recommend sending your staff on a cruise to find out how it should be done! Anyway, it struck me how similar customer relationships are to a marriage. Initially, there’s the wedding – that exciting part when you land the contract and everyone is full of energy, anticipation and eagerness to please. There’s celebrations all round and everyone affirms how this great relationship will last forever. Then you have the honeymoon period, those first jobs when everyone is on board, everyone is eager to get it right, to make the relationship work. There’s high spirits, attention to detail and total concentration on the client’s needs. As time goes by, you become accustomed to the client’s ways and (s)he to yours. The energy saps, the high spirits wane and the va-va-voom starts to go as the shiny newness wears off the relationship. Regardless of how good your customer service is, this happens. I’d suggest it’s this natural cycle that causes many issues with customer retention. So, how do you keep the honeymoon period alive? To me, it’s about the energy, excitement and focus on the other party’s needs. So, how can you maintain the sizzle in your customer relationships? Like marriage, it takes hard work. There are four key ingredients; time, respect, listening and fun. If you invest these four things you can keep your relationships hot! Time: There is only so much time in a day and time is one of the most important gifts you can give to anybody. Make sure you give time to your customers. Spend time gathering information that will be useful to them, spend time learning about their industry and above all else spend time speaking to them. Let them know that you are happy to invest your time in the relationship. That means an open door policy for your customers. I’ve found that customers are more grateful for that few minutes you took to listen to a problem than they are for the actual job you did!! We all know the value of time-give it generously (and with a smile). Respect: Do I really need to elaborate here? Respect is the foundation of any relationship, it’s important that you respect your customers. That means giving due attention to their concerns, appreciating their business and respecting their time, needs and constraints. Listening: Listening really is a skill, when done well it’s an absolute asset. By listening to your customers you let them know you care. Sounds cheesy? It should, we’re trying to stay in the honeymoon period here! Listening means asking questions, watching body language, paying attention to what’s said and what’s left unsaid. Above all, it means digesting what you’re listening to and offering solutions, support or guidance. So, for example a client tells me that they’re having trouble getting paid but can’t afford to take on a financial controller, I listen, I empathise, we talk about possible solutions and then I FOLLOW THROUGH and call them the next day with the contact details for a great local low-cost debt collection company. It’s not our company’s area and many would say it’s not our problem but a customer’s problem should always be viewed as your problem! So, listening is important, showing you’re listening is where you really add value! Fun: The zing in a relationship is often directly linked to the amount of laughter enjoyed. In fact, most honeymoon couples will tell you it was enjoying so many fun experiences together that made the honeymoon wonderful. It’s not realistic that you’ll bring your clients on your hollydays but you can still have fun together. Invite clients to events with you, have a coffee outside work hours, share funny stories and make the conversation light at times. For a customer relationship to work you need to like each other so it really shouldn’t be hard to keep some fun in the mix! My final word on this is to remember it is always easier to keep a customer than to get a new one, so enjoy having that customer and consciously focus your energy on them. It’s about getting pleasure from it, smile when you think of those customers who are happily helping your business to grow!