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Keep customers close - top tips for new business owners

Civil servants are now being asked to spend time in hospitals so they can get a better understanding of patient's needs and concerns and understand the pressures that the medical professional are under. 

Sounds sensible. 

The programme, Undercover Boss shows us the benefit of getting close to your customers. In each episode a CEO disguises him or herself and returns to the coalface - making contact with staff from all different parts of their business as well as the important and precious customer. 

So what can we, as new business owners or self-employed folk do to keep our customers close and have a better understand of what they need from us? We all know about surveys and feedback forms, but how can we get pro-active about delighting our customers, turning them into loyal fans and real advocates for our work? How can we get them involved in shaping the future of our business and our products?

Often, we are so busy DOING in our business that we can often be working on out of date assumptions about what clients want and need - and thus miss out on golden opportunities. As an example, a recent client wanted to get into the film business from a career in TV. In his focus on the Hollywood directors, he forgot to draw in the attention of people needing shorter films - namely music video and adverts. Once he began to notice this opportunity, he was able to take a step closer to his dream by meeting an immediate need of a 'closer' customer group.

Sometimes, just by listening to and connecting with our customers and colleagues, we can make real and tangible improvements very simply. In one episode of Undercover Boss, a CEO makes a huge difference to performance and repair in his hotel chain by just by realising there are not enough of the right kinds of tools or
resources to do a good job and fixing that immediately. Others reveal more complex challenges, such as the lack of commitment to organisational values amongst contractors or third party suppliers.

Question is, how close are you staying to your customers? How much do you understand about what is giving them pain right now? What their current concerns are? What problems they wish they could solve? The more 'customer intimate' we can become the more loyal and open our customers feel toward us. But building up trust, in any relationship takes time and needs to be earned.

Three ways to build up an understanding of your customer:

1. A day in the life - Ask if you can come and spend a day with them on the shop floor, in the factory, at the office, shadowing them and understanding how they operate. If they use a particular software or product of yours, you might spend time finding out where and how they use it and what the limitations of the product are.

2. Offer to spend time with your client's customers - Finding out more about what the end user needs. Where do you and your services fit into their customer experience? How might you use your expertise to help them to do an even better job by maximising their use of your tools?

3. Offer free tests, trials and inductions for new starters - This is a great way to build up trust and credibility. You will be offering a free service of real value, whilst also gaining valuable insight into how your customer's business is expanding.

4. Invite customers to trial new products and pilot them in their business. You will get an insight into how they use your product or service, helping you to custom design with their input. This user focussed approach makes them your first purchaser of your new innovation!

Good luck and may the customer be with you!

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