The ultimate goal for contractors is to find customers who’ll only get proposals and bids from your company, won’t shop your price, award you negotiated contracts, and give you work based on your trusted relationship with them. Loyal customers are those who trust you and want to give you contract after contract at your price.
To make this happen takes a step-by-step plan, process and system. With so much competition, there are lots of choices for customers to choose from. Most of their choices are excellent contractors who offer great service, quality workmanship, professional supervision and competitive prices. So why should customers only hire your company instead of getting lots of bids?
Customer loyalty requires time and commitment
Remember when you were first dating? To get to know the other person, you spent lots of time talking, having fun and doing things together. After the date, you would call and talk for hours, send them flowers and keep in touch on a regular basis. Building relationships take commitment, time and constant contact. When you don’t see each other or stay in touch, the relationship withers away and vanishes over time.
Read next: Getting Customers to Invite You to the Table
Building loyal customer relationships works the same way. Think of it as dating. Without phone calls, gifts, thank-you card, or time together, there is no long-term ongoing relationship. The memory of doing an excellent job for a customer is quickly forgotten when competitors continue to attack them and offer more than you provided at a lower price.
The best loyal customer relationships are built over time in what I call "relationship building sessions." These are times together with customers having fun, eating meals, attending ballgames, playing golf or doing something enjoyable together. This is how you date customers to build loyalty, not by just being a great contractor.
Don’t ask, don’t get
Customers really want to do business with friends and people they know, like and trust. Customers build trust with contractors by first receiving an impression, referral or perception of the contractor’s reputation. Next, the contractor is low bid and does a good job for the customer. And more importantly, has a chance to get to know them better in a personal way.
This opens the door to a second date if the contractor is persistent, follows-up and actually asks for the next date. This is where most contractors fail. They never ask for another date and hope their good work will get them another chance at the dance. Just like dating!
Look at your calendar, your marketing plan or sales program. Do you follow-up with potential loyal customers? Do you make them a priority and try to see them at least every three months? Are you persistent, or do you give up after one try? Do you take time to stop and invite customers to lunch or a ballgame? How much time do you spend dating your customers to build trusted relationships and loyalty?
If you weren’t persistent during dating, you didn’t get a second chance. Right? Same with customers. Once you realize you’re in the relationship building business and make written plans to date customers on a regular basis, your company will grow and make more money doing business with loyal customers who want to only hire you.
6 steps to build loyal customer relationships
1. Make customers your #1 priority
Spend at least 33% of your time with customers in face to face relationship building sessions. This includes meals, sporting events, industry meetings, and sitting on boards of community organizations. Put customer time into your calendar. Make it a priority.
I try to schedule at least three meals plus one golf game with current or potential customers every week. The only way to build customer relationships is in a relaxed setting where you can really get to know the person.
2. Help customers
People want to help those who help them. Look for ways to help your customer make more money. Act like a business partner with them. Before you meet with customers, try to identify how you can help them be successful. Come prepared to share a business tip or trick that will help their bottom-line.
Send something to help your customers make a profit at least four times a year. Send business articles, books, tapes, technical specification updates from your suppliers, magazine subscriptions, photos of jobsite challenges, new code updates, changes in the law, or industry studies from your association.
When you send things to help your customers, you reinforce your relationship with them. Include a little handwritten note like: “I thought this would help your business. It helped me provide better customer service.”
Read next: The 3 A's of Customer Loyalty
3. Constant customer contact
Think how you cultivate personal relationships and build true friendships. Trusting relationships are built over time with lots of one-on-one contact, conversations, experiences and fun. In business you get distracted with constant pressure of getting projects built. It isn’t natural to stop to take time required to build deep customer relationships. So you continue bidding lots of jobs and selling low price. This won’t generate above industry average net profit.
Put your customer relationships first by tracking business relationship time. Make a list of all your customers from the last three years. Put them in categories:
- Loyal customers
- Repeat customers
- Old customers
- New target customers
- Referring parties
Next, rank them on how easy they are to do business with and their potential to become loyal. Then, list them in order of ranking, and make sure you spend more time with the highest ranked customers.
4. Spend time with top customers
You now have your customers listed in order of importance to your business. You know where to concentrate your customer relationship time and which customers are your top priorities. Keep track every time you meet with customers and make a commitment to see them at least every two to three months.
Don’t forget, your goal is to convert potential customers into repeat customers and repeat customers into loyal customers who only use your company for all their construction needs.
5. Be in the right place at the right time
Lucky people seem to always be in the right place at the right time. In my business, I notice subcontractors who spend a lot of time in our office get the most work. Luck? I don’t think so!
By making customer relationship time a priority you’ll land jobs just because you made it easy for customers to ask you questions and advice on projects they are currently working on before they go out to bid.
6. Show you care
The number one reason customers stop working with companies is an attitude of indifference. They don’t think you care about them. Customers want to know you care about them, their business, their challenges and them as people.
Keep personal files on each of your customers. Track their family, schools, hobbies, goals, vacations, activities, and major life events. Before you meet with them refer to it, and then when you meet, ask them questions about their personal life. This caring attitude will set you apart and solidify your relationships.
To show your care, send your top customers handwritten notes as often as appropriate. Mail out to your customer list at least every three months. Send materials that’ll help customers improve their business including: how-to ideas, tip sheets, new product brochures, code updates, business articles, or new industry trends.
This constant customer contact will also help you build deep relationships over time.
George Hedley CPBC is a certified professional construction BIZCOACH and popular speaker. He helps contractors build better businesses, grow, increase profits, develop management teams, improve field production, and get their companies to work. He is the best-selling author of “Get Your Construction Business To Always Make A Profit!” available on Amazon.com. To get his free e-newsletter, start a personalized BIZCOACH program, attend a BIZ-BUILDER Action Plan Boot Camp, or get a discount at www.HardhatBIZSCHOOL.com online university for contractors, E-mail GH@HardhatPresentations.com.