How to build customer relationships in a digital world

The ease and speed of electronic communications can make it tempting to rely on — especially when the pace of business is increasingly hectic.

But are emails and text messages really helping us develop relationships and grow our businesses? Are these the types of communications that instill trust in our customers? Or is there something missing?

A banker friend once remarked that his family, his sister’s family and his brother’s family had made a firm agreement that on the first Sunday of each month, everyone would have dinner together.

The location would rotate to each sibling’s home. This would be a family agreement that took priority over anything else that may be happening. It would keep the family together and help the personal relationships among family members become more real, active and meaningful.

Now it was his follow-up comment made as an afterthought that really got my attention.

He said they all decided they would get together “whether we liked it not.” His comment has always reminded me that personal relationships are not always convenient and require a determined effort to sustain. They require a regular rhythm and face time.

It’s not always easy

At the end of the day, despite huge volumes of electronic communications, we overwhelmingly prefer to do business with people we know, trust and spend time with. Whether building relationships within your own family or with your customers, it comes down to time spent together.

In fact, I think electronic communication has lost its effectiveness as a sales tool and has actually become a sales prevention tool.

Our over-reliance on electronic communications lulls us into thinking we have a personal relationship with a client when we do not. The glut of electronic messages is actually preventing those folks from establishing personal relationships with us, holding back our businesses.

Bottom line, we need to step out from behind our screens and get out there! Just like family dinners on Sunday nights, face-to-face connections with our customers will result in more real, active and meaningful relationships. And those relationships are how we’ll build trust and build our businesses.

Here are three tips to building stronger relationships:

  Prepare to show your face: Select a few customers you feel would benefit most from a face-to-face connection. Maybe it’s someone whose business with you has dipped recently or a client you are working through an issue with. Maybe it’s someone you have a big project with or a customer in the neighborhood you have known for years, but haven’t seen in a long time.
  Circle the date: Mark the meetings on your calendar as days of importance. These aren’t meetings that can be bumped for other engagements. These connections should be the focus of your day. You don’t “have” to do them — you “get” to!
■  Say thanks: Electronic communication isn’t all bad! Send a follow-up email after your visit, simply thanking them for their time and letting them know how much you value connecting in person. ●