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4 Tricks To Build Customer Relationships

How host dinners and white knuckles add up to big business wins, just like a football game.

As the NFL playoffs gear up and college football winds down, I'm constantly amazed at how much very small things can have an impact over the course of the game. A circus catch that's overturned when a toe was on the line or a first down that's awarded by gaining one chain link. The ripple effects from "a small thing" are tremendous.

But then I think about how much we focus on the small things at BerylHealth that create wonders for our employees, customers, and their relationships, and I realize what a big difference they mean. But just how big are the small things in your business?

On a recent trip, my family and I stayed at a nice, well-reviewed boutique hotel. And by all standard measures, we received a quality level of service. But in my day job, I run a company that thrives on doing the little, unexpected things to create great relationships with all of our stakeholders. It's my nature to have an eye for the extra step that wins people over. It's who I am.

Upon arrival, we received a nice fruit basket in our room with a note from the manager.  However, the note didn't say, "welcome back," even though we'd stayed there many times.  When we ate at the buffet breakfast, our bill had an automatic gratuity plus a service charge, and a separate line for "additional gratuity."  No one even approached us except to give us the bill! One night, after bringing in a meal from an outside restaurant to share with my wife and kids, we packed the containers away and set them to the side with the rest of garbage (too big for the hotel trash can) and went out to enjoy our evening. While we were gone, the hotel staff set up the sofa bed for our kids. But left the garbage.

Not huge fouls. Maybe no big deal for most people. But when you create a culture of engagement on every level, your employees will make finding the opportunities to build a relationship a winning moment part of their day. We finished our stay satisfied, but not enamored.

In order to build strong relationships with your customers and employees, you're going to need a game plan that puts the little things at the forefront. Here's how:

Find an extra free throw

In basketball, when a player is fouled in the act of shooting, if he makes the first shot, he's awarded an extra one for a chance at another point. No defense. Just 15 feet from the basket. Those points are not really of consequence, right? Wrong. Over the course of a game, these opportunities may add up to 15 to 20 additional points for the team. Those points turn trailing into a lead and a lead into a blowout. At BerylHealth, we set up the opportunities to create free throws by systemizing our learning about both our employees and customers. Every birthday, hobby, or personal event acknowledged is a free throw made.

Notice white knuckles

Defensive linemen in football are so observant that they can tell whether a run or pass is coming by the color of their opponent's knuckles. (Knuckles lighten in color as pressure is applied; White knuckles mean a run is most likely coming and that the offensive lineman is moving forward.) Encourage employees to be looking closely at all of their interactions with customers and co-workers. As part of our training at BerylHealth, we encourage our employees to pick up cues from callers that might indicate an unspoken need. The tone of an email, a question, or even body language can inform you of mood or attitude and give you the positioning you need to tip-off the coming play and make a pre-emptive suggestion to get someone back on your side.

Award helmet stickers

If you follow college football, you know that many teams award helmet stickers for not only great plays, but also for the little, fundamental things that allow big plays to happen. At BerylHealth, we do this by sending a handwritten note home on each anniversary of an employee's hiring, liberally giving away company logowear for achievements, and even rewarding or acknowledging the events in their lives that happen outside of the workplace. (Good or bad, employees bring outside lives into the office.)

Win the recruiting wars

The college recruiting battles for high school players are won by doing the little things like putting a recruit's name on the back of a jersey, having a favorite meal served at his host dinner, or even knowing when his mother's birthday is. The same goes for building relationships with potential customers and maintaining them with current ones. At BerylHealth, when prospects visit our office from out of town, we put a unique welcome basket in their hotel room, and when clients leave our office, we send them away with a "goodie bag" filled with Beryl keepsakes and a water for the road. We make sure there is never a point where they don't feel part of our team.

If you follow this playbook, you'll give your employees infinitely more chances to take the small things, turn them into small wins, and use them as the foundation blocks of building big, winning relationships. You might have a nice product, but this is how to really build a business. And don't forget to take the garbage out. 

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IMAGE: iStock
Last updated: Jan 12, 2012

PAUL SPIEGELMAN | Columnist | CEO of BerylHealth

Paul Spiegelman is the chief culture officer at Stericycle and founder and former CEO of BerylHealth. He also co-founded the Small Giants Community with Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. You can read more at PaulSpiegelman.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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