If your business enterprise is very successful, you probably satisfy a need in the marketplace not met by anyone else. Spotting that unfulfilled need is probably the reason you launched your company.

Now that your customer or client base is growing, however, don't allow the close, personal connection you established with your customers or clients to fade.

I've seen that happen to companies across virtually all industries. I suspect it's because their growth at some point begins to overwhelm them. Gradually they begin basing key business decisions on abstract formulas and averages instead of upon actual customer or client experiences. Or they turn their focus inward--what's easiest or cheapest for them instead of what's best for their customers or clients.

Here's a question that can help you determine whether your company has a problem: Does your company put more effort into serving current customers or clients or into attracting new ones?

At my firm, we value our existing clients more, so that's where we devote most of our focus. This doesn't mean we're not interested in bringing in new clients, of course. Our four-year CAGR for new-client growth is about 19%, and we now have more than 30,000 clients, easily securing us as one of the nation's largest independent financial planning and investment management firms. But our growth doesn't come by ignoring our existing clients. Quite the contrary. We maintain close contact with them and respond quickly to their needs. We believe their satisfaction is reflected by the large number of referrals we get. Your company should be able to say the same, no matter what product or service you provide.

The key: Don't take your customers or clients for granted, and don't assume you know what's on their minds. Talk with them often. Ask their opinion. Find out what they want, what they like about your company and what they don't like. Surveys, focus groups, casual conversations, formal reviews--use every means possible to make sure you're getting the information from your customers or clients that you need so you can deliver to them what they need.

Make sure your managers and front-line employees participate and send you the feedback they get.

No matter how busy you are, make sure you're never too busy to stay connected to your customers or clients. There's never a day when I don't interact with a few clients--usually by telephone or email, sometimes in person--and these contacts are vital in helping me make sure we're delivering the products and services our clients want and need.

And when you do talk with your customers or clients, listen intently and without bias. Don't become defensive when they complain. Instead, consider their point of view.

In a recent meeting with my communications team, I described a conversation I'd just had with a new client. He was agitated and unhappy about a certain experience he'd had, and I described the situation with my staff. I used the incident as a teaching moment, asking the team to give their impressions of the client based on the way he expressed himself. Some called him annoying, others impolite. But I explained that this gentleman is really our best kind of client--because he cared so much about us and his relationship with us that he reached out to me. Others in his place might never have bothered to tell me how they felt. And because of his call, we've improved one of the channels we use to communicate with all clients.

Similarly, you need to welcome customers or clients who use their precious time to call you or others in your company with complaints or concerns. Respond in a timely manner, be genuinely interested in what they have to say, and respond effectively.

Remember: Your customers or clients are the reason you're able to stay in business.

Published on: Mar 9, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.