By improving your level of commitment, both sides of the partnership can benefit

The ultimate goal for a contractor is to develop a base of customers who will get proposals and bids only from your company, won’t shop your price, will award you negotiated contracts, and will give you work based on your trusted relationship with them. These are loyal clients who trust you and want to give you contract after contract at your price. With so much competition, customers have more options than ever. Most of their choices are excellent contractors who offer great service, quality workmanship, professional supervision and competitive prices. So, why should they only hire your company instead of getting lots of bids? Fostering a loyal customer base takes a step-by-step plan, process and system.

Creating loyal customers 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 send flowers, call and talk for hours, and keep in touch on a regular basis. Building relationships takes commitment, time and constant contact. When you don’t see each other or stay in touch, the relationship withers away over time.

Loyal customer relationships work the same way. Without phone calls, gifts, thank you cards or time spent together, there is no long-term relationship. A customer’s memory of your excellent job is quickly forgotten when competitors continue to contact him and offer more than you provided at a lower price. The best relationships are built over time in what I call relationship building sessions. These are times spent with customers having fun, eating meals, attending ballgames, playing golf or doing something enjoyable together. Customer loyalty is about much more than being a great contractor.

Customers really want to do business with friends and people they trust and know. With contractors, this trust begins by first receiving an impression, referral or perception of the contractor’s reputation. Next the contractor is the low bid and does a good job. More importantly, the contractor has the opportunity to get to know the customer more personally. This opens the door to a second date if the contractor follows up, is persistent and actually asks for the next chance to get together. This is where most contractors fail. They never ask for another date and hope their good work will get them another chance. Just like dating!

Look at your calendar, your marketing plan or your 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 relationships and loyalty? Once you realize you’re in the relationship building business and make written plans to date customers on a regular basis, your loyal customer base and your company will grow.

1. Make Customers Your Top Priority

Spend at least 33 percent 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 and make it a priority. Try to schedule at least three meals with current or potential customers every week. The only way to build 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. 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. At least four times a year, send something to help your customers profit. Send business articles, books, tapes, technical specification updates from suppliers, magazine subscriptions, photos of jobsite challenges, 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 hand-written note like: “I thought this would help your business. It helped me provide better customer service.”

3. Maintain Constant Customer Contact

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 completing projects. It isn’t natural to stop to take the 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 relationship first by tracking business relationship time. To begin, make a list of all your customers from the last three years and categorize them: loyal customers, repeat customers, old customers, new target customers and 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

Now that you have your customers listed in order of importance to your business, you know where to concentrate your relationship time and which customers are your top priorities. Make a commitment to see these customers at least every two to three months, and keep track of every time you meet. Don’t forget, your goal is to convert potential customers into repeat customers, and repeat customers into loyal customers who use only 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 noticed that subcontractors who spend a lot of time in our office got the most work. But it isn’t luck. By making customer relationship time a priority, you’ll land jobs because you made it easy for customers to ask questions and get advice on projects they are currently working on before they go out to bid.

6. Show You Care

The No. 1 reason customers stop working with companies is a perception of indifference. Customers want to know you care—about their business, their challenges and their lives. Keep personal files on each of your customers.
Become familiar with their hobbies, goals, vacations, activities and major life events. Before you meet, refer to your file and then ask them about their life. This caring attitude will set you apart and solidify your relationships.

Send your top customers handwritten notes as often as appropriate. Mail to your customer list at least every three months. Try to send materials that will help customers improve their business, including how-to ideas, tip sheets, new product brochures, code updates, business articles or new industry trends. This constant contact will also help you build deep relationships over time.