There is an oft-told legend about how Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos likes to make sure there is an empty chair at every company meeting: the chair represents the customers, so the most important ‘person’ is always ‘in the room.’ It’s the kind of visual stunt that sets apart great leaders from good ones, and also makes for a nice anecdote if you plan on being the sort of person that has biographies written about them!

But if we wouldn’t go so far as to suggest you invite your actual flesh-and-blood customers into your private meetings, it should at least be reinforced that Bezos’ gimmick doesn’t go far enough. It is not enough to constantly imagine what your customers want, or how their experience of doing business with you might feel: you need to ask them. That means surveys, conversations at point of sale, follow-ups, and also making sure that there are plenty of ways that they can let you know how they feel, unprompted.

That’s the easy part. The difficult part is cultivating a relationship in which your customers will feel encouraged to give honest, meaningful answers, and work with you towards making things better. And that requires a little more openness on your side.

Rather than opening the door to your private meetings, let your customers know what happened by blogging, sending an email, or even using print solutions if you have a customer-facing bricks-and-mortar premises. When you don’t have so much of your own news to share, spread your enthusiasm for your sector in general. Blog about trends, Tweet about peers that you respect, publish ‘How To’s’ that engage their imagination.

You can make your business even more inviting by insuring you add a personal touch to every transaction. Whether it’s handwritten thank you notes, silly designs on the top of the coffee you serve, or a friendly reminder call ahead of an appointment, these apparently minor details will become emotional memories for your customers, and encourage the trust that you need if they are to truly feel comfortable giving you honest feedback about what you do. It’s a great opportunity to use your imagination and set your business apart from others like it.

For some more ideas on how to start the conversation, have a look at this excellent new infographic from Headway Capital. It may not be as headline-grabbing as Jeff Bezos’ surplus furniture, but it can help you to nurture meaningful relationships with the customers that make your business possible.

Courtesy of: Headway Capital

john-coleAuthor: G. John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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