Rowan Dean
Smarter Writer

Rowan Dean is an award-winning creative director, social media commentator and advertising guru

Rowan Dean
Smarter Writer

Rowan Dean is an award-winning creative director, social media commentator and advertising guru

Local businesses possess all the tools of building customer relationships that the big brands use.

Among the most highly paid and sought-after advertising executives these days are the so-called CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and data gurus. The big brands pay a fortune for their advice; which boils down to just four words – ‘customer relationships’, ‘retention’ and ‘data’.

The tools these experts rely upon are available – free – to any small business to take advantage of and prosper from. In fact, any small business that doesn’t employ the techniques of CRM is seriously handicapping itself.

The idea is you identify who your typical (and best) customers are, and what interests them. Next, engage with them to the point where you and your business are seen as an advocate for your mutual interests and as a centre of excellence. 

During this process, build a database of customer email addresses and/or mobile phone numbers. 

Finally, use your database to further the interests of all concerned, thereby ensuring loyalty. That’s the CRM/data theory. But how does a small local business put it into practice?

coloured circles with silhouettes of people icons
Customers will be reluctant to give you data if they think they’re going to get spam from you, but they will do so if they see a genuine benefit in it.

Keep it local

There are local initiatives (such as Shop Local), where local businesses pool resources to encourage their customers to use them rather than the ‘big boys’. But there’s plenty more you can do on your own.

Simply through polite small talk, find things of interest to a majority of your customers that are relevant to the local community. If, for example, they keep going on about the local footy team, then come footy season set up a football ladder where you offer interested customers the chance to join in for some prize relevant to your business. 

Or perhaps there is a current local issue, such as a dog beach, a zebra crossing, or 15-minute free parking meters that you can become involved in sponsoring a petition for. Be creative in your choices, and keep your ears open.

Supporting local sporting teams, cultural activities, arts events, school projects and so on – even simply by promoting them on your premises – shows you care about what’s going on in your customers’ daily lives. Equally, you may choose to support an issue relevant to your business – for example, by becoming the ‘go-to person’ in your area of expertise. If you are selling kidswear, sponsor a petition for an upgrade of the local kids’ playground.  

Do's

  1. Use whatever means at your disposal to support the aspirations and activities of your local community.
  2. Choose local issues and events to publicise or support in other ways that are relevant to your business’s area of expertise.
  3. Give your customers a good reason to positively engage with you via email or SMS. 
  4. Earn your customers’ trust by being aware of their privacy concerns. Check the updated privacy laws at here.

Don'ts 

  1. With most political issues there are two opposing arguments, so only choose local issues to support where you have the majority of your customers firmly on the same side.
  2. Don’t trick customers into giving you their details – be honest and upfront about how you intend to use the data.
  3. Don’t let your database get unwieldy as it grows. Work out a simple, practical method of building and managing your database.
  4. Don’t get too far away from your own area of expertise when supporting local issues.

The next move

Even on everyday matters, when a customer makes a request about an out-of-stock item, rather than saying (as happens nine times out of 10) ”sorry, we’ve run out”, politely ask them to jot down their email address (or mobile number) so that you can let them know when the product (or an alternative) will next be available.

Rather than telling customers “your order will be ready tomorrow” say “would you like me to text you as soon as it’s ready?”

Customers will be reluctant to give you data if they think they’re going to get spam from you, but they will do so if they see a genuine benefit in it. 

Verdict

The key is being honest in obtaining the data, doing so in a consistent, uncomplicated manner and putting it to good use. So long as people see a benefit for themselves, and see you as having their interests at heart, they will gladly give you their details.

man using a tablet, laptop and smartphone
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