What’s the most valuable asset in your shop? Your equipment? Your employees? The building itself? Those are all pretty valuable, but chances are good that there’s one other asset your shop couldn’t do without.Client satisfaction

It’s your customers. Specifically, it’s your relationship with those customers, especially the ones who send the most business to your shop. If your shop is like most, you get around 80 percent of your business from 20 percent of your clients. Building strong relationships with those large clients will keep them loyal to your shop. And developing quality relationships with those smaller customers may push them to send more business your way.

Building strong customer relationships takes work. Many shops make the mistake of assuming that “satisfied” is the same as “loyal.” It’s not. If you’re fulfilling orders on-time and putting out quality products, your customers are probably satisfied. That doesn’t mean that they’re loyal.

A loyal customer is one who isn’t open to offers from your competitors. A loyal customer makes you one of their first phone calls when they have an issue, even if the problem doesn’t directly relate to your products. A loyal customer is a partner who considers you to be an integral part of their business.

You can turn a satisfied customer into a loyal customer by investing in relationships. The more you put into your customer relationships, the more you’ll get out of them. Here are five tips to help you build more meaningful and long-lasting customer relationships:

Remember that communication is a two-way street.

Far too many shops only talk to their customers when the customers initiate the conversation. They’ll talk to the customer about quality or service issues or to take a new order. Other than that, though, the customer starts all engagement. If the customer never calls, the shop assumes that they’re satisfied.

The truth is, your customers probably want more from you and just aren’t telling you. You could be missing out on opportunities for new revenue simply because you’re not asking about them.

Take the time to check in with your customers from time to time. Ask about their business and what else you can do to help them. Get an understanding of their short- and long-term goals. You may learn that they’re developing a new product line or that they’ve landed a new customer, which could open the door for more business.

You may never know about these opportunities unless you ask. Don’t wait for your phone to ring. Pick up the phone and call your customers first.

Ask for their feedback about your machine shop.

If your customer tells you that everything is fine with their orders and their service, that’s a surefire sign that everything is not fine. There could be an issue that they just don’t feel like dealing with at that moment. Or they may be satisfied with your shop’s service, but not enthusiastic about it.

Either way, you have work to do to develop that customer relationship. The best way to start is by asking them for specific feedback about their relationship with your shop. Ask things like:

  • What could we do better?
  • What do you like about working with us?
  • In your opinion, how do we compare to some of our competitors?
  • How can we help you grow your business?

They’ll appreciate that you took the time to ask for their opinion. And their answers may help you learn some new things about your business.

Focus on each customer’s unique needs.

It’s easy to view your customers as one big group who all want the same things. The truth is, though, that each of your customers has specific needs and concerns. The fastest way to ruin a relationship is to ignore those unique needs.

For example, if you have one client that wants a weekly call to go over the shipping schedule for their parts, find a way to make it happen. If you roll out a new billing system and one client seems to have trouble with it, take the time to help them figure it out. It may be easy to assume that they’ll get on board just because every other client did. However, that assumption could end up costing you business if you don’t address their needs.

Make your customers feel special by focusing on their unique issues. That will help you build loyalty in the relationship and earn their trust.

Make yourself available.

This is such an easy step to implement, but so many shops fail at doing it. Ask yourself: How many ways could a customer get in touch with your shop if they really needed to?

For many shops, the answer is one or two. They have an employee who handles customer service issues. Customers call that employee directly or send him or her an email. If he or she is there, it might get addressed immediately. If not, the issue will have to wait until the employee is available.

In today’s digital age, you have a variety of ways for your customers to get in touch. You can install a phone system so the call is routed to the next available employee if the customer service rep isn’t available. You can implement autoresponder email software that will send automatic emails back to your customer to let them know their request isn’t being ignored.

You can also use social media as a customer service tool. Connect with your customers on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. They can then use those platforms to get in touch with someone at your shop.

The goal is to create a system in which someone is always available. Don’t let your customers sit and wait for you to call them back. That’s time they could spend looking for alternative suppliers.

Keep marketing to them.

You know how romance isn’t supposed to die with marriage? The same holds true when you bring on a new customer. You shouldn’t stop marketing to them just because they’ve become a customer.

When you market new products and services to your existing clients, you’re accomplishing two things. First, you’re letting them know that you value the relationship and their business. Second, you’re capturing low-hanging fruit that should have a huge ROI. No one’s more likely to buy from you than your current customer base.

Don’t kill the romance in your customer relationships. Keep wining and dining them to see what other opportunities you can uncover. Whenever you get a new machine in or the capability to produce a new product, let all of your customers know first. You  may just dig up some business that you didn’t know was out there.

Investing in customer relationships is a surefire way to grow your machine shop’s business. Your customers represent your best opportunity for new business and new referrals. Work hard at developing strong relationships. If you do, you’ll see those efforts pay off in your bottom line.