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Updated: March 27th, 2020
Businesses may be fueled by money, but they’re built on relationships. The relationships at the heart of a business — between customers and employees, employees and business owners, and business owners and partners — often dictate the success of an operation.
Laurie Ashe, the owner of Hair Colour Concepts, a salon in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, has abided by this principle since she opened her business in 2001. “Everything here is about a relationship,” she said.
When you focus on building relationships in business with the people you hire and serve, you’re more likely to have higher employee engagement, greater customer satisfaction, and a better reputation in the community.
To learn from Ashe’s experience, we asked her to share tips for creating a thriving business that puts people at the center. Read on to discover the five strategies she used to build long-lasting business client relationships — and how you can do it, too.
How you treat customers can make or break your business, especially when you offer a service. Ashe’s salon isn’t commission-based, and every stylist works together to support customers.
“We make sure we really understand what people are looking for,” she said. “Every single time they come in, we always have a conversation. What are you loving about your hair? What aren’t you loving about your hair? What can we do?” she explained.
Her team uses an eight-point system for stellar customer service and business relationship development, which includes excellent greetings, thorough consultations, helpful recommendations, and staying in touch through surveys and social media. “We like to make sure customers are really happy, so we can create that long-term relationship,” Ashe explained.
This type of intimate, attentive customer service doesn’t just turn one-time clients into regulars — it can also lead to referrals. Ashe said the most significant way her salon gets new customers is through word of mouth.
Whether your business is service- or product-oriented, consider how you can be more accommodating and caring to your customers. Can you offer a small gift with purchases, for example, or create a better in-store experience? Addressing gaps in your service is key to building business client relationships, boosting trust, and increasing loyalty.
Everyone you hire is a representation of your business and can help when building relationships. So, when your business offers a service, it’s critical to make sure the people providing that service aren’t just professional, but also knowledgeable.
“You want your hairstylist to be educated,” Ashe said, which is why she only hires and trains stylists who are licensed and board-certified. “[Having the education] helps us stay on top of what’s best in hair color,” she explained.
Ashe and her team also attend quarterly training sessions to learn about the latest trends in hair color and cutting, as well as discover practical strategies for better serving clients. Additionally, to address any concerns and ensure everyone is delivering amazing customer service, she holds weekly one-on-one meetings with her staff and calls regular team huddles.
Investing in employee training and team-building is an excellent strategy for business relationship development. Doing so can help boost workplace satisfaction and engagement, leading to better customer service. Ashe also regularly asks her employees how she can better support them both professionally and personally. “I’m really proud of being able to help stylists grow and learn and follow their dreams,” she said.
Establishing core values as a business can help you run a more stable, consistent operation. Values like accountability, transparency, and compassion give employees a framework for how to behave and treat customers. Plus, vocalizing your values can help you attract loyal patrons. According to a 2018 study from Accenture Strategy on purpose-driven brands, 52% of consumers choose to support businesses because they share their same values.
“Over the last 18 years,” Ashe said, “I’ve gotten very clear about our values, our mission, and our vision.” Along with integrity, kindness, and a relationship-centered approach, one of her company’s core values is environmental consciousness.
“We’re green, we use locally owned products, and absolutely everything we use gets recycled,” from foils and tubes of dye to actual hair. “Our customers are usually women in their 30s and up who just are looking for local products and a relaxing space where they have one hairdresser focus on them and listen to them,” Ashe explained.
To establish values, consider your business goals and general work philosophy, as well as what makes your company function at a high level.
Keep in mind, though, that leading with your values when building relationships in business doesn’t just mean practicing what matters to you. In essence, it also means letting go of opportunities or relationships that don’t align with your core beliefs. Ashe, for example, stopped selling certain products after the company that made them was bought out by a large manufacturer. “If it doesn’t work anymore, let it go. Something better will come in its place as you grow and learn more,” she explained.
To maintain healthy relationships with employees and customers, improving your leadership skills is crucial. “We think of leadership as what we tell other people to do,” said Ashe, “but I’ve learned that leadership is asking the right questions. It’s looking at the big picture.” That doesn’t just include paying the bills, but also improving communication between staff members and planning for growth, she explained.
One of the best ways to lead, said Ashe, is by modeling the behavior you want to see from your employees. “You show up on time, you don’t take products off the shelf without paying for them, you don’t have your hair done when there is a customer waiting, and you take customers on time,” she said.
Ashe also works with a coach to improve her management skills, uses apps to help her stay on track, creates regular cash flow plans, and strives to always “live within a standard of what’s the best in the industry,” she explained.
It’s easy to focus only on employee productivity and performance when running a business. But, workshopping your leadership and communication skills will benefit a business relationship development plan and the organization as a whole. Good behavior trickles down and can result in stronger relationships between you and your employees.
Whether you’re just getting started or have been around for a while, business financing can put you in a better position to support your employees, serve your customers, and build long-lasting relationships in your business.
Ashe got a loan from Funding Circle to consolidate credit card debt she accumulated after the 2008 recession. “It helped me to stay stable and manage my cash flow,” she said. Tracking exactly how much money was moving through the business made it easy for her to stick to a budget and work towards expansion. “This year I hired more staff,” she said, “and we’ve had more new clients in 2018 than we did in 2016 and 2017 put together.”
Additional capital can give you the freedom to hire, better train employees, invest cash into improving customer service, and take on long-term growth projects. Most importantly, though, it allows you to stay afloat while continuing to support the people who make your business what it is. “The funding helps me help other people grow and be successful as stylists,” said Ashe.
Employees and customers are the driving force behind any business. It’s critical to invest in building these relationships in business by focusing on employee training, improved customer service, and excellent communication. Financing can also help. If you think a loan might be right for your business, check out your options or learn more about our rates.
Paige Smith is a Content Marketing Writer and Senior Contributing Writer at Funding Circle. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and specializes in writing about the intersection of business, finance, and tech. Paige has written for a number of B2B industry leaders, including fintech companies, small business lenders, and business credit resource sites.