As a small business owner, it can be tempting to focus only on making more money now but have you ever thought about switching some of that energy towards relationship-building?

Small businesses have a tremendous advantage over bigger businesses when it comes to this: you can build a genuine relationship with the people that buy your products or services and turn them into customers who will keep coming back for more, during good times and bad.

Here are a few tips for turning friends into customers and customers into friends: 

  1. Don’t categorize, do individualize. This is where big businesses fail most often. Avoid trying to fit your customers or friends into pre-defined, artificial categories and instead, satisfy them as individuals.
  2. Make customer service sincere. Try not to think about helping your customers as an exercise in customer service. Focus on providing value to them during each transaction. This way you’ll retain a customer for a lifetime and avoid coming across as a sleazy salesperson who cannot be trusted.
  3. Get to know your community. The community of your business may be customers and friends who live locally, or those who are part of a community built through common interests or needs. You’ll need to be active where your customers are, both online and offline, in order to establish friendship.
  4. Take a few extra seconds to ask a question during transactions or add an extra line to a transactional email, so it feels more personal. You can talk about things that have nothing to do with business, such as, “That’s a great dress, where did you get it?” or “How are your grandkids doing?”, or you can give them extra information that is business-related, like how your product is made or if you love the selections they made. 
  5. Give preferential treatment. Make a list of who your best customers are and who isn’t. Look up your sales records, look at your payment records, think about who complains the most and who is always happy with your service, no matter what. It’s okay to give better customer service to the customers that really deserve it and reduce the time and effort wasted on bad customers. Only big businesses have the money to placate a constantly pissed-off customer.

Along with following other good general customer service guidelines, these subtle signs can show your best customers how much you value them, not just their business, and turn them into friends. Or, vice versa.