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Relationship Advice

by Lucia Patalano
Local companies keep V.I.P. customers content with perks ranging from industry insights to nights on the town.

Clients of SHM Financial Group in Voorhees have stuck with the company for decades because they like the personal service and levelheaded financial advice.

But, admits company president Stanley Molotsky, the private dinners at Capital Grille and Le Bec-Fin, the Phillies box seats and the outings to the Walnut Street Theater don’t hurt either.

“The impact [of these programs] is just general goodwill,” says Molotsky, whose company has been offering such events to its top clients for around 15 years. They also hold season tickets to the Phillies, Flyers, Eagles and Sixers—and distribute those tickets liberally. “It’s a way of giving back to clients who are faithful to us, and who continue to refer other quality people to our firm.”

When it comes to perks for loyal customers, local companies have moved way beyond free pens and fruit baskets at the holidays. Today, outstanding customer service means building relationships on both personal and professional levels, while offering benefits others don’t.

“It’s a way to help ensure long-term profitability,” says Maureen Morrin, professor of marketing at Rutgers University School of Business in Camden. “If you keep your customer very happy, then, if a competitor comes along, they’re less likely to switch.”

To calculate what benefits offer the most value to a given client, identifying the needs of your client base is crucial.

“It’s very, very important for businesses to understand as much as they possibly can about each and every person that does business with them, in a way that they can almost build a profile of a typical client,” says Mark Newell, a marketing consultant with the New Jersey Small Business Development Center at Rutgers University-Camden. “The more they know about the individual clients, the best they can serve their needs.”

For example, Bellia Office Furniture in Woodbury targets major corporations concerned with creating cutting-edge workplaces that will entice the brightest workers and offer them an environment where they can succeed.

“A lot of our clients are looking to us for knowledge. They want to know what the latest workplace trends are in the marketplace,” says Anthony Bellia, partner at Bellia Enterprises and director of sales at Bellia Office Furniture.

To that end, the company provides existing and potential clients, mainly Fortune 1,000 corporations, with an all-expense-paid trip on a private jet to tour the Michigan headquarters and showroom of their manufacturer, Haworth. “When we do these trips, the client is highly qualified—so we’re not just doing it on a whim. The client is very interested in learning about Haworth, and it’s meant to be a true working session,” he says. “It sounds like a lot of glitz and glamour, but we want to show them that we’re going to build it right.” The private jet might be nice, says Bellia, but the market insights are the most valuable perk for his client base.

The goal of all this is to build a relationship, but also, most importantly, to build trust. “It is not just about selling product,” he adds. “We provide the level of knowledge that is important to them—because anyone can sell office furniture.”

After all, adds Molotsky, all the schmoozing in the world won’t matter if you don’t follow the three cardinal rules of interacting with customers: “Be honest with them, be honest with them and be honest with them.”

Transparency is especially crucial in moments of crisis, Molotsky says.

But it’s just as important to keep open lines of communication on a daily basis, adds Newell. He says a simple step is to send out a company newsletter that is not about selling, but rather about educating.

“It helps to develop credibility in the company,” says Newell. “I’m not just interrupting your day and trying to sell you the next, higher-level, newest model of what it is we’re carrying, and I’m not bragging about my employees, etc. I’m sending you useful information that you can use in your everyday life, that has something to do with the service that I provide.”

For important clients, that communication needs to go both ways. That’s why, at TD Bank, all business clients receive the cell phone numbers of their local store managers, according to Linda Verba, executive vice president and head of store operations and service programs. “Our business clients always have access to our store managers for whatever they need,” she says.

The bank has also created a significant but cost-effective perk for its important clients. It hosts V.I.P. networking receptions at all its stores on a regular basis, allowing clients not only to enjoy a social outing, but also to expand their own business networks.

But whether you’re hosting a group event or a one-on-one meeting, face-time with valued clients is crucial, Molotsky notes.

“You’re the one they want to see: you’re the representative of the business to them,” he says. But that doesn’t mean clients will want to talk shop.

“We prefer not to talk business,” at social customer appreciation events, he says. On the other hand, “if a client brings it up, we’re more than happy to discuss it.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 1, Issue 7 (July, 2011).
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