Greetings.  Looking to build and maintain great customer relationships?  If so, you're not alone.  Because it's a question I hear all the time from leading product, solution, and service companies that recognize just how important the customer experience is to their long-term success.  It's not enough to have great offerings. We also need to spend time with the customer, ask the right questions, spark the right conversations, develop the right understandings, bring exciting ideas and possibilities, and make the customer feel that our world revolves around them.

And here are seven ideas to keep you on target…

1.  Commit to understanding the customer's needs better than anyone else.  This means "living" in their world so you really get to know the challenges and opportunities they face and the results they hope to achieve.  A few years ago I had the chance to work with a large vending machine company.  While I asked a lot of questions and did a lot of homework at the beginning of the project, the way I really discovered how their business worked was by spending a week hanging out in the warehouse, talking with almost all of their employees, and driving one of their trucks on its route where I got to fill and clean a lot of vending machines and talking with a lot of customers.    

2.  Make and deliver on a promise worth keeping.  Once you understand what really matters to your customers, figure out how to "guarantee" that together you'll make it happen!

3.  Create and tell a powerful story about how you will meet their needs in a remarkable way.  And make sure the story, or at least the first chapter, ends with the customer achieving the results that matter most in a way they could only dream might happen.  Then write the second chapter, and the third, and so on as you continue to deliver even greater value.

4.  Challenge yourself to cast a wider net in the search for ideas and inspiration that can really meet the customer's need.  To do this, combine your best knowledge and know-how with a world of genius and learning about how to build enduring customer relationships.  And if you work in a large company that includes many lines of business, start by identifying the best practices hidden somewhere else in your organization.  

5.  Find the right customer relationship model to meet the desires and budget of your customers.  Remember that some people stay at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel while others stay at the Hampton Inn.  And both groups get a great customer experience–even if it's very different.

6.  Seek to make the customer smarter.  It turns out that the smarter you make your customers, the more value they'll place on your relationship.  So look for opportunities to drive knowledge in ways that enable them to get more out of your offerings and achieve greater success.

7.  Rethink what it means to be responsive.  It seems that almost every company talks about being available "24/7" to support the needs and issues of their customers.  But few really are.  So here's your chance to raise the bar in your industry by being ready and able at a moment's notice.

We win in business and in life by building relationships that stand the test of time.  Need a little spark in the way you work with customers? Why not try this quick check-up before it's too late.