In today’s competitive market, it’s important to know two things: 1. Your customer has multiple options when choosing a provider, and  2. They are more likely to deal with, and stay with, a provider they have a connection with. That means, more than ever, it’s important for business owners to develop relationships with future and existing customers.

The Strategic Business Network says relationships are “the catalyst for success. People do business with those they like and trust.” The easiest and most effective way to build relationships is by finding common ground. Easier said than done? Not always, and the following 3 tips are a great start.

1. Make your customer feel valuedFemale customer being served at counter of a record shop

Customers want to make connections with people who are interested in them and their business. While professionalism and efficiency is important, it is just as important to take the time to talk with customers; to ask how business is doing, to comment on things happening around town or in their industry.

Asking questions shows interest beyond work and the payment you expect. If you share something besides the work itself, there is a greater potential they will become repeat, loyal customers. Finding this commonality, no matter what the subject, will help kickstart a long-lasting customer relationship.

TIP: With the holiday season in full swing, it is prime time to touch base, engage your customers in conversation and let them know they are important to you.

2. Listen and observe

Once the conversation is flowing, don’t forget to listen and observe. Make getting to know your customer a priority. By listening – and picking up on – hints about family, interests and business priorities, you can establish commonalities between yourself and your customer, helping to grow the conversation and begin to establish a relationship.

Of course, conversations are two way streets, so make sure to share some of your own story. The more your customer knows about you and your business, the greater understanding and appreciation they will have, allowing the conversation to develop naturally into something beyond business. When your customer has the choice to make between staying with you or choosing someone else who may offer a similar service, that will be the tie that binds.

TIP: After each conversation, jot down some notes about your customer, what their hobbies are, family member names, which sports team they follow. Review these notes before you see them next so you can ask more personalized questions, and pick up the conversation where it left off. They will feel valued and appreciate the effort.

3. Be honest, but not too honest

Whatever you do, make sure your common ground is real. Don’t be the type of person who agrees with everyone about everything. Your customers will know and they’ll feel they’re being taken for a ride. As much as you want to listen and get to know your customer, you also want them to get to know you –  the real you.

There may be times, (ok, there will definitely be times) when you and your customers have different opinions. If it’s with respect to minor differences such as preference for sports teams – depending on how passionate your customer is – a little friendly bickering or rivalry may be ok. When it comes to the big issues though – politics, religion and relationships – sometimes in business, it’s better to practice some restraint.

TIP: Be yourself – hard work, integrity and passion got you to where you are today. Let this come through in your conversations and you will be building relationships before you know it.

Whether we are business owners, service providers or employees, we are all human and share common ground in one way or another. Finding it, and developing it, can make the world of doing business more personal and help you build genuine, long term customer loyalty.