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'We' can help build business relationships
By Jim Kendall | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 5/28/2009 12:02 AM

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We instinctively know Steve Yastrow is right when he says, "The most underperforming asset (most businesses have) is their customer relationships."

Or when he adds that "even in tough times, everyone's business has untapped profit potential" - which most often can be found in "untapped customer relationships."

But if business owners know, even subconsciously, that Yastrow is right about the value and profit of nurturing customer relationships, why do so many seemingly look right past their customers as they search for strategies to help restore profits lost to the recession?

It could be we haven't discovered what Yastrow calls the "Language of We."

An example from Yastrow helps define the concept: "If you're a financial planner," Yastrow explains, "you want your clients to tell their friends, 'We sat down and figured out my retirement.' Not 'My planner and I sat down,' but 'We sat down'" and, in the Language of We, solved the problem together.

We. Together. Us. Clearly, Yastrow is into customer relationships. Just as clearly, Yastrow, speaker, consultant, author ("We: The Ideal Customer Relationship" is the applicable title) and president of Deerfield-based Yastrow & Co., may be onto something that can work.

People like Yastrow have been preaching the gospel of building customer relationships forever. What's different is that 2009 isn't 2008.

"Yesterday's normal will never be back," says Yastrow. "The world is different. Your customers are different. Your employees are different, and your competition is different." As a result, he says, "You must recalibrate your business."

That will take some effort. For many, Yastrow says, recalibration will involve "getting beyond the 'Buy nine Smoothies and get the 10th free' approach."

Recalibrating your business likely will also involve at least a tacit acknowledgment that you're selling a commodity, no matter what you're selling. For example, Yastrow says, "People can buy a bicycle anywhere."

In a similar manner, Yastrow continues, recalibration includes recognition that "it's not the advertising or brochures that makes someone fall in love with your business; it's the relationship" you establish that will bring people back - and, more importantly, will get them to recommend your bike shop to others.

For the Language of We to work, employees must know both the concept and the language - and be encouraged to participate.

"Whether you have kids selling ice cream or high-powered attorneys, help employees recognize that their job is to build relationships with customers," Yastrow says. "Explain that 'Your job is to be a person, not a functionary. Go beyond your job, make the customer feel a connection (with the business)."

"Let employees in on the story," Yastrow says. "Tell them what you're trying to do. Tell them what the business is about, what kind of company you want to have."

• Questions, comments to Jim Kendall, JKendall

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