I recently attended an event called "The Way Forward: Destination Columbus." This was part of a community effort to communicate and continue to refine the Columbus, OH branding efforts. There were the obligatory speeches as well as facilitated discussions at each table. What the organizers hoped to accomplish was to communicate what had taken place relating to the community branding efforts and obtain feedback from the attendees regarding what the branding meant to them and what they thought might be missing or needed to be enhanced. Overall it was a pretty good event and I am glad I attended.
What I took away from the event, outside of the discussion about Columbus, was the value of human interaction. The team working on the Columbus branding has been working on this for a while now and could just keep pushing this effort forward and not worry about "checking-in" with the community. They could have solicited feedback through the use of technology and implemented the campaign. Over the 13 years I have been working in the economic development space in Columbus I have seen numerous branding efforts that did just that and didn't succeed. This effort is different. The team working on and implementing this effort values the feedback and creating comminuty buy-in. To that end they knew it was important to get people together so they could discuss the effort face to face. It is one thing to respond to a survey but there is something special that happens when you actually talk to someone. There is a synergy that is created when people can discuss and explore issues. Through conversation ideas can be generated that would never had come to light through the use of a one-way survey tool.
As a small business owner you should make sure you are doing the same thing. Get out and talk to your customers. To many people rely on email or social media and are surprised when they lose a customer. These tools are fine for quick updates but are not enough to really understand their needs and create customer loyalty. To really understand what is going on and how you can help your customers you need to sit down with them and talk face to face. I would recommend committing to meet face to face with a certain number of people each week. Do this with existing and new customers as well as prospective customers. This will result in more loyalty to you and your company, increased referrals and new business with that customer given that you really know them and they really know you. Because you have taken the time to meet with them they will view you more like a trusted resource not just a vendor trying to sell them.
The basic rule is treat customers like you would want to be treated, only better.