Many small business owners look at interactions with their customers as a simple one-off transaction: customer needs work, they do the work, they get paid, then they move on. When running a service business, however, that's a very bad way of handling your customers, and can lead to customers receiving poor service, or forming a negative opinion of a business.

The key to creating customer loyalty—keeping customers returning for future work—is to focus on developing and maintaining customer relationships.

However, the challenge with building and maintaining good customer relationships is communication. Phone calls are a pretty easy way to really get a customer's thoughts and talk through things, but they take time, and nowadays, they're often perceived as bothersome or unwanted. Face-to-face interactions are usually the best way to really develop a strong relationship, but stopping by someone's home months after a job is completed isn't really a good option as a business owner.

So what's the right way to stay in touch with your customers? You can probably guess by the title of this post that we think email is the perfect way to stay in touch with your customers and build strong relationships that will continue to serve your business over time.

Why email is best

Let's talk about why customer relationships are so important—what are the benefits, and why would you want to maintain a relationship with your customers? Regardless of what services you provide—whether you're pressure washing, landscaping, home/office cleaning, or performing any other service for a customer—you'll benefit from staying in touch with past customers. Here's three important reasons why using email to stay in touch with your clients and build relationships is so important to your service business.

1. Your customers know other customers

As your small service business gets more established, the source of new work tends to lean more and more toward word-of-mouth referrals from previous customers. Referrals are fantastic because you're far more likely to have an easy time getting work from a new customer referred to you by a friend, family, or co-worker. If you think back to your earliest customers, when you were first starting to offer your services, you can probably remember there was a bit of hustle and salesmanship required to close the deal—you had to convince them you could do the work, and that the price was fair for the job.

The only problem with referrals is it relies on making sure your past customers remember your company name and contact info. There are a few ways to help with this, like leaving behind business cards or having a memorable company name. But one simple trick is to just email invoices to every customer, even if they pay in cash.

Why should you go through the trouble of asking for a customer's email address to send an invoice (especially if they pay in cash)? Because you want their email address so you can stay in touch with them.

There are a number of benefits to having a customer's email address. As it relates to referrals, your past customers will know they have an email from you somewhere that has your company name in it. They can then be sure to have your name and contact info on hand to share with people they know. However, there's more you can do with an email, like sending out special messages to past customers asking if they know anyone that needs work, perhaps with a special discount or reward included for referrals (like an Amazon gift card for every referral that turns into a paying job).

2. Offering deals to your customers

Offering deals is another great way to generate more work from past customers, and a strong reason to get an email address whenever you can. There's a lot of opportunity for selling work, depending on what type of business you're running and what services you offer. For example, a handyman might install a door or some windows, and then, a few months later, email that customer to offer a discount on gutter cleaning or pressure washing. Additionally, there may be certain services that only make sense during particular seasons of the year.

If you have an email list for all your past customers, you can send out a special marketing message to let them know it's the right time of the season to get that work done—and you can offer a special email-only deal if they contact you to schedule the work.

Taking notes on customers can really help, too. If you notice an opportunity for other work when you're at the job site with your customers, you should mention it. Even if they don't bite in the moment, you can follow up with an email a few weeks later, specifically mentioning that item and asking them if the time is right to take care of it. Your customers are likely to be impressed that you remembered them and the work that needed to be done—this is the relationship part of handling customers in action—and may just give you the go-ahead to start working on that project.

3. Asking for reviews and likes

Occasionally, it's a good idea to reach out to customers you've done work for and just ask them to review and like your business on sites like Facebook, Google, Yelp, etc. It's also not a bad idea to ask them to follow you on social media like Twitter or Instagram, if you use them. Having followers helps you look more legitimate as a business, and helps customers remember you exist if someone asks for a recommendation. You'll want to use this sparingly, as it can often look like spam to some customers.

The best time to ask for reviews and feedback is a few weeks after the job is done, once your customer has had time to appreciate the work.

There are tools out there that can help make this easy. When you manage your jobs with WorkWeek, we automatically send an email to your customer a few weeks after the job is done to ask for feedback on your work. We then share this with you and give you an opportunity to share it on your zero-effort website so others can see positive reviews of your work. We'll even ask the customer to review you on Facebook and Google if you have those setup.

How should I use email in my service business?

There are a few things to keep in mind when using email to build and maintain good customer relationships:

  • Don't overdo it. You don't want customers thinking you're spamming them.
  • Send the emails at times when people are likely to be able to read them immediately (WorkWeek makes this easy)
  • Always ask the reader to do something, such as refer a friend, review you on Facebook, call about a special offer, etc.
  • Spend time thinking through the subject and content of your message. Put yourself in your customers' shoes, and try to write something they would want to read.
  • Have a clear call to action—ask your customers to do something whenever you send them an email. If you're sending a seasonal promotion, ask them to reply to the email for more details, or call you to schedule a service call.

Give it a shot

Sending emails to customers should be seen as both a relationship-building and marketing tool. Email costs you very little, but its value grows as your business and customer list grows. Start learning to take advantage of it!