Laying the bait: How to hook customers

Tilley uses a few cunning methods to keep his customers happy.

First, he treats his clients to hospitality with a "wow factor". Forget football matches and three-course dinners. Tilley dreams up outings that customers will be talking about for months afterwards.

“We’ve flown clients abroad on private jets for the day, to country houses in helicopters for lunch and we once took 40 clients to Champney’s for a weekend of pampering,” says Tilley. He recently treated his customers to a meal at Archipelago in London. The speciality dish was chocolate-covered scorpion. “Our clients loved it because it was quirky. It still gets talked about to this day and wasn’t especially expensive.”

His second tip? Spontaneous coffee meetings. “Whenever you’re out and about, consider if there are any customers nearby that you could meet for a quick coffee,” advises Tilley. “Give them a call and see if they’re free to meet. They appreciate a quick, spontaneous break and it’s a great way to spend relaxed, quality time with your customers finding out how they’re performing and diffusing any niggling issues.”

Tilley says his firm recently won a huge new piece of business with an investment bank because one of his “coffee meetings” led to a referral.

Finally, he says entrepreneurs need to learn to take criticism on the chin: “If something has gone wrong and it’s your fault, take the blame.”

Tilley says he once travelled into town to apologise personally to the CFO of a major electronics manufacturer because his car had been five minutes late in collecting him. “We’d provided a car for him through an investment bank client of ours. I made it clear to him that it was our fault, not the bank’s. He appreciated our honesty and it actually improved his relationship with our customer.”

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