University of Maryland Extension

Tips for Communicating with Customers

Thank goodness that spring is upon us! After a long, cold winter, I know I’m not the only one excited to get outside and get to work planting the seeds of this season.

If you direct market any of your farm products, you’re also likely preparing to deal with customers again soon. Even if you don’t deal directly with customers, everyone encounters consumers on a daily basis – whether it’s while you’re out shopping or just with non-farming family members over Sunday dinner.

Dealing with customers, or consumers, is stressful for some folks. Many consumers know what they want in a food product, but many have little knowledge of what goes into producing their food. This dynamic can make a farmer’s efforts to communicate with them challenging and sometimes frustrating. Add this to the fact that farming is a rather introverted career choice and you’ll see that farmers have their work cut out for them in this department.

Consumers – whatever their thoughts, viewpoints, or opinions – are the driving force that supports agricultural production. We want our communication efforts to draw them into our businesses and keep them coming back. On a larger scale, we want consumers to have a positive image of agriculture and a trust for the farmers who produce their food. How do we make that happen?

The first step is to make a connection. You won’t know each and every customer by name, but that shouldn’t stop you from connecting to each person as just that – a person. If you sell your products locally, your customers are also your neighbors, and you’re linked by community. Rather than speaking farmer to customer, speak neighbor to neighbor. Maybe you’re both parents. Maybe you both love football. Find those common human connections and let them lead the conversation.

Connection is one piece of the puzzle. Another is positivity. Many of us feel strongly about what we do and the way we do it, and it’s easy to get pulled into the trap of criticizing folks who do things differently. Don’t tell people what to eat. Don’t put down production methods you’ve chosen not to employ. And, although I’m a big proponent of science, don’t use facts and figures to try to convince someone of something. For most people, food is an emotional choice, not a scientific one. Tell others all the great things about your farm. If you’re passionate about what you do on your farm, let that show through. Focus on what’s right, not what’s wrong. The way the conversation makes a person feel is often more valuable than the words that were said.

And when all else fails, a smile goes a long way!

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