Everyone in business knows the old adage that it’s easier (and cheaper) to keep a current client than to market, sell and land a new client. And yet, why is it that so many people in the service business don’t often have a proven track record to do so?
As the owner of a mid-sized public relations agency in San Francisco, I have seen firsthand the positive effects of nurturing client relationships—and conversely, have seen business relationships fizzle without the proper hand-holding.
So here are 8 steps toward keeping those clients happy—and on your roster.
1. Set expectations at the outset and outline measurement
In any business these days, clients want to see tangible ROI for their expenditures. At the beginning of the relationship, sit down with the client and ask them to “define success.” From that conversation, create a written roadmap whose goal is to deliver on those expectations. Measuring the results is key: it can be something as simple as a monthly report to something as complicated as data analytics that demonstrate how you’ve helped grow the business. But agreeing to these metrics upfront is key. We brand this at our agency and call it “Promised Results©.”
2. Ask regularly for feedback
From the get-go, make sure to institute a regular quarterly check-in with the client’s decision maker to find out how things are going. Doing this before any problems arise will help stem those small issues from escalating. Don’t just ask what’s going well—more importantly, probe for “how can we improve.” This will shed informative light on how to keep the account running smoothly. When you ask for feedback, I recommend picking up the phone and having an “in real life” conversation so you can properly engage with the client. The added bonus is often you hear positive feedback you may have never heard otherwise.
3. Project management
Especially in consulting businesses, it’s important to make sure your client knows “what you’ve done for me lately.” Having regularly scheduled weekly meetings to keep everyone moving forward is a must. In addition, project management software like Basecamp—or even a simple excel spreadsheet tracker—with deliverables, who’s responsible and deadlines can be a godsend. They also prevent the client saying “What am I getting for my money?”
Screen Shot of Basecamp Software
4. “Let me take that off your plate”
One of the best ways to earn your client’s trust and loyalty is by proactively making their job easier for them. Ask the client how their work is going—and offer to take something on that sounds like it’s a burden to them. Helping a client who is feeling overworked will allow the client to see that you are truly there for them through thick and thin.
5. Handwritten notes
In today’s world, we’re overwhelmed with email. But a hand-written note? That cuts through the clutter makes us sit up and take notice. A colleague of mine in Seattle regularly sends hand-written notes to his clients—sometimes they’re work-focused but more often than not, they’re to congratulate the client on her daughter’s soccer win, or celebrate the addition of a new puppy to the family or simply to say that you appreciate the business. My colleague says these notes have sparked clients to pick up the phone and call—allowing you to have another touchpoint with the client and another avenue to strengthen the relationship.
6. Make sure you spend time with your clients in person
These days, it’s sometimes easier to use technology—email, slack, texts—to stay in touch with clients. But remember: relationships are key to success in business. So make sure when you schedule your weekly or monthly meeting with the client that at least 25 percent of the time you meet them in person. Alternatively, ask them out for lunch, a coffee or a drink to get them away from the office and learn more about the person—not just the worker—that they are.
Author David Landis celebrating with a client (and with champagne)
7. Don’t forget the client’s birthday
It may seem obvious, but remembering personal days like birthdays can go a long way towards getting to know the client better—and will help the client get to know you better in the process as well.
8. Surprise and delight
We have a saying at our agency that you should “surprise and delight” your client when they least expect it. Do something extra for them “just because.” Maybe it’s work that was outside the original scope that you throw in as a “thank you.” Or maybe you invite them to join you at the ballpark. Or maybe it’s sending them a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant. Or perhaps it’s sending them some chocolate chip cookies from the local artisan baker for them to enjoy with their staff.
9. The power of the “thank you”
Mom really was right when she taught us all to write those thank you notes. Thank you’s are a way to acknowledge appreciation for everything from small gestures to big ones that have helped your team deliver for the client. It’s also important on a semi-regular basis to thank your client for the business. Thank you’s go a long way towards cementing and growing a relationship.
These steps are only a beginning to a strong client relationship. What other ideas do you have? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.