By Marie Johnson, Contributing Author at Enlightened Digital
Attracting clients is one thing. Keeping them is another.
Creating strong client relationships is critical to the success of any business. Whether you’re part of a large corporation, running a small business, or even dabble in a bit of freelance work, fostering and sustaining positive client relationships is often what separates a thriving business from one that flops.
Stanford University reported that 70% of personal relationships end within their first year. If you’ve spent much time on the dating scene, this statistic likely isn’t shocking, but what really stands out from the study is how quickly those breakup rates decline as the years go on. For unmarried couples, the annual risk of a breakup drops to around 20% after 5 years in the relationship. For married couples, the rate sits at a mere 3%.
As the lead sociologist on the study explained, “The longer a couple stays together … the more time and effort they have jointly invested into the relationship, and the more bound together they are.” The same can be said for a professional business-client relationship.
Maintaining a positive and sustaining client relationship isn’t exactly the same thing as dating, but just like creating a personal relationship that stands the test of time, managing an effective client relationship takes some careful thought and strategy.
Here are a few tips to create client relationships that are “marriage material.”
Work together to create a clear strategy
Clients want to know what to expect from a partnership. Often, they come to you because they’re in new territory. The service you provide is likely a new world to them, and they’re looking for a guide. However, keeping that in mind, it’s also important to involve your client in the goal-setting and strategy-building process as much as possible.
Clients want to know what to expect from a partnership. Often, they come to you because they’re in new territory. The service you provide is likely a new world to them, and they’re looking for a guide.
Rather than setting project goals on your own or keeping it solely in-house, communicate with your client to pre-determine the preferred outcomes of your services, the goals they hope to achieve, and how they anticipate you working toward those goals. Working together on the front-end to create a client-specific strategy not only offers you insight into your clients’ pain points, but it also helps to set expectations. This establishes ahead of time what you plan to deliver and when you plan to deliver it, while also setting measurable and agreed-upon goals to use as a reference over the course of each project.
Incorporating your clients’ perspectives into the planning process at every stage maintains their engagement as the relationship progresses, whether it be a partnership six months or six years in the making. It allows you to perform in accordance with their expectations, and measure against those goals should their satisfaction falter.
Pick up the phone and make an actual call
It’s important to remember that your clients are people, not email addresses. In today’s digitally-connected society, email may often seem like the best method of contact. After all, the ability to type up a message and review what you’ve written before hitting “send” can help you avoid mistakes and save some time. However, digital communication shouldn’t be your only method of contact.
Many people today, especially in a professional setting, underestimate the opportunity and effectiveness of a phone call versus an email or instant message. However, your clients will appreciate the more personal touch of a phone call — and quite frankly, there are many situations when a phone call will prove more effective than a lengthy email thread in the first place. Phone calls offer more personalized interactions, they can save time, they’re more direct, and they can even avoid misunderstandings or miscommunications by allowing the time to talk through any confusion.
A Google study of its click-to-call services found that 61% of customers want the ability to call the business when they are ready to make a purchase, with the majority citing the need to get a quick answer or to talk with a real person as their primary motivators. The same can be held true when communicating with your clients. A phone call can often help you achieve quicker resolutions to problems and demonstrate a more personable touch for your clients.
You may even want to use video chat to your benefit, especially if you don’t get regular face time with your clients or often work in remote locations. Using video communications can be beneficial when live demonstrations, presentations, or introductions are on the meeting agenda.
Be transparent, even when it’s not your best look
It’s almost inevitable that, somewhere along the course of your partnership, you’ll make a mistake or results are not what was expected.
Despite your best efforts, you might fail in helping your client reach those collaborative goals you established. Although it can be tempting to gloss over these mistakes or attempt to make light of them, your clients will appreciate your authenticity and transparency when these events occur. Not to mention, should you choose to be dishonest, the final outcome can be far worse.
If you take responsibility for the situation early, you can stay in the driver’s seat. When you address the situation head on, your client knows that you have identified the problem and are working on a solution. When you take charge of the situation, even if it wasn’t your fault or within your control, you earn your client’s respect. In personal and professional relationships alike, honesty is always the best policy.
Take the notorious Equifax data breach for example. The company waited to disclose the information in hopes to protect their reputation and maintain company performance. However, by not sharing information earlier, the company opened itself up to lawsuits, legal investigations, and the loss of major contracts. Though a timely disclosure likely wouldn’t have eliminated all these consequences, a more honest approach could have lessened the damage.
Encourage feedback (and act on it)
In order to continue serving your clients well, especially in the long term, you need to know what you’re doing right and what needs improvement. Your client is the best source of this information, so be sure to consistently poll for their feedback and insight.
Establish a regular feedback loop in which you invite clients to let you know what is working. Whether this occurs monthly, quarterly, or annually, the process demonstrates to your client that you are there to serve their needs, not just to sell products or build your client base.
It’s important to note that for this to truly be effective, you also need to be willing to act on client feedback. Regardless of whether their input is positive or negative in nature, customer feedback helps you understand your customers’ specific needs so you can find the best solutions to their problems. The better your offering meets their needs, the more your business will grow.
Always listen carefully to comments and respond promptly, whether it’s a compliment or a complaint. The worst thing you can do is ask for feedback, then not take action toward their concerns. Even negative feedback is valuable and can give you an honest gauge of customer satisfaction.
Though these tips may not be the first things that come to mind when maintaining your client relationships, they could just make all the difference in creating a “marriage” that lasts.
Marie Johnson is a contributor to Enlightened Digital, UX Designer and technology writer from New York City. If she’s not writing her latest blog post in her kitchen, you’ll likely find her strolling through Central Park, cappuccino in hand.