Do you know how loyal your clients are? Do you care? If you don't, you should. It costs five times more to attract a new client, than to keep an existing client.
What are you doing to build client loyalty? Following are four basic suggestions:
Make caring a priority. Your clients need your expertise, but they want your caring. From your first conversation, show that you care by asking questions and listening. Last month I visited a colleague in California whom I hadn't seen in several years. He greeted me with outstretched arms, told me I was his mentor and said, "Now tell me all about yourself and everything you're doing," Then he sat back and listened. After a lively, fun-filled evening of catching up - yes, I asked plenty of questions and listened, too - I reflected on his greeting and thought, "Now that's a formula for success!" That's why I hired him those several years ago and he continues to be a rock star to his clients. Though your expression of caring will differ depending on your client relationship, how well you've come to know your client and perhaps your client's personality, always show that you care.
People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
First attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, later to John Maxwell
Have a client-centric mindset. Recently I've been experiencing frustration with a doctor's office. My primary care physician referred me to a highly-recommended doctor for a lab procedure. After 4 months, 2 referrals from my primary care doctor and 4 phone calls from me, I finally got a call confirming that I'm on their waiting list and they'll contact me when their October-December calendars open for scheduling. That's not the way to build client loyalty. All they had to do was call me when they received the referral to describe their scheduling process, assure me I was on their list and tell me approximately when I could expect to get a call from their scheduling department. Put yourself in your client's shoes and act accordingly.
To understand the man, you must first walk a mile in his moccasins.
North American Indian Proverb
Manage client expectations and communicate progress. What the doctor's office should have done, as described above, is a perfect example of managing client expectations. But there's more to managing expectations, beginning with your initial communications. Talk with your clients about your processes, how, when and how often you typically communicate with your clients. If you're willing to be adaptable, you can ask them if they prefer to communicate by phone or via email (or maybe you have a client portal) and adapt to their preferences. That gives you your fall-back preference, which they will likely accept, but allows your clients to choose a different mode of communication if they prefer. Similarly, some clients want to be apprised of every step of your project and others only want big-picture updates. Tell them your standard, but in this case, it's critical that you adapt to their comfort level of knowledge and consultation, if you're to have satisfied, loyal clients. As other issues arise, address them early, continuing to inform your clients and manage their expectations, rather than leaving them in the dark. A long-ago supervisor of mine explained to me that he completely trusted me to make continuous progress on projects he assigned to me, but he needed updates on my progress so he could respond knowledgeably when our clients called him. It was a learning lesson for me. While I knew the progress I was making at all times, my internal customer didn't unless I kept him apprised. Manage your clients' expectations and communicate your progress.
The key is to set realistic customer expectations, and then not to just meet them,
but to exceed them - preferably in unexpected and helpful ways.
Conduct client interviews. Are you tired of requests for online feedback every time you get your car serviced or make a purchase - yes, even when you buy postage stamps? I am! Clients, however, are typically more than willing to meet with you to discuss your services and delivery. The close of a project is an excellent time to ask a client for feedback over coffee, lunch, happy hour or, if necessary, by phone. Make your meeting convenient for your client, prepare your questions and be clear that you're asking for their help to continuously improve your service to them and others. People want to be helpful. You'll learn about your services from your clients' perspective. If you receive critical feedback, don't be defensive. Just say, "Tell me more about that," and listen. Ask about primary outcomes and unexpected outcomes. You might learn about benefits you provide that you're not even aware of (I have). Many of my clients resist asking for client interviews. If you need help, give me a call at 503.913.0499.
Customer service shouldn't just be a department; it should be the entire company.
Tony Hsieh (CEO, Zappos)
For more suggestions about building client loyalty, see Inc.'s "Create True Customer Loyalty: 10 Rules."