Attracting clients is one thing. Keeping them is another. No matter what kind of business you’re in, shoring up your existing client base can be just as important as finding new business. While there are multiple strategies for accomplishing this, here are some of the basics.
Chances are that you’ll lose clients if you don’t give them what they want. Whether your company provides goods or services, you and your client should ideally have a signed contract that outlines the expectations on both sides (see Ten Tips for Making Solid Business Agreements and Contracts and How to Draft a Letter Agreement or an MOU). If you fail to meet your obligations in any way, then you run the risk of losing that client’s business. If your company comes up short, makes a mistake, or commits some other transgression, you can’t always count on a client’s willingness to give you a second chance.
You should run your business in a way that maximizes your ability to control performance outcomes. More specifically, your businesses operations and management structure should be carefully crafted to satisfy the client’s desires. In many cases, it can even make sense to go above and beyond those desires in order to inspire repeat business and foster goodwill (as discussed below). However, remember to use your judgment in this regard, because if your company over-performs too often, then the client might consider premier service to be the new normal.
Another key ingredient in satisfying your clients is to give them what they want when they want it. Particularly at the outset of a new client relationship, you want to make sure that whatever goods or services you’re providing are delivered either early or on time. Consistently delivering on schedule can add to the goodwill that you cultivate with a client. As further discussed below, sometimes you can use this goodwill in the future to either entreat the client for an extension of time or request forgiveness for delayed performance.
Your company should have a methodology for following up with clients at some point after completion of a project or task. You should assess their level of satisfaction and request any suggestions as to how their experience with your business might be improved in the future. This will not only facilitate your future interactions with the client, but it can also improve your strategies in dealing with other clientele. It also gives your customers the impression that you’re truly interested in their perspectives and contentment.
As referenced above, goodwill is ultimately like a bank account into which you deposit your company’s brand, reputation, integrity, past successful performances, and personal connectivity with your clients. The more you build up this account, the more you can (occasionally) withdraw concessions, client loyalty, and even forgiveness. Goodwill is an intangible, yet invaluable, asset that you can use for marketing campaigns, soliciting new business, attracting investors, and getting referrals. In select cases, your most loyal clients can even give testimonials and assurances to dissatisfied clients, based on their past history with your business. Sometimes the best champion you can have is a faithful client who can successfully convince others that your company will go above and beyond to ensure 100% customer satisfaction.
Whether you have a website, blog, email newsletter, or similar method of communicating with existing and potential clients, you should continually use these tools to periodically connect with your customers. You should send out regular marketing announcements, which can include topics such as recent developments, new publications, imminent business plans, awards received, press coverage, requests for feedback, and the like. Note that you must be sensitive as to the frequency with which customers receive communications from the company. Usually you can manage this by giving clients the option of reducing the number of emails they receive per month or opting out of certain promotions. See Using a Blog to Support Your Business and Increasing Traffic to Your Website for further guidance on these marketing strategies.
In times past, it might have been more challenging to catalog personal information received from clients regarding their birthdays, alma maters, hobbies, family members, interests, likes, dislikes, and so forth. However, we now live in a digital age when mobile phones and other devices allow us to easily record information through various means (including taking digital notes, setting calendar reminders, or sending texts or emails to oneself). As such, there’s really no excuse to not have a record of all the personal information your clients share with you. For example, sending holiday messages to all of your customers or remembering the name, age, and birthday of a client’s young daughter are personal touches that can go a long way. Similarly, following up with a client when they’re going through some kind of personal struggle (whether it be a divorce, medical issue, loss in the family, or the like) can also add depth and sincerity to your relationships. The key is to complement these personal touches with sincere sympathy and empathy.
One of the most sensitive challenges of being a successful business owner is being able to personalize your professional relationship with a client while also maintaining proper boundaries; ultimately, you don’t want your personal and business relationships to conflict with each other. The considerations involved will vary from one client to another, and it’s up to your own judgment to determine how to walk that line. That being said, it’s almost always an asset for a client to see you more as a friend than purely as a business contact.