How to Keep Clients Satisfied Through Excellent Customer Service
A lot of things outside your control can lead clients to consider letting you go — a shifting market, a downturn in the economy, incurring unexpected costs. You shouldn’t shoot yourself in the foot by contributing reasons for them to shop around for a different vendor or consultant.
It’s hard enough to land a client in the first place. Better to work at keeping your current clients happy than having to hustle to replace them with new ones.
Let’s look at some ways that can lead to your developing long client relationships. These include: Be reliable and stay in touch.
Excellent Client Service Hint #1: Be Reliable
A lot of business people — people in general, in fact — operate with good intentions but fail to follow through on what they tell you.
One time, a potential business partner told me he’d call be the next day. I never heard from him. Another time, a potential subcontractor on a project I was getting bids on promised to call me with his capabilities and pricing by close of business. He didn’t call back until the next week. But by then, it was too late for him to be considered.
It’s not that these people act intentionally to leave you hanging or to leave promises unfulfilled. It’s usually just that other things get in their way.
But benign neglect can be hazardous to your business and your reputation, when you’re the one who’s unreliable. People know — and make referrals based on — who does and doesn’t follow through on their pledges.
This human shortcoming so common in everyday life gives the reliable few a competitive edge.
When things get urgent or demanding, people find themselves evaluating who to call based on who’s the most reliable.
Two related aspects of being reliable can help you achieve this important characteristic. One, follow through on every task. And two, fulfill any promise you make.
First, be sure you follow through and complete tasks assigned to you. If your client asks for certain information or a draft of a report or some other item, performing that task in a timely way should become a priority for you.
A client asked me about the possibility of a letter of recommendation from an elected official supporting his application for an advisory panel position. I added this item to my “to do” list and reordered the list so this request ranked near the top. I worked on securing the recommendation right away, knowing the client considered this to be important and that panel selection had a tight deadline, while getting a letter might take a few days. We got the letter drafted within hours and the request made that very day. The client was very happy with the level of service provided. The recommendation letter came through shortly thereafter, as well.
Second, fulfilling any promise you make can help set you apart as a reliable business person. Really, it’s basic professional behavior, though too few “professionals” routinely meet this most basic of standards.
The pro baseball player Clete Boyer noted to former New York Yankee teammate Tony Kubek how slugger Roger Maris possessed this character quality. “. . . [W]hen he said he’d call you back, he’d call you back. If he said he’d be some place at five o’clock, he was there at five o’clock.”
A potential client whose company faced a sudden crisis asked about my services and certain information that required a little research. The caller said she needed it as soon as possible. I told the business owner that I’d call her back by close of business that same day. After hustling to research the matters requested, assessing the problem and identifying a range of realistic solutions, I called back a little before five o’clock. I reminded her of my pledge to call back before close of business that day, and her voice betrayed almost surprise that I’d actually done what I had said I would do.
So, be reliable in dealings with your clients. Follow through on your assignments. And fulfill the promises you make.
Excellent Client Service Hint #2: Stay in Touch
Keeping in contact with your clients might seem common-sense. But everyone faces “the tyranny of the urgent,” and such constantly hectic days can cause routine staying in touch items to slip further down the agenda.
Three ways to maintain client contact are to return calls quickly, initiate regular contact, and be spontaneous.
First, if your client calls or e-mails you, that should immediately become a priority to which you respond. If a client reaches out to you, it means a timely reply is expected. That’s not an unreasonable expectation because the client is paying you.
Even if circumstances make it near impossible to make contact in response, leave a voice mail, follow up with an e-mail, or both so the client knows you made a good-faith effort to return the call quickly. With client service, you often do get credit for making the effort.
One time, despite being two time zones away and tied up at a convention, I got a message from a client sent to the core leadership of a project, asking to have a conference call that day at a certain time.
It required my making some schedule shifts and doing some fancy footwork to find a quiet corner. But I assured the client that I could and would participate in that call. And I did.
Second, even if your client is not calling you, be sure to initiate contact with the client on a regular basis. The frequency will vary with the particular client, the kind of services you’re providing, client expectations, and other factors.
The main point, though, is to be the one who initiates contact from time to time. Don’t just sit around waiting to hear from the client.
Phone calls and e-mails will suffice for most such contacts. The value of phone calls in this era of electronic communications and social media remains that it’s more personal. You can hear each other’s voice, which entails more interpersonal communication than does a mere electronic note.
There’s no substitute for the more personal touch, even if it does take more time. Think of it as an investment of that time in client relationship-building. And you’ll get a lot greater quality from the communication through hearing how something is said and not merely the words stated. A phone call empowers you with much more nuance and understanding than does a text message or an e-mail.
Third, don’t merely respond to client contacts and initiate routine contacts yourself. Add interest, have an element of spontaneity.
Keep on the lookout for opportunities to be “spontaneous” with your clients. For instance, pass along unusual items of interest.
If your client wants to do more business in the defense sector, then share a new government report relating to the DOD budget. If your client is a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan, then send along news of a potential trade or minor league call-up. If your client is exploring business prospects in the wellness and prevention arena, then give a heads-up about an upcoming conference where new business could be developed or opportunities identified.
These show that you know your client well and reminds that you are the client’s extra eyes and ears.
Being responsive, regularly communicating, and showing initiative by conveying unsolicited information (even the occasional item that relates to the client’s personal interests) combine to ensure that you stay in touch with your clients.
Client relationships can and should be nurtured. You can stand out from the crowd of competitors by demonstrating to clients the characteristics of reliability and being communicative.
Being reliable and staying in contact can help guard against clients getting restless, wondering what you’re doing for the money they’re paying you.