How To: Improve Your Client Relationships
The phrase “it’s cheaper to keep ’em,” doesn’t apply just to spouses but to clients as well. Consider Bain & Co. research that found increasing customer retention rates by 5 percent boosted profits 25 to 95 percent. This is hardly surprising news, but what exactly can you do to nurture your personal relationship with clients so they stick around for the long haul?
Perfecting the customer experience is one way. Nicholas J. Webb, a speaker, holder of more than 42 patents and longtime management consultant, has conducted extensive research on this topic. In fact, he says perfecting the relationship with your customers is the essence of business today.
“The future of innovation is not inventing a shiny new thing, but giving the customer a new experience,” he says, pointing to Uber as a prime example. The tech company did not reinvent taxis, but rather how the client engages with ride-booking services.
To create deep and lasting client connections, Webb suggests this recipe:
1. Understand your client.
Forget demographics. Instead of focusing on income, race, gender and age, drill down into customers’ loves, hates, habits and goals—all before you even think about selling to them. This involves having meaningful, one-on-one conversations; asking about their past experiences with other professionals in your field; and learning about their definitions of success. From this data you can construct what Webb calls “nodes,” or customer profiles based on personality types and goals.
2. Create a customer experience for each node.
Webb says most businesses can break down the customer experience into five touch points:
• Pre-touch. Your marketing, social media, blog and word-of-mouth referrals all set the stage for the customer’s experience and expectations.
• First touch. The initial interaction with your product, team or location. “Eighty percent of your client’s permanent impression of you comes from that first touch,” Webb says.
• Core experience. “You must be a constant, active observer—always looking for clues where you could potentially miss the mark with your client,” he says, noting that the vast majority of unhappy customer experiences occur during this period, when familiarity can breed laziness, if not contempt.
• Report out. Create systems that measure and prove your value to them. Share these results in regular reports.
• Send-off. Leave them with something unexpected. At the end of routine meetings with clients, Webb might announce that they can expect a customized white paper to share with the rest of their team, or an instructional video of him elaborating on one of the meeting’s points.
Webb jokes that he commits fraud at each touch point. “At every touch point, I tell a lie,” he says. “I tell them they will get a lot less than I know I’ll deliver. I always exceed the baseline level of client expectation.”
Camille Allen, Broker and retail business consultant
Business: The Property Firm
Where: Durham, N.C.
I started my career in national corporate sales—a young black woman often attending golf outings with old, white, male Fortune 500 CEOs. I quickly learned how to connect with people who are different from me by listening first, then asking questions. It’s that old adage: People don’t care what you know until they know you care.
Today I create true partnerships with my clients, with whom I will spend a minimum of 90 days. I get to know my clients personally so I can best serve them. For example, I’m helping secure three locations for a client’s growing family business. We’ve been working together for five months, and I touch base with him up to 15 times a week. We talk both about our families and our goals and challenges as fellow business owners with corporate backgrounds.
But I also draw a line. I make it clear to clients that we don’t work together on weekends, and I don’t respond to texts or phone calls after 7 p.m.
Geoff Hoesch, Principal
Business: Dragonfly SEO, a digital marketing firm
For four years we’ve worked with the web design firm Ignition72. During that time my firm dramatically improved Ignition72’s search engine ranking. I’d take them out for lunch, and they would invite me to their Christmas parties. It soon turned into a symbiotic relationship—I helped them with their digital marketing, weighing in as a consultant. In turn, they served as business mentors to me; the senior partner is much older and more experienced than I am.
Ignition72 helped me realize that one of my company’s major issues was cash flow and made recommendations to decrease due dates on invoices and to bill up-front. With a more consistent cash flow, I’ve been able to establish better income security for the company, which has helped me grow.
A year ago, Ignition72 leaders invited me to share their office space, and the relationship has deepened into a professional friendship that continues to expand.
Devon Wright, Co-founder
Business: Turnstyle Solutions, a geo-enabled marketing and analytics platform that helps retailers use Wi-Fi to connect with customers
Our staff of 30 is dedicated to keeping customers happy. From the moment we make contact with a potential customer, every employee is encouraged to interact with them. It’s all part of finding common ground with these fellow entrepreneurs who are probably doing multiple tasks in their companies, too.
All new customers go through a detailed onboarding process to make sure they really understand the company, feel connected to our office and are excited about the product. Throughout the relationship, we encourage feedback and ideas for new products and features—and if those come to fruition, the clients are kept in the loop. That shows we listen, and also that they are part of our team. We measure everything we do. We’re constantly striving to improve.
This article appears in the March 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.