It’s happened to all of us at one time or another. We get the dreaded phone call or email from a client that says, “Call me when you have a minute.” No other context. No additional information. Just that line that might as well scream, “We’re breaking up.” Sometimes you could sense it was coming, other times it’s a completely unanticipated sock to the gut. What happens next is an awkward dance that usually involves learning (too late) that you weren’t meeting their needs. You focus on transitioning the account with professionalism and working to end the engagement on a positive note.
Then, it happens. You find out they are now working with your competitor. You feel betrayed, cheated. The nerve of that other organization – poaching YOUR client with flowery promises and meaningful quality time. Here’s the thing, though – clients don’t make any changes against their will. A happy, satisfied client who feels like they are getting great service and value generally isn’t interested in making a switch.
Client turnover is a reality with which most organizations deal, but by more actively managing relationships you’ll keep more of the clients you love.
Work Your Relationships
All businesses are really about relationships. Smart businessmen and women cultivate and maintain their professional and personal relationships. Know that every day, a competitor could be meeting with your client because they serve on the same nonprofit board, have mutual friends, or have worked together in the past. Instead of being threatened by others’ relationship with your client, make yours stronger.
Have you been paying enough attention to your client or have you taken them for granted? Think of how you can give more to the natural give-and-take of the relationship. Offer to serve as a sounding board and share your valuable insight occasionally off the clock. Become their go-to source for information, industry trends, and insights. Facilitate introductions to people and organizations with whom you have connections. The little things really matter and an investment in a relationship almost always pays dividends.
Oh, and schedule coffee and lunches with non-clients, too. You never know when someone will ask about your business over a casual conversation.
Don’t wait for them to tell you something is wrong
How often do you ask your clients the tough question, “Is there anything we’re doing, or not doing, that you’d like us to change?” or “How could we be even better for you?” It’s hard to open up these difficult, open-ended questions, especially when it feels like you may be fishing for trouble when none exists. However, knowing that most people avoid confrontation and prefer to let little things fester until they become something bigger, it’s critical to boldly, directly and confidently ask these very questions.
Your clients probably don’t enjoy sharing critical feedback for fear of sounding, well, critical. However, by opening up the conversation and inviting them to share, you not only make it safe, you show your willingness to accept and address the feedback. At Chartwell Agency, our president regularly holds “no agenda” meetings with clients to check in and ask how things are going. Sometimes we uncover information they haven’t shared with the account team, which allows us to make corrections quickly. Often, they share things that set us apart as great partners, qualities on which we double down for them and other clients.
Align Your Expertise with What Matters to Your Client
We applaud expertise, and if you can hang your hat on being the BEST at something, that’s awesome. But what if that thing isn’t super important to your client? Or what if others do it well enough and offer additional value-added services that you don’t? Make sure your client knows and appreciates the value of your expertise, but also be willing to recognize if what you’re “best” at just isn’t that important to them. Ask yourself if what you deliver can be replicated easily by a competitor. If the answer is “yes,” find ways to differentiate your service in a way that nobody else can deliver.
Make Sure Clients Know All You Do
To be effective, many clients are looking for integrated communications and streamlined partnerships. It’s important for your clients to know the full breadth of your capabilities so they don’t silo you into just one area. Constantly present new ideas – even if you think your client may not go for it – or go with you for it. This achieves two things: It reinforces the breadth of your capabilities and demonstrates that you are always thinking about what’s best for them, whether or not it turns into more work.
Continue to reinforce all the capabilities you offer. Make sure your clients are on distribution lists for your newsletter or e-blasts to share case studies, new clients, awards and more. Not only will they appreciate the opportunity to congratulate you on great work, it will plant the seed for other ways you could be helping them.
You will never eliminate client turnover – it’s part of business. The hard truth is that sometimes you might be doing everything right and a client still leaves. However, if you manage your relationships proactively, your clients will feel the love and you’ll reduce turnover as a result.