Ask any successful business owner who their first client was. Chances are, they can tell you; and many will even boast that they still serve that client, years or even decades after they first opened shop. Long-term client relationships fuel small businesses, in large part because it’s cheaper to retain clients than to invest in marketing to find new clients.
But there’s more do it than that: It’s also easier to keep current clients happy, because the longer they’re with you the more you understand their needs and goals, so the better you can cater your services to meet them. For any business, long-term success depends on building long-term client relationships. The following 10 tips will help you do just that.
1. Over-deliver value
Simply giving your customers the deliverables in your contract isn’t enough. It’s expected and required. To maintain long-term client relationships, you have to over-deliver value. Give them more than they expected to add the “wow” factor.
2. Put their goals first
Several of my most loyal clients have abandoned ship with a local competitor who actually does outstanding work. Since the quality of that competitors’ work is so good, I always wondered why their clients would seek another provider.
It turns out that my competitor offers cookie-cutter solutions; they often tell their clients something can’t be done, or that it has to be done their way. Their former clients come to me because I put their goals first, and help them find ways to achieve them within their existing infrastructures.
3. Clarify money and deliverables
If you have a habit of surprising your clients with a large bill, you won’t keep your clients long. Make sure terms are understood upfront, and always discuss additional fees before you do the work – even if those fees are included in the original contract.
4. Bring clients on board
Your business has decisions to make. You might be going through a rebranding process, or you might be trying to determine which service line to focus on improving in the next year. Bring your best clients on board during the process. By involving your clients, they’ll feel they have a vested interest in your success, much as you do in theirs. They’ll become partners, not just clients, and will stick with you for the long haul.
5. Celebrate your clients
When your clients hit milestones, or if you’re helping them launch a new component of their business (such as a website), celebrate! Host a party, take them out for dinner, or simply send a congratulations card. Share in their success, and they will help you achieve your own.
6. Thank your clients
I’m absolutely appalled at the number of businesses who do not directly thank their clients, especially since reaching out with a quick thank you can make clients feel so special and valued they won’t even consider another company. Send holiday greeting cards. Take 10 minutes to call your best clients and thank them for their business.
7. Ask for help
Ask your clients how you can better serve them. An open and honest dialogue will make clients root for you, and they’ll become avid supporters of your business among their colleagues. You’ll become a better business, and your overall sales will increase.
8. Treat customers like people
Get to know your customers as people, not invoice numbers. Know the names of their spouses and children, where they went to school, and what their hobbies are. Personal connections are beyond a doubt the most powerful connections in all of business. Follow the golden rule, and actually care about your clients’ success.
9. Make sure they know everything you do
Several years ago after my company built a website for a particular client, I was shocked to learn that the client had hired another firm to manage their content. In the spirit of better understanding where we had gone wrong, I called my client and asked why they felt they were in better hands with the other firm.
The answer was simple: They didn’t know we did web content. Now, I always give my clients a list of all the services we provide upfront; and any time I can see them gravitating toward a certain marketing strategy, I make sure they know what components of that strategy we can handle.
10. Solve problems quickly…
… Creatively and in your clients’ interest. If issues arise, and they will, solve them quickly. Be flexible. A contract might be a legal document, but it’s not set in stone.
Long-term client relationships are critical to your long-term success. Incorporate these tips into your business philosophy, and you’ll reap the financial rewards.
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