As a business owner, sometimes it’s hard not to take business challenges personally. After all, it’s your business, and the buck stops with you. But it’s important to have a healthy relationship with your business, draw a line, and be able to see your business separate from yourself. Only then, can you take a step back, see the business problems for what they are, and find solutions to them.
It’s taken me a while to be able to make that separation, and I’m still working on it. Along the way, I have gained a few insights I thought would be valuable to other business owners. Here’s one:
In order for your business to grow, especially if you are in the professional services industry, one of your goals should be to keep your clients as clients for as long as possible (as long as they are a fit for your business, and you are a fit for theirs, that is). That said, it’s also important to accept that nothing is forever and at some point, you won’t be a fit for one another. But until then, your goal is to maximize your time together and lengthen the duration of the client/service-provider relationship.
Here are 5 Must-Do’s to keep your clients happy for as long as possible:
1) Have Clarity in the Proposal and Scope of Work – nothing is worse than setting up the wrong expectations with your clients. If your proposal does not explicitly state exactly what the client should and should not expect, there are bound to be problems and you are setting yourself up for failure from the start. Keep agreements, proposals, contracts and engagement letters simple. Write them in plain English – not in accounting speak, legal speak, marketing speak or crazy speak. The goal is to ensure there is 100% clarity and zero confusion as to what the client will receive, when they will receive it and who they will receive it from. One interesting idea is to include a menu of “additional optional services” in your proposals. That way, it’s not only clear what services are not included in the scope, it also paves the way for upselling opportunities in the future.
2) Systematize Internal Processes – do your employees know what services you have promised to provide to your clients? Do they understand their roles and responsibilities with respect to the client engagement? Are your workflows and processes documented? In order to control the quality and timeliness of service deliverables, it’s crucial to systematize your business so that employees have the roadmaps and guidelines they need to perform services according to expectations. Doing so will achieve the proper oversight and accountability needed to ensure your client receives the services they are paying for and expect.
3) Use Tools and Technology to succeed – Stay ahead of your competition by using the most cutting-edge technology available in your industry, and bring the value of that tech to your client. Use technology to save your employees time and your clients money. Better yet, find tools to make everyone’s lives easier! Always challenge the status quo, look for ways to improve everything you touch, and always ask “is there a better way?” Remember, your client is hiring you because of your expertise – so bring it! And remember to give yourself and your employees ample training on the new tech so they’re not stumbling around with it on your client’s dime on day 1.
4) Maintain a close relationship– your clients need to hear from you often and see you from time to time. During these encounters, solicit their feedback. Talk about what’s working and what’s not working. I’m amazed at how often clients will not provide feedback, unless you ask. And even then, they are reluctant and often don’t respond. Keep in mind, people are busy and they don’t like conflict. They’d rather wallow in their frustration and become resentful than pick up the phone and have a conversation! And if you let that happen, you will lose that client and it’s on you. It’s up to you to create opportunities for your clients to give you open and honest feedback so that you can address their concerns. No news is NOT necessarily good news. Don’t assume everything is OK if you haven’t heard from your client in a while. Instead, proactively reach out, stay connected, be approachable, and invite feedback.
5) Be curious – one human being to another - Ask your clients questions that are not related to the services you are providing for them. Ask about their life and their business in general – show curiosity and concern for their personal well-being and the well-being of their business, their employees, their family, etc. That means, ask about everything else - life insurance, disability insurance, estate planning, human resources, recruiting, accounting, marketing, etc. Listen for their needs and help them by putting them in touch with people in your network that can help them. If you are a service-provider, chances are you know a lot of other service providers. Your clients may not! Don’t wait for them to ask you to make an introduction. Instead, show you care by suggesting/recommending that they talk to XYZ person or ABC company. Your client will thank you for having their back, and the person you referred will thank you too (probably in more ways than one).