One of the things many big businesses get spectacularly wrong is their approach to maintaining relationships with existing customers. They have all sorts of offers to tempt in new customers – special rates, free deals, giveaways – but little or nothing aimed at keeping the ones they’ve already got. They rely on apathy keeping people where they are, banking on it being too much trouble for them to move on.
And with some people, that approach works. They either don’t know or don’t care that they are paying more for the same service than fellow customers are. For the others, they embark on a merry-go-round of switching companies every year or so in order that they keep getting the best deal.
However, the major downside to this is that it’s less expensive to maintain a good relationship with an existing client than to attract a new one. While the costs of having a constantly churning customer base might be built into the budgets of large companies – mobile network or domestic fuel providers, for example –it’s neither sustainable nor desirable for smaller businesses. Not least because it makes no sense!
What makes people choose the companies they deal with?
When people make purchasing decisions, they do so from an emotional standpoint. It’s justified with logic after the event. We’ve all done it – we buy the more expensive option and convince ourselves the quality is better and it will last longer, when what we really wanted was the label! The same mental gymnastics can be applied to phones, computing equipment, cars, clothes and shoes, the hairdresser we go to and even the grocery store we shop at.
Why is this the case? Because business is a personal matter. We want to be associated with brands and companies that we feel are aligned with who we are, or at least who we perceive ourselves to be. We want to feel that they care about us and value our business. We also want to be acknowledged for our discerning judgement, and so we want to deal with companies we are happy to recommend to others.
Did you really need to buy the deluxe laptop with all the bells and whistles? Probably not, but you most likely really, really wanted it!
Fair enough, you might be saying, but how does that apply to my business and my customers?
Well, at least part of why you bought what you did was that you liked the company. You trusted them to deliver on their promises and you were happy to enter into, or to continue, a relationship with them. That’s what this has to do with your business and your customers!
Those businesses that make the effort and take the time to develop a successful, long-term relationship with their clients can expect to step into the role of trusted adviser. And if you are seen in that role by your clients, you can expect them to stay with you, buy more from you, recommend you to others and pay their bills promptly and in full.
Isn’t that worth a little effort? Of course it is. But how do you go about putting it into practice? Let’s take a look.
Draw up a plan of action
Start by identifying your key clients – the ones that award you the most business, have the potential to award more and are profitable for you. That last point is the most important; this initiative is going to take time and effort on your behalf, so you want to be sure you’re focusing your attention where it will have the biggest impact.
That done, draw up a 12-month plan of action that focuses on how you intend to develop each relationship.
Ask yourself, ‘How can I add value for this client?’ Ideally, you want to be able to offer things that mean a lot to the client but don’t cost you too much to deliver.
For example, if you deliver training, rather than presenting a generic course, take a little time to personalise the materials and case studies. If you provide equipment, take some time to demonstrate how it works and to emphasise the benefits the client will gain from it. If you see something that is relevant to your client – perhaps in the news or in a trade publication – bring it to their attention.
And keep in touch! Make sure you schedule in regular catch-up meetings or calls –but do note that ‘regular’ is not the same as ‘frequent’. Christmas is a regular event! While you no doubt want to catch up more than once a year, don’t make it so often that it becomes an eye-rolling nuisance for you both. Use your judgement; you know what’s appropriate.
A major part of maintaining client relationships is managing expectations. With this in mind, aim to understand – and to frame – the expectations of your clients and make sure you always meet or exceed them. Keep them delighted!
The focus here is on moving the relationship from being a reactive one to a proactive one. Take the initiative, delight your clients and you can expect the business relationship to thrive and grow. That will also enable your business to thrive and grow. And that’s what it’s all about.
Not sure how to begin?
If you’re sold on the idea but not sure how to get the ball rolling, get in touch. We can help you to identify your key clients and also advise on the process of client relationship management. After all, it’s what we do, too!