By Laura Haight
I admit it, I have not always been a client advocate.
A big part of that is that my role was operational and I rarely, if ever, talked with or dealt with my company's clients.
As a business owner, I see things from a much different perspective. The struggle to get clients consumes us - fighting to be seen, get a chance to have a meaningful meeting with a potential, combatting the cost issues and struggling against an array of cheap alternatives. Even if they love you, for many small businesses agreeing to even the smallest expense is a struggle.
So now you have them and you can breathe easy, right? No way.
It's not enough to do a good job. A combination of either exceeding their expectations of your work AND making them "feel" very satisfied by a combination of other non-quantifiable factors or meeting their expectations on the job and having them feel "delighted" about working with you, are necessary to build true loyalty.
At a recent event where I was invited to speak, I stayed to listen to a client of mine - Steve Stravolo from Stravolo Wealth Management - talk about Awesome Service. And the matrix he presented was eye opening.
It bears pointing out that how a client "feels" about you has a lot to do with how committed they remain. And it was a bit scary to me that you could have emotionally satisfied clients and do a job that meets their expectations and still have them in the "at risk" column.
But people do business with people they are comfortable with and to some degree may stay with a business that doesn't provide as good a service or product because they really, really like you.
The holy grail of customer service, of course, is having clients actively advocating for you. You get there when you do an outstanding job and your client is just thrilled about working with you.
How do you do that?
1. Be proactive. Anticipate a need and alert your client to an opportunity. Be confident enough in your relationship to recommend another company to them if you can't fulfill the need. I recently got an email from client pronouncing: "You are wonderful!!!". Because I had taken five minutes to put together a quick cheat sheet on how to perform a simple task on her website. It was easy but something I knew she wouldn't do every day, thus it's easy to forget the steps. She didn't ask me to do it and I didn't charge her for the effort. I just knew it would help her down the line.
2. Turn negatives into positives. I learned this from working with Becky McCrary to produce a series of webinars on her Unimaginable Service series. When clients ask you to do something you know you can't do, my response would always be straight-forward honesty: "I am sorry, but we can't do that." No one likes to hear the word NO. And, as I have learned from some fairly significant mistakes, it sets a negative tone that you may not recover from. But what's a business to do? Promise what you can't deliver? Becky's simply brillant suggestion: Say instead, "Here's what I can do for you." I have used this many times now and it works. No negatives, no teeth grinding. But a slight turning of the ship in a direction we can go.
There are many examples of where we just need to listen to what we say and find the way to turn negative words into positive ones.
3. Accept responsibility and fix what you can - even if it hurts. It costs so much more to find new clients than it does to keep existing ones. If you make a mistake, own it, fix it, and throw in something extra for the trouble. If they make a mistake, help them fix it with the least amount of angst as possible. I had a large client a few years ago that had 25+ facilities around the country. We were doing some design and business collateral for them. They called with a couple of sets of business cards that the name spelled incorrectly. I checked the proofs and eemails and found the client had sent us the incorrect spelling in the first place and then approved the incorrect proof.
I fixed them and had them reprinted at no charge. On that one order, I lost the profit. But I kept a client who brought a ton more business in that year.
4. Advocate for your clients as well. Thank you notes are a nice touch. Shout outs (I've put a couple in this post) are even better. Strong client relationships are partnerships that strengthen and grow on mutual appreciation.