Monday, February 4, 2013

6 way to make your clients love you while staying sane

You work hard to get your clients. All those calls, conferences and coffee meetings aren’t just for fun. So you’d better take care of them once you have them. It may seem burdensome at times, but the effort invested in strong relationships and doing great work will pay back in growth opportunities.

In their book “Leading on the Edge of Chaos”, Emmet C. Murphy and Mark A. Murphy state that a 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10% . Making clients happy is one of the best ways to grow a business. They'll spread the word for you so you can spend less time selling, and more time doing great work.

Build your business on these 6 pillars to keep your clients and grow your business:

1. Make honest and realistic estimations of timelines

We all do it, and it happens in every industry. At the start of a project, you’re feeling good and you know the finished product is going to be great. You’ve made a list of everything involved, and you’ve guesstimated how long each piece will take. This is where things get dangerous. We can be tempted to over-promise when entering into a new relationship, but over-promising does not create sustainable relationships. Set realistic expectations for your timelines, and give yourself some padding for bumps in the road. Because even when you think you’re almost done, you’re probably not.

2. Be a great communicator

Find out your client’s preferred method of communication and use it. If they leave you a message, don’t email, call them back. Make sure your clients know what's going on, before they start to wonder about what you’re up to by providing them with regular updates on a schedule that makes sense for the project. Be especially conscious with formal reports; make your reports concise and understandable, use agreed upon metrics for success, and use visuals when possible.

3. Be Respectful

Your client may not have the same level of expertise that you do (that’s why they’re paying you), but they’re smart enough to know they need you. Take the time to educate them in how you work and what processes you use. Steer clear of jargon; cut down on the three letter acronyms that you throw around casually with your colleagues. Instead, pay attention to how your client speaks, and build that language into your conversations with them.

4. Agree on what success looks like

Doing work that makes your client happy requires great empathy. From the beginning, you need to understand their needs, and get a clear picture of what you're working towards. Once you think you know what you're building, tell your client what you'll be doing. Agree on what needs to be delivered, and how that will be measured. It takes more work upfront, but getting everyone on the same page creates a lot of trust. This trust enables you to do the work, without being constantly pestered. The extra effort at the beginning makes you far more likely to deliver a great product.

5. Set boundaries

You want to keep your clients happy -- that’s why you’re reading this article. You want to reach new heights, diveak down walls and meet stretch goals for them. But remember, they’re looking to you not just to do some work, but also for leadership and guidance. This means letting them know when their ideas won’t work, and not giving in to every demand. If they insist on a change, let them know, in writing, how their request differs from the original scope, and how you expect it will impact the project.

6. Do great work

Obviously! Of course you do great work, you always put your best into every project and sweat the details, right? Great, but not everyone does, and time saved by cutting corners could end up costing you many times over in rework and damaged relationships. By all means, extend yourself, take on big projects and grow, but be sure that you're willing to do what it takes to delight your clients with the finished result.

We can take another great statistic from Murphy and Murphy’s book “Leading on the Edge of Chaos”: organizations that prioritize the customer experience generate 60% higher profits than their competitors. With the rise of social media, people increasingly rely on word of mouth and reviews to make buying decisions. It becomes a virtuous cycle: This means doing great work and making clients happy can be an excellent marketing strategy, which means you can spend less time selling, and more time doing great work.