Gaining new clients is a big challenge for any start-up business. You strive desperately to get your name out there and attract them with expensive marketing, branding and advertising.
But this sucks up so much energy you fail to keep those hard-won clients for long.And having a poor client retention rate - that’s like trying to fill a leaky bucket. Do you pour water in faster? Or do you focus on patching up the hole?
Statistics vary by industry, but it generally costs between 4 and 10 times more money to acquire a new customer than keep an existing one. In other words your current customers are worth their weight in gold. You should definitely be fixing the leak.
Here are 10 innovative ways to gain your client’s loyalty, and keep them around for the long-haul.
"Repeat business or behavior can be bribed. Loyalty has to be earned." - Janet Robinson
1. Nurture Your Staff
Loyal employees are more likely to generate loyal clients. Why?
Because if they have genuine love for your company this will shine through in their interactions with clients and customers. Engaged, dedicated employees are passionate advocates for your brand, and are more likely to go the extra mile to impress.
Cultivate happiness, pride and passion within your company and it will naturally start to flow outwards - whether or not your staff are trying to make sales. After all, if your values and missions don’t resonate within your own ranks, how do you expect customers to believe in you?
Unhappy employees and high turnover rates can directly harm client retention. When staff are being hired and fired in droves (as often happens in chaotic start-up environments) clients and projects get passed around. Important details and relationships are lost. You become a ‘revolving door agency’, and this lack of consistency can drive business away for good.
Long story short, happy staff = happy customers. Whatever industry you’re in.
Quick wins to boost employee happiness:
- Focus on the positives. Psychologically people respond far better to positive feedback than to negative. Push your employees along the right path by encouraging the things they’re doing right, instead of criticising and focusing on mistakes.
- Praise them publicly. Has a team member done something awesome? Tell them they’re great in front of the whole team, not just in private.
- Give rewards. There’s no harm in affordable, random acts of thanks to make your team feel appreciated. Take them to lunch as a surprise after meeting a target, or treat them with a morning off after a big project.
- Preach company values. Everyone who works for you should be united by a common story, mission, and purpose. Reinforce these beliefs at every opportunity.
2. Throw Away the Script
Your clients aren't robots. Neither are you.
Yet occasionally - especially in high volume work environments - we start interacting in a robotic way. We repeat the same greetings, the same sales pitches, the same solutions. Unfortunately clients pick up on this.
Try to humanise every interaction instead of resorting to scripted conversations. Tell your account managers to break their scripts and mix things up. Throw a dash of charm and humour into every email. And above all, remember personal details! No client wants to feel like they’re simply a number in your database.
Keep detailed records of all your previous interactions - meetings, phone calls, any issues and how they were resolved. Remember their name, where they live and their spouse’s name. Take note of their personal interests so you can have meaningful chit chat. Even recalling the tiniest details - “Oh, how’s your cat Mittens by the way? You said last week he was having an operation” - can surprise and delight your client. It proves that you see them as a human being, rather than just a business transaction.
3. Pick Their Brains
"Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning." - Bill Gates
Have you been biting your nails, anxiously wondering if your clients are happy with your services? There’s a simple solution - just ask them. Real feedback from clients is one of the most valuable things you can attain. If you don’t have channels or tools for gauging their opinions it’s time to create some.
Won’t clients get annoyed at being pushed to give feedback? Usually the answer is no. Most people actually enjoy being listened to, whether they have good things to say or not. If you make the process as easy as possible you’ll usually receive plenty of honest feedback.
There are several ways to achieve this, without causing inconvenience to your client or resorting to cumbersome paper questionnaires. Instead, send out an anonymous email survey periodically, promote a feedback form on your website, or create a social media poll. Use the digital tools at your disposal to make the process as quick and effortless as possible.
If you’re really keen, resorting to bribery is always effective - offer a tantalising prize in return for your client’s responses (just make sure the survey is anonymous, so the giveaway doesn’t skew the nature of the feedback).
By gathering feedback, not only can you review your services, you can also generate a list of client’s pain points. What needs do your clients have that aren’t being met? Often there are opportunities to make your product or service even more useful to your clients. By continually discovering and addressing these needs you’ll build a loyal client base much more quickly.
And if you do receive negative comments this gives you the chance to rectify wrongs. Reach out immediately and take measures to turn every bad experience into an amazing one. You’ll see retention rates improving drastically. Put a stop to any recurring issues you identify - that’s another quick boost to client retention. Boom!
4. Bridge the Divide
Often there’s a big communication divide between the business owner, CEO, middle management, account managers and clients. But whoever sits at the top of your company should be more than just a distant figurehead. Your CEO should be seen on the ground floor, in person, actively setting examples at all levels of the company.
Your company values and relationships always start at the top, and good attitudes tend to trickle down. Having a CEO who’s more present and involved can help employees and clients feel more connected to the company. It also reduces the potential for disastrous communication problems.
Just ask yourself - when a client encounters a problem, what’s the channel of escalation? Usually it will start at the lower end of the chain, maybe their account manager, then move up to middle management, then higher and higher. If it’s a terrible problem it might reach the CEO. But the worst thing that can happen is for the CEO to be blindsided by this problem - hearing about it for the very first time in the middle of a client meeting. The exasperated client has to explain themselves for what feels like the 100th time.
These situations can be avoided when the CEO makes a habit of being actively involved at all rungs of the company, and insists on hearing about problems as they first arise. If there’s a communication block in the chain make sure you pinpoint and address it.
5. Establish a VIP Club
Exclusivity is a powerful motivator. Psychologically we’re drawn to things that make us feel special, or part of an elite group. If clients feel they have achieved a certain ‘rank’ and reached an upper level of privilege, they’re more likely to stay with your company.
While it does depend on your industry, it’s often possible to establish some kind of VIP Club to encourage returning customers. In e-commerce this is generally done by creating customer accounts and awarding loyalty points for each purchase, but there are plenty of ways for different businesses to replicate the exclusivity experience.
For example, at a creative agency you might offer a discount to your recurring clients, and give them a prime spot in your marketing collateral. You could offer a ‘referral rewards’ club, and send them gift baskets or shout them to a restaurant when they introduce you to clients. Maybe take them out for drinks on your business relationship ‘anniversary’. There are so many ways to make your most valuable, recurring clients feel special; so use your imagination.
6. Share Things of Interest
"To give without any reward, or any notice, has a special quality of its own. " - Anne Lindeberg
You know your clients, you’ve built relationships with them. Hopefully you understand a little about their personal lives, including their interests and tastes. Now you can leverage this information to form a stronger relationship with them.
A very simple way of doing this is by passing on information which is not related to your services. Say you’re building a website for a dog grooming company. One morning you’re browsing online and see a link to an upcoming dog groomer’s conference in Madrid! That’s lush. You flick the link to your client, making a joke about working on their tan.
Or perhaps your client sells hand-crafted soaps but she’s been struggling to build her social media audience. You see an awesome Marketo article with step-by-step suggestions. Why not add a link to that the next time you email her?
Passing on pieces of information that aren’t directly related to your services is a nice, simple way of strengthening your relationship with your client. It shows that you care about them as a person, not just a business number. It also demonstrates selflessness - because you’ve done them a small favour without expecting any personal gain.
7. Influence With Social Proof
Have you ever chosen a restaurant based on Yelp reviews? Did you choose your camera because it was the highest ranked model on CNET? Did you plan your last holiday because of some amazing TripAdvisor reviews?
Congratulations, you’ve experienced the power of social proof. Social proof is when our choices are strongly influenced by the choices of those around us (even strangers) - a kind of ‘herd mentality’. If lots of people claim to love something, we’re more likely to love it too.
Several studies have proven how powerful it can be for your marketing efforts. This article by Kissmetrics explains how positive social proof is even more influential than saving money, or getting a better deal elsewhere. People want to follow the crowd; it’s basic human psychology.
But how does social proof impact your client retention rates? It’s actually very simple. If your client gets the feeling that your other clients aren’t happy, they’re more likely to become dissatisfied themselves. This can happen even if they’ve received good service up until that point.
For this reason it’s a good idea to promote all the positive feedback you receive on social media channels. You should also be vigilant for negative comments. If a client has complained about you, try to take the conversation offline as quickly as possible. Respond kindly (be understanding, but also try to make their experience sound like an anomaly). Then try to resolve the issue through private correspondence.
8. Empower with Self-Service
The internet has made our lives easier in recent years. Any information you need is at your fingertips 24/4. This has caused a shift in the mentality of clients and customers. Instead of jumping for the phone, we now prefer to find an answer ourselves. And we expect to be able to do it with minimum hassle.
Luckily companies like Zendesk have made self-service solutions easy to implement. Zendesk is a cloud based customer support platform, which enables quick interactions between customers and business. Businesses can set up knowledge bases, online communities, self-service portals. Clients can either seek their own answers in the help centres or lodge a support ticket if they need direct help. It’s a great way to let your clients get help in the way they prefer, with a range of solutions to choose from.
As always, remember that the personal touch can make a difference. If someone lodges a support ticket you’ll want to judge their preferred response - would this client like a simple email, or are they hoping for someone to reach out through phone? When difficult issues arise it's often a good idea to pick up the phone and call them.
9. Surprise and Delight
Want devoted clients who are happy to sing your praises from the rooftops? The trick is exceeding their expectations in a thoughtful and surprising way.
No-one ever raves to their friends or social media followers about a normal, good experience. Good simply means that expectations were met - they received what they paid for. Being ‘good’ isn’t enough if you want to knock the socks off your client.
Instead you should aim to thrill and delight clients by giving them ‘magic moments’. A magic moment could be anything from a handwritten thank you note, giving your client an umbrella as they leave in the rain, an unexpected follow-up phone call, a little box of chocolates, or just going out of your way to make them smile.
You don’t even need to spend money. Often it’s the tiniest gestures that make a big difference, as explained in HelpScout’s excellent article about ‘The Frugal Wow’. The key is surprise and spontaneity. Figure out how to meet your client’s needs, pinpoint what would make their experience even better, and then surprise them with a random act of kindness.
Not only do magic moments create loyal customers, they can also cause a stir in your community and on the internet. Here’s a list of heartwarming customer service stories that have gone viral online. Many of these gestures didn’t cost the company a dime, but they certainly resulted in a lot of free publicity!
Of course, you have to wait for the right opportunity to create a magic moment. But you can make them happen more regularly by nurturing this within your company culture. Try not to pin down your staff and account managers with too much red tape. If they have to adhere to strict rules when interacting with clients, they’ll have less room to improvise and delight them.
10. Finally... Recover Like a Pro
Like a cat landing on its feet, you need to be an expert at quick recoveries. Whatever industry you’re doing business in, things will inevitably go wrong for your clients or customers at some point. When they’re unhappy you need to rectify the situation...Fast.
The Disney Institute has an awesome policy for fixing negative customer experiences, called H.E.A.R.D. This wonderful strategy can be used by pretty much anyone who interacts with clients or customers on a professional basis.
- Hear: And listen. Let the customer tell their full story, without interruption.
- Empathise: Create an emotional connection. Use phrases so they customer knows that you understand their feelings, e.g. “I completely get it, I would feel the same way.”
- Apologise: Sometimes a genuine apology is all that’s needed. Never underestimate the power of this. Be sincere and take ownership of your mistakes.
- Resolve: It’s critical that you address problems quickly, and offer compensation if needed. Give your employees the authority to make corrective decisions.
- Diagnose: Put blame or guilt aside, and get to the bottom of why the problem occurred. Do your best to fix the process so it doesn’t happen again.
Use this approach to turn any negative client experiences into happy ones - an absolutely essential skill for improving retention.
Now that you’re delighting your existing clients, get out there and find more! If you’re struggling to find new clients, these are 10 mistakes you might be making. And remember to ask these crucial questions before signing on the dotted line.
What are your top tips for client management and improving retention? We’d love to hear them.