Client Retention and Customer Loyalty
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?
1: What is customer retention?
Your customer retention rate is the percentage of paying customers a business keeps over a period of time. Customer retention encompasses all activities a business engages in to get clients to continue paying for their products or services.
Customer retention involves both customer satisfaction and customer relationship management. We discuss relationship marketing in Chapter 4. This chapter covers customer satisfaction – how to measure it and customer retention strategies to ensure it stays positive!
2: Why is client retention so important?
In Chapter 4 we stressed the fact that it’s 7x more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one. In fact, according to the Ultimate Guide to Customer Loyalty, 25% of customers generate almost 70% of your revenue!
If you’re a small business, losing a few key customers could cripple your company, but a small increase in your customer retention rate can dramatically increase your profits. And if you’re still not convinced, a study by Bain & Company, suggests increasing customer retention rates by just 5% can increase your profits by 25% to 95%. It’s also suggested repeat and loyal customers tend to spend more than first-time customers – yet another reason, if you weren’t convinced already, to hang onto them!
In light of all of this, companies are placing a growing emphasis on retention marketing, recruiting into roles that probably would have been obscure 10 years ago – such as “Chief Happiness Officer” – in an effort to bring more emphasis on nurturing the agency-client relationship.
Signing on new customers (while neglecting your current client base) might provide instant gratification, but the results from a robust customer retention programme can compound over time and shouldn’t be underestimated. According to Marketing Wizdom, “even a tiny change in customer retention can cascade through a business system and over time.” Therefore, plan for the long-term in mind!
What are some client retention strategies you can implement in your business?
3: Effective customer retention strategies
Before you develop a plan to retain your clients, understand what your current retention rate is. If it’s erring on the low side, you’ll know you need to prioritise retention efforts and reduce churn.
Sounds complicated, but here’s an example to illustrate:
You have 20 existing clients, gain 8 new clients during the year and 6 clients churn. Your retention rate = [(Total clients at end of year – No. of clients acquired) / No. of initial clients)] * 100
= [(22 - 8) / 20]*100
70% of your clients stay on, while 30% churn. You need to take action to reverse this trend!
Conduct a thorough “churn audit” to determine similarities or patterns in clients who have left within a particular period. Are there any trends you can determine? Are you making the same mistakes across these projects? Do a survey of the clients’ own reasons for leaving and use the information to categorise clients by their churn reason. This analysis will give you a better understanding of holes in your current retention effort.
Developing a customer retention plan
Step 1: Set client expectations early.
It all comes down to clear and consistent communication with the client – what can they expect from you and what do you expect from them? Set expectations right from the get go, as early as the project kickoff meeting. Keep communication channels open throughout the project, discuss upcoming milestones, deadlines and roadblocks! Always highlight the wins and what you’ve achieved so far, and make use of the digital tools available to you to help you do this!
Step 2: Create a consistent customer experience.
Consistency builds trust. Make sure you’re using the right tools and systems to consistently manage your projects and keep clients in the loop. Use an online project management software like WorkflowMax, and appropriate client collaboration tools and apps. Make sure to provide training and education if it’s needed for staff too! Invoicing is another aspect that should be smooth and consistent. Don't let your client get a nasty surprise at billing time. Send them invoices on time, and itemised in a way that matches your project terminology.
Step 3: Add more value
Sure, you’re already doing great work for your client. But what’s stopping them from finding another agency that promises to do equally great work, and even has a dedicated digital marketing and SEO offering? Is good work good enough to keep your clients?
Here are some things you can do to add extra value to your clients:
Reposition yourself in their minds. As they say, perception is greater than reality. You need to stop thinking of yourself as merely your client’s agency. Instead, view the relationship as a mutually beneficial partnership – you both have a vested interest in the others’ future. We use the term “Shared value” to describe this notion. You’re motivated by more than merely monetary goals.
Give them insight. You have a unique point of view on your client’s world – and the expertise to see things they can’t (which is why they’re paying for your services in the first place!). One way to leverage this is to regularly share your insight with the client. For example, you could publish a trends piece for internal consumption – a kind of eDM that keeps them aware of innovation within their industry and category, as well as of out category! Make an effort to send them appropriate industry articles and news (set up Google Alerts so you’re the first to know!). Your clients will appreciate this “extra effort” and it could spark a discussion that leads towards a new project or workstream.
Step 4: Throw away the script
Try to humanise every interaction instead of resorting to scripted conversations. Tell your account managers to break the script 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.
In WorkflowMax Client Manager you can add multiple levels of detail for your clients. Make use of the nifty Custom Fields feature to do the same too.
Even recording and remembering 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 and potential friend, rather than just a business transaction.
Step 5: Track customer sentiment
Image via asknicely.com
Have you been biting your nails, anxiously wondering if your clients are happy with your services? There’s a simple solution –- just ask them! If you make the process as easy as possible you’ll usually receive plenty of honest feedback. And this is one of the most valuable things you can attain.
Keeping your finger on the pulse of ever-changing customer sentiment helps you understand three major metrics:
- Overall customer satisfaction. How happy are your customers with your services?
- Loyalty. How likely is it that customers will recommend you to others?
- Engagement intent. How likely are customers to engage again within a certain timeframe?
If you don’t have channels or tools for gauging their opinions it’s time to get some! First determine what kind of feedback you what to get. For example: are you interested in finding out the client’s willingness to recommend your services? Do you want to collect short reviews to publish externally? Perhaps you want a deeper insight into the general vibe surrounding your brand or see if you can spot at-risk clients? Or maybe you want answers to specific questions instead?
Once you know the overall goal or objective, you can choose the right tool to help you achieve your goal.
- Goal 1: Willingness to recommend
Customer feedback is most effective when it's collected in real time (and ideally can be tracked over time). Use a tool to measure your agency’s Net Promoter Score.
- Goal 2: Reviews and ratings
Google Forms makes it super easy to send customised surveys to your customer base, as does the more well known SurveyMonkey.
- Goal 3: Social monitoring
Hootsuite is an extremely popular free social media listening tool and covers multiple social networks, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, Foursquare and Google+. Other options include Lithium(captures data on billions of interactions each month, giving you an indication of the voice of the customer and trending topics) and Social Mention.
- Goal 4: Direct feedback
There are multiple ways of doing this – you could, for instance, send out an anonymous email survey periodically, promote a feedback form on your website, or create a social media poll.
Conduct a thorough “churn audit” to determine similarities or patterns in clients who have left within a particular period. Are there any trends you can determine? Are you making the same mistakes across these projects? Do a survey of the clients’ own reasons for leaving and use the information to categorise clients by their churn reason. This analysis will give you a better understanding of holes in your current retention efforts.
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.
Step 6: Show them some love
Client appreciation is a simple and powerful tool. Unfortunately it’s often overlooked, except on occasions like Christmas and Easter, when out of some misplaced sense of obligation we gift our clients the most boring, generic token we can find. Great way to inspire loyalty right?
Check out Part 4 for some great ideas on client appreciation.
Step 7: Build a robust loyalty programme.
A loyalty programme is about elevating customer experience. 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 clients.
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.
Step 8: Create a roadmap for the future
Proactively show the client you’re committed to the relationship and want it to progress. One way of doing this is by creating a roadmap for the future, i.e. a “plan” for what your joint future looks like. Be sure to get the client’s input, plot the relationship trajectory against a timeline and revise it on a regular basis.
Step 9: Let them go if they’re not right for you
It’s probably one of the hardest things to accept, but not every client will be the right match for your agency – and that’s okay. Regardless of the outcome, try to give them a great sendoff, graciously thank them for their business (every client still is a good source of referral business!) and if appropriate, invite them to join your loyalty/rewards programme.
4: How to show your clients appreciation
1: Ask them good questions.
Be frank, but respectful.
Do surface topics they may not have considered before.
Do aim to provoke thought and different perspectives.
Here are some sample questions you could ask:
- What do you think this project will improve with regards to your business?
- How does the work we’re doing align to your goals / values / mission?
- Where do you see your business in three years? In five years?
- If there were 3 things you could change about your business, what would it be?
Get more great ideas in this article by Invision: difficult questions to ask your client.
2: Tell them what they could be doing better
You’ll understand a lot more about the client after you number 1. Now, What can the client be doing better? You won’t find a lot of agencies willing to do this, but this kind of honesty goes a long way to establish trust.
But first, a few watch-outs:
Don’t just drop the bombshell into their lap and disappear.
Try to phrase your comments nicely and take the time to talk your clients through them. This will also reinforce the notion that you’ve actually invested time and effort to think your advice through.
For any problem you raise, have a comprehensive solution ready!
Make sure you can substantiate what you’ve said with research or industry experience. You can bet the client is going to challenge your advice, so it’s better to be ready!
3: Upskill them in something they’d love
Now this is truly an awesome (and selfless) gift. Self-education is something most people would like, but usually ends up low on the priority list as time scarcity and the onslaught of paying work takes over.
The good news is that giving the gift of education is easier than ever these days! Whether it’s a short course or an individual class, depending on what your budget is (or what you think your client would like), make sure to check out the plethora of options available. For example:
Lots of highly respected universities around the world have open education courses too so it’s worth checking whether there is something that fits your client’s needs.
4: Give them a call
When was the last time you called up a customer or client without an agenda? In the age of emails, online comms and personal assistants, a personal call can be a great way of reconnecting with your clients, catching them off-guard and giving them some warm fuzzies. Everyone loves to be genuinely remembered right?
Use the Client Manager feature in your project management software to stay on top of your contacts. In WorkflowMax – whether you’re using the web app or mobile, you can make contact with clients directly from within the app, saving time and hassle!
5: Invite them out to an event
No one said you couldn’t be friends with your clients right? While this is a slightly more traditional gift for sure, don’t underestimate its power in winning over your client. The more personalised, the better!
Here are some great ideas:
Corporate box tickets to a sporting event (good for entertainment, networking).
Entry to your local TEDx event (good for inspiration, education, networking).
A pass to a creative conference like Semi-Permanent, 99U and/or the associated workshops (good for inspiration, creativity, networking).
Readers and Writers Festival (good for inspiration, creativity, education)
6: Offer to do something pro-bono for them
Everyone loves getting free stuff and your client isn’t any different. But doing work for free is always a bit contentious. It only works if you’re clear on the parameters.
Treat the “freebie” like any other project, creating a detailed scope and timelines. That way if the client asks for more you’ll be able to back yourself – it wasn’t included in the original scope!
Choose the project carefully – some jobs will be a lot more straightforward than others. For example, are you offering up a website redesign vs. a 30 minute expert consultation? The worst thing you can do is bite off more than you can chew! Always consider the time and costs associated with the job.
7: Donate on their behalf
If you’re feeling particularly generous, donating towards a cause that both you and client have in common can be a great way of bonding over a mutual interest. Plus it generates feel good vibes! Let your client pick a charitable organisation close to their heart and match their donation.
8: Give them the gift of humour
This one is my favourite, maybe because I love stand-up comedy, but also because we rarely have many opportunities to laugh these days. Want to shake off a particularly tricky project with your client? De-stress outside the office? Check out local stand-up comedy clubs in your area.
9: Indulge in “Sweat-working”
Okay, I know you’re thinking “Gross! I don’t want to see my clients sweaty and in lycra!” but exercising produces endorphins, that happy “rush of blood to the head” feeling. In fact today.com states, more and more people are “connecting with clients over a walk, run or fitness class”. The post-workout buzz will only do your business meeting favours.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
A BoxFit class where you can release your aggro! (even better if these are joint frustrations!)
A 5K run. Sign up for an event and slowly work up to a 10K or 12K as well.
A Spin class. Even if you and your client don’t go to the same gym, a lot of places will let you bring a guest along.
Some yoga therapy. You might not get much talking done here but you’ll feel super relaxed afterwards and probably be able to have a super chill catchup, free of stress afterwards!
10: Offer a great read
Gifting a book symbolises giving knowledge is a beautiful, considered present – whether it is a Kindle e-gift or a paperback! Not sure where to start? We’ve compiled a few handy booklists on the WorkflowMax blog:
6 Books By Inspiring Women To Add To Your Booklist These Holidays
5: Building a customer-orientated culture
Lots of businesses struggle to develop a contagious high-energy culture that motivates and rallies their employees, but building a great customer-centric workplace is where a great client experience starts. If your staff are motivated, happy and engaged, they will project this externally. Loyal employees are more likely to generate loyal clients.
If your staff 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, no matter where they are.
If you cultivate happiness, pride and passion within your company, it will naturally start to flow outwards. 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 too. When staff are being hired and fired in droves, 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!
Here are some 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 them 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.
Live the company values.
Everyone who works for you should be united by a common story, mission, and purpose. Reinforce these beliefs at every opportunity. And as management you should also walk the talk!
Assign a Customer Champion.
You can even rotate the role around the team so everyone gets to put the “customer hat” on. Whoever is in the role will be in charge of coming up with new ways of representing the customers’ interests to the wider team.
Surface real customer stories (at every opportunity).
This will help your team understand the tangible impact they’re having. Here at WorkflowMax, we love featuring User Stories on the website (keen to be featured? Get in touch!) and Xero does a great job of doing of showcasing their customers on Instagram, their blog and Youtube channel.
Actually bring the customer in.
How many team members have the opportunity to work with the client directly? Host a session where you get to workshop the problem with your customer, or have an open panel/forum where staff have opportunities to ask questions and learn more, firsthand!
Here’s an example two Xero customers came to talk to Xero a few weeks ago:
Build a community.
Let your clients and staff know there is a place to share the love and connect with others who have a similar beliefs and values. Facebook Groups are a good starting point for a digital community, or if you prefer offline, check out Meetup.com where people can create physical meetups about whatever they’re passionate about.
Choose your projects.
Give your team members the chance to work with clients they and projects they are passionate about. You'll get better results and happier staff by aligning team members with projects that match their interests and career goals.
Part 6: Closing the loop
Set yourself up for success by ensuring you’re “closing the loop” with every project or client, i.e. share your client’s successes! Capture your client’s story in the form of case studies and testimonials. These should be proudly displayed on your website, and showcase the great work you’ve done. If you have tangible metrics, make sure to include them – what was the ROI on a particular campaign or what results did you achieve for the customer? Make sure you have a dedicated promotion strategy to amplify the reach of the case studies (tap into the network effect of your clients’ too!).
What makes a great customer case study?
The objective of a good case study is to convert potential customers – and celebrate your clients’ successes publicly. Here are some tips on what makes a great case study:
1. Collaborate with the client
Find clients who are advocates of your business (use your findings from the NPS survey and customer sentiment research we talked about earlier). These clients will be the ones who are more willing to contribute their time and energy in the first place. Make sure you get their permission before showcasing any work, and be mindful of not showing any sensitive information. Save time by sending out a questionnaire with a generic template and depending on the type of case study or level of detail required, schedule an interview for more in-depth material.
2. Easy to find
If you want potential customers to convert, you need to make sure they’re able to find your case studies easily! Whether you surface the stories on your homepage or a designated “Case Studies” section on your navigation, ensure you’ve thought about the new visitor journey. Are you tagging your case studies so they're searchable? Are they SEO friendly?
3. Qualify the client at the start
This will help with point number two. Use words to provide context, such as "global corporate", "local startup" etc. What kind of industry are they in? The size of the business will be important to provide a benchmark for metrics and the success of the campaign, while the location will help prospects identify whether you can help their own business – wherever they are!
4. Show the results
Putting numbers against your case study provides a more tangible benchmark of success. Make sure you're using relevant metrics, not vanity metrics just for the sake of it! For instance, thanks to your project, the client saw a 15% increase in website visitors, and a 12% in signups.
5. Formatting and presentation
The case studies should have a reasonably long shelf life. You want to showcase a beautiful piece of work that both you and your clients can be proud of. While there is a tradeoff here between “paid work” and the long term benefit, try to treat each case study as a mini project in itself. Let the team who worked on the project hero that particular case study – the designers can be responsible for visuals and what the end product looks like, whereas the other team members should work to communicate the strategy, thinking and results of the project.
6. Give it some structure
Make sure your case studies have a logical flow. State the challenge upfront, next what was done or the objective of the campaign, and end on the tangible outcomes. Use clear headings so the case study is skimmable.