If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you probably had that panicky moment when you wondered if anyone would ever pay for your product or service.
Fast forward to now: You worked hard to make it happen, and now you have a whole list of clients.
Excellent—but the hard work isn’t over yet. You need to ensure that your clients stay satisfied, loyal to your business, and continue to use your services over and over again. In short, you need a plan to keep clients happy.
Rather than rely on the same tired cliches of client satisfaction, I decided to turn to the experts. What do successful entrepreneurs and business owners believe is their secret to success when it comes to satisfied clients and strong client relationships?
Make it personal
“People buy from people they know, like, and trust,” says Louis Altman, CEO of GlobaFone. “When you get into personal details, the relationship surpasses the business transaction.”
Altman shared several interactions with his clients which demonstrated the huge importance of a personal business-client connection: “One client and I were reflecting on the fact that when we met, our kids were nine and 10, now both in college; another client always, always, always ends her calls or emails with, ‘be safe on your motorcycle,’” he says.
For Altman, these personal connections have been key to establishing and maintaining long-lasting, happy relationships with his clients. “When you find out about your clients, they get to know you, and when the get to know you (if they like you), they will stay with you,” he says. “One of our oldest clients—a Fortune 100—has been with us since Y2K.”
To create these relationships, Altman’s advice is simple: “Invest in the relationship, even if it makes you vulnerable, and see how your client relationships change,” he says.
Make time for face-to-face meetings
The reality is that in plenty of industries, you can conduct most of your business via phone, internet, and social media.
So, is it appropriate to conduct all of your business via a tech medium, and avoid meeting in person?
While it is doable, if you want happy clients who’ll stick around for the long haul, it might not be the best course of action. In fact, some argue that the key to keeping clients happy is found in making time for in-person meetings.
Evan Harris, CEO of SD Equity Partners argues that meeting in person has contributed to his successful client relationships. “In this digital age, you can’t underestimate the power of meeting face-to-face with clients,” he says. “While it’s quick and easy to send an email, an in-person meeting or even a phone call adds a personal touch that keeps clients coming back year after year.”
Celebrate important moments with small, thoughtful gifts
While plenty of entrepreneurs are used to the idea of giving gifts to their clients on certain key holidays, Bryan Koontz, CEO of Guidefitter, recommends thinking outside the box when it comes to gift giving.
“As a small business, we find gifts celebrating business anniversaries to be the most impactful as they provide a nice surprise for the recipient,” he says. “Gifts ranging from a bottle of wine to food baskets are sent to our customers on the anniversary of our first date of business.”
Koontz advocates for gift-giving to commemorate a “business relationship anniversary” or “just because,” as opposed to in connection with a specific holiday, as these gifts are more unexpected and memorable. “As everyone knows, receiving a ‘just because’ gift can brighten someone’s day and even week,” he says. “We aim to show love to our customers through recognition of our ‘first-date-of-business’ anniversaries.”
Keep pricing hassle-free (and don’t undercharge)
It can sometimes be difficult to know your worth, and you might be inclined to keep clients happy by keeping your prices low. However, this can create more stress down the road, especially if a project becomes more involved than you’d originally planned, or changes in scope.
With this in mind, Quinn Zeda, CEO of Zeda Labs, suggests a straightforward approach to pricing: “My success secret is to charge enough money so that I don’t have to nickel and dime my clients,” she says.
How does this impact Zeda’s relationship with her clients? “If they want to change something, I can usually just do it, unless it’s a big drama and requires a huge pivot,” she says. “I don’t have to go back with a change order and can switch things out as long as they are in the same ballpark.”
Zeda has found that this helps her keep her clients happy and satisfied, as it keeps everyone stress-free in the face of the unexpected.“This makes it hassle-free for the client, because sometimes you don’t know until you are deep into the project what is needed,” she says. Zeda also echos Koontz, and advocates for sending small, unexpected gifts—a nice gesture that is more within reach if you’re charging enough for your services!
Get on the same page from day one
Conflicting expectations are a recipe for a disastrous relationship with your new client. After all, you can produce excellent work—but if it isn’t what the client was after, it will still fall flat.
To combat this, Karl Sakas, Agency Consultant at Sakas & Company, has created a “pre-kickoff survey,” which can be given before you begin working with your new client.
“In the survey, ask each stakeholder what they expect from the work you’re doing,” says Sakas. “Ask them how they define a successful project, how many hours a week they plan to be involved, and how things went the last time they did this type of work.”
With this information, you can cross compare your client’s expectations with what you are prepared to deliver. Sakas suggests integrating these surveys as part of the sales process, to help determine if the relationship is a good fit. “If they are, we can dig deeper,” he says. “If they aren’t, I can refer them elsewhere. This helps me focus on building long-term relationships with clients who are a great mutual fit.”
Listen to your customers and express gratitude for their business
When Elizabeth Gibson, CCO for ezLandlordForms, considered the key to client happiness, it came down to showing an ongoing appreciation for their client base.
“The answer was in the reply given by one of our customer support employees,” she says. “It heaped thanks on the client for her loyalty and for her positive review. And I realized, that’s our ‘success secret’: In the quest to continue expansion, to grow from a handful to thousands of new customers each month, we haven’t stopped expressing gratitude.”
What does this look like, on a practical level? “We answer every review, email, and voicemail, and we take as much time as our client needs,” says Gibson. This personalized show of appreciation resonates with clients, as it clearly shows that you’re grateful for their business and prioritize them as clients. “People appreciate that we haven’t grown too big or to busy to listen to their concerns,” says Gibson.
Don’t create too much separation between yourself and your business identity
Web designers, developers, writers, marketing specialists, freelancers of all types—for those of us whose “business” is essentially delivering a skill set, it can be difficult to know where to draw the line between “business identity” and you as a person.
Your first inclination might be, understandably, to create as professional a persona as possible. However, when it comes to creating happy, long-lasting client relationships, it’s a good idea keep it personal, and don’t let your business persona overshadow you.
“From the very beginning of a relationship I want the client see the real me,” says Michael Frank, Managing Partner of Niche Marketing & Promotions. “I am my company and my company is me.”
Frank does this by creating a personal connection with his clients where they get to know each other as people, rather than only focusing on business. “I do not come across like a salesmen, an owner, or somebody simply interested in their business,” he says. “I want them to get to know me. Because once they know who I am as a person, they will begin to trust what I can offer them as a business.”
This foundation of trust has helped Frank establish a strong, loyal client base. “My clients need to know that I am always there for them, and that I will treat their business as if it is my only responsibility at that time,” he says. “Every client is given equal attention and valued exactly the same—regardless whether they are our ‘biggest’ client or ‘smallest’ client, or oldest client or newest client.”
Truly show them you care about providing a great solution to their problem
Sandy Geroux, founder and CEO of WOWplace International, shows her clients in “a million tiny ways” that she cares about their businesses as much as they do.
“For example, a CEO once asked me a question during traditional work hours,” she says. “We discussed it then, but as I was driving home that evening, I thought of something urgent I needed to add. So, I called him from my car and asked if he had a few minutes to discuss it. His first response was, ‘You’re driving home after a very long day with all of us—and you’re still thinking about us and what we need?’”
Geroux’ dedication to solving her client’s problem—even beyond the scope of traditional work hours she’d devoted to the client—left a great impression. “He was amazed (and thrilled) that I cared enough to call him right away, even after hours,” she says. “That was the year they increased my contract fee, asked me to do more work with other departments, and then signed a 2-year contract for more work with them! All because I cared more about taking care of them than sticking to a traditional timetable.”
At the end of the day, when it comes to keeping clients happy, going above and beyond to provide the perfect solution for your clients (and showing them your commitment to solving their problem) is key.
Learn how to speak the “language” of each individual client
At the risk of negating earlier advice, the reality is that each client relationship is unique, and should be approached as such. This means that for each of your clients, you may find that you need to tailor your communication and work style to suit their unique needs and tastes.
Mindi Rosser of Mindi Rosser Marketing focuses on the importance of individual attention and care for each client—which sometimes means listening as much to what they aren’t saying a what they are saying.
“I feel that my ‘success secret’ is a gift for truly listening to the client: hearing what they are not telling you and picking up on subtle clues. It’s really a strong sense of emotional intelligence—discovering how to speak each client’s love language,” she says.
Having well-developed emotional intelligence enables Rosser to create relationships built on more than just an exchange of services. “A loyal customer is not made through the deliverables, the products, or the metrics, though those things do matter,” says Rosser. “Instead, it’s making the client or customer feel like you care, like you are paying attention to what matters to them, and are making consistent progress on initiatives or improving the products they use. If you can convince them of those things, you are golden.”
Don’t undervalue the role of friendship in a business relationship
When it comes to the secret to keeping clients happy, marketing expert and business coach Peterson Teixeira emphasizes “the ability to treat them as a person, as a friend, instead of a money sign.”
For Teixeira, treating his clients as friends is essential. “People like to deal with those who understand human needs,” he says. Whether those needs are worries related to their business to “talking about life while in a call about a business deal,” Teixeira treats and values his clients as friends, and he also gives his clients a chance to offer their opinions, as it “makes them feel part of the brand.”
“The more you look like a friend, the easier it is to run your business,” says Teixeira. “That’s my success secret.”
Be honest and transparent (and don’t forget the humor)
“Maintaining a great client relationship is simple, and it all boils down to being a decent, honest person,” says Amy Kilvington, freelance copywriter and content specialist at Naturally Content.
Sometimes, something as simple as giving clients a glimpse “behind the curtain” can help increase their loyalty and happiness with your services. “I’ve yet to encounter a client who doesn’t appreciate my transparency, reliability, and the quality of my work,” says Kilvington. “Honesty is underrated, especially in the marketing industry, and many of my clients find it refreshing to work with someone that just knuckles down and gets results.”
Kilvington also touches on the importance of humor in creating a happy client relationship: “In short, all you have to do is deliver the goods—and it helps if you can make them laugh,” she says.
What do you think is the most important thing you can do to keep clients happy? Which methods have you found successful in your own business?
Leave me a comment and let me know—or reach out to me @BrianaMorgaine.