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10 things you can do to keep your clients from ditching you

If your client base starts to drop off, your business could be in big trouble. Here are some tactics that will help you build -- and keep -- a loyal clientele.

Your clients are your bread and butter. This is true whether you're a one-person team or you work within a multinational company that has thousands of internal/external clients. No matter your situation, one critical aspect of the business is client retention. Without clients, the bills don't get paid. Naturally, clients come and go. But as businesspeople, we must do everything we can to keep the clients we have.

Sometimes, that task is a no-brainer. Your client needs you, you need your client, and you have a good working relationship. Other times, however, it's not quite that black and white. As technology evolves, so to do our client relationships. And as those relationships evolve, we must sometimes change the way we think. Here are some tips I hope will help you retain your clients.

1: Remember that clients are not commodities

Your clients do not want to be considered nothing more than a means to an end. They are not there to supply you with income -- they are there to do their own particular jobs and do them as well and as easily as they can. You need to see those clients as people first. This will directly affect how you communicate and work with them. Ultimately, your clients only want their technology to work for them, not against them, and you are the person responsible for that. As they respect you, you too should respect them.

2: Offer free service when something goes wrong

It's inevitable: Murphy's law will kick in at some point. When it does, besides quickly solving the problem, it's best to offer the client something extra -- even if it's in the form of a "coupon" for a free half-hour of service. That free half-hour will pay off big-time in keeping that client happy. Not only that, but few services are going to actually require only 30 minutes.

3: Check up on clients

Clients like to know that you want to make sure things are okay. This doesn't mean call them weekly, but maybe call them monthly to see if everything is going as expected. This is especially important after a visit. Call back after a couple of days to make sure what you did is actually working properly. When your clients see that you "get it" -- that their jobs can't continue properly if their technology doesn't work -- they will see you in a more positive light.

4: Go above and beyond

This is especially true if you're a one-person show or a small mom-and-pop size shop. If you do the least work necessary to complete a job, you won't be hired again. This goes double if you're a small shop serving small businesses. These types of business rely on support that goes beyond what is necessary to keep them running smoothly. And when you treat your clients in such a way, word will quickly spread -- bringing you more referrals than you can handle.

5: Be honest, always

There are going to be times when you simply don't know what is wrong or how to fix something. Be honest about it. Don't lie to your customers. Eventually, the truth will come out in the wash and you will find yourself backpedaling to save your skin. Avoid this mess altogether by adopting the policy of being upfront. This will be particularly helpful if a client is hacked and the FBI gets involved. (This actually happened recently.)

6: Run customer loyalty specials

Loyal customers deserve to be rewarded. There are those customers that have been around for a long time -- maybe even your first-ever client is still on board. Make sure they know you appreciate their business by offering them loyalty incentives or specials you don't offer all clients.

7: Take the time to get to know the client

This may seem a bit on the creepy side, but clients like to know that you're interested in them as people and not just as a bankroll. I don't mean invite yourself to their children's christening, bat mitzvahs, or family gatherings. But find out if a client has a favorite sports team or hobby so you can comfortably chat with them while you're waiting for that SBS server to reboot. When clients are comfortable with you, they won't mind you being around as much.

8: Consider your clients an investment

A while ago, I was given some of the best advice I've ever received. I was told not to look at clients as a single payment but as a much larger investment that will last a span of years. This helps me understand what those clients may actually be worth and not look at them as a single stop. So instead of an "hourly" client, each client turned into a yearly investment. This has paid off more than any piece of advice I've ever been given.

9: Keep your clients informed of important company milestones

This is a bit self-serving, but it goes a long way toward impressing clients -- and impressed clients are more likely to return. These milestones can be specific anniversaries in business, new certifications, a new baby, a new employee, expansion of your company, etc. When you make your clients aware of the milestone, include them in on the good news in ways like "Thanks to outstanding clients like you, my business is celebrating its fifth year!"

10: Stay on top of issues

This can be a bit of a challenge because it requires you to be proactive in how you work. If you do a job but can't complete a particular aspect of it at the time (for whatever reason), make sure you can complete the work as soon as possible. If a client requires a follow-up or you need to order software, do it quickly. In other words, do not drag your feet. You don't not want your clients to drag their feet on payment, so return the same courtesy to them and stay on top of the job.

More tips?

There are tons of ways to help ensure client retention -- and all of them must be practiced constantly and done with the care and respect your clients deserve. If you pay enough attention to this detail, your clients will remain your clients for as long as you are in business. Do you have other strategies to add to this list? Share your advice with other TechRepublic members.

Additional resources

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

10 comments
santeewelding
santeewelding

I passed over the double negative without noticing it. I was caught up entirely in the young man's predicate...

owen
owen

#4 especially! I'm a small shop and am always competing against large firms. Smothering my clients with service/attention usually causes them to trust me far more than a larger, impersonal IT firm, and that will often more than make up for whatever services they can offer that I don't. Even when some of my clients have grown to where they legitimately need a larger shop, they almost always continue to use me in some capacity, if for nothing else than to keep an eye on the new folks.

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

These rules also work for your vendors, especially if you work for Government. Treat your vendors with respect. You may or may not always buy their product, but let them know you consider them, especially if they provide exceptional goods and services. I state this as the obvious because where I used to work, the vendors were treated like crap. For example, the IT department went to outsource IBM Mainframe services for their Payroll / Personnel and Budget / Finance systems. The IT Director yelled at IBM on the conference call when she didn't like what IBM was saying and insisted that they were going to get their prices down or the government entity wouldn't do business any longer (a dangerous proposition, not just for the Mainframe but the collection of Blade Servers for GIS). Bids went out. What the government entity didn't tell the vendors is that they never intended to buy the services -- they were just checking to see what was offered. The apparent successful was undeclared declared, but that was it and was left hanging with no follow up. The vendor finally found out and was determined (after a little language we would not want to repeat here) NEVER TO BUSINESS AGAIN, NO MATTER HOW BAD THEY MIGHT NEED THE BUSINESS. The irony is that there just wasn't enough money involved in any of IT to make it worth anyone's while to put themselves in a position of being pushed around. As you might have guessed, IBM never bothered to bid. I was on vacation through the RFP. They RIFfed me, figuring the system will run itself for the next seven years. I'm pretty sure, that no one will help them if they ever get into trouble and their reputation is shot -- even with potential employees. No one will even apply there unless they are extremely desperate. So I say again: Treat vendors with the same consideration and integrity you would your customers, unless you really don't care about ever getting anything but rubbish from now on.

Old Timer 8080
Old Timer 8080

Don't use the advice from the majority of bloggers on TR. Really. A writer for 12 years and using a double negative???? #12 Offer kickbacks..it seems to work in the rest of the world outside the US...

JayhawkJoe
JayhawkJoe

"You don???t not want your clients to drag their feet on payment..." I definitely don't not want that !?!?

higglepiggle
higglepiggle

1) Flatter your clients 2) make them feel good about employing you 3) dangle future career enhancement by using you / opening doors elsewhere 4) offer golf trips / other non-cash inducements has worked in big co's where i have worked! ;-)

Luke G.
Luke G.

"You don???t not want your clients to drag their feet on payment," I guess we don't share the same sentiment on this topic. ;) Good article otherwise! I've found point #4 to be especially important. To truly be proactive with your clients you have to be able to offer them what they need before they know they need it. Tough, but important.

Shadeburst
Shadeburst

I agree with everything in this article. My first two rules of business are (1) Find a customer who will give you profit and (2) Give your customer something that nobody else does. F'example I always clean up scrupulously after doing installations or repairs.

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

This applies to all service related industries, not just to IT.

Scott Hennes
Scott Hennes

A corollary to kickbacks is the ever-popular referral bonus. Every time one of my clients brings me a new paying customer I give the original client a discount on their next bill. Makes them feel valued and also adds a little incentive for them to employ my services again.

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