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.
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.
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.