Eight Steps to Increase Client Loyalty
“What’s your client retention rate?” I asked a partner at a mid-sized professional services firm. “It should be a lot better than it is,” he replied glumly. “We have very good relationships with our clients. But often, they’ll use us for a project, and then hire a competitor three months later for the next one. I don’t understand it.” I told my friend, only half-jokingly, “As someone who has spent twenty years writing about how to build clients for life, I find your clients’ behavior completely unacceptable!” All kidding aside, I have heard this lament from many professionals.
Broadcast a value-added message on a regular basis.
You need a communications strategy—usually based on multiple platforms—that will simultaneously establish you as a thought leader in your field, add value to important client problems, and put your and your firm’s name in front of clients on a regular basis.
Connect people in your network.
A CFO I interviewed, in speaking about one of his most trusted advisors, told me “They’ve introduced me to several other CFOs in similar-sized companies. That’s been a real value-add in our relationship.” You should always be asking yourself, “Whom can I introduce this person to?”
Follow up around a specific interest.
One CEO told me, “The professionals who do the best job of staying in touch with me identify an issue of interest and then follow up with helpful ideas, articles, book recommendations, and so on.” Busy executives will always make time to read or speak to you about ideas and information they deem directly relevant to their most important goals.
Provide personal help.
“Value” is not just defined as helping someone with a business issue—it can also mean helping them on a personal level. There are unlimited ways you can add “personal value,” but you need to make an effort to reach out and get to know them and their situation.
IBM has done an excellent job of building communities of employees, clients, and collaborators in their markets. They hold online innovation jams as well as in-person regional innovation forums which bring together clients, IBM executives, and third-party thought leaders. Remember, at the center of a community there must be strong value—a center of gravity that pulls members in.
Ernst & Young’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award has become a major annual event that draws thousands of executives. Expertise in entrepreneurship has also now become an important part of the firm’s intellectual capital, and the event puts E&Y in touch with executives throughout the year as they select and evaluate entrants—it’s not just a one-off affair.
Create short, low-labor intensity interactions.
A cup of coffee is a low-risk and appealing way to catch up with an old client, as opposed to a lunch or dinner which may take several hours of time. A short, 15- or 20-minute phone call to catch up is also effective.
Develop a weekly staying-in-touch plan.
Like compound interest, staying-in-touch activities build up and create relationship momentum for you over time. Schedule weekly outreach activities to your “critical few” (20-30 key relationships) that are personal and tailored in nature.