A business is only as good as the clients it serves, and no business gets far after losing the clients it has. The key to success is building relationships that go beyond one-time projects and provide value to these clients on a consistent, ongoing basis.
Here are some tips for developing productive and enduring relationships:
There’s no such thing as over-communicating
Clients depend on you to keep them informed, so make regular communications with them one of your top priorities. This includes updating them on various projects, as well as letting them know about any bumps in the road you encounter.
Be a useful resource
The more value you offer, the more a client comes to depend on you. Don’t hesitate to share information clients may find useful, whether or not it benefits you in any way. In the same respect, refrain from bombarding them with irrelevant news or gossip, and don’t bother them with offers you know won’t likely interest them.
Be honest at all times
No long-term relationship survives if the two parties aren’t honest with each other. In addition to providing a product or service your client needs, your chief responsibility is to be open and honest in all of your dealings. Clients are smart; they know when they’re being conned or manipulated. Even telling a “little white lie” about why you failed to return a phone call can damage your reputation. And without a reputation for integrity, you’ll never be able to cultivate the kind of long-term relationships your business depends on.
Always meet your deadlines
“Your word is your bond” should be a guiding principle in all of your client relationships. When you say you’re going to do something, there should be no questions in your client’s mind that this might not be true. By committing to a deadline, you relieve the client of the worry that a vital product or service might not be ready in time to meet his or her needs. That freedom from worry builds trust and clients prefer sticking with a business they can trust, rather than waste time looking for someone else.
No one likes to be surprised when their livelihood is at stake. Just as you pledge to always follow through on your commitments, keep clients in the loop on all developments affecting the project they’ve hired you to complete. Some businesses provide online project sites which clients can access on their own, in order to monitor project development. Whatever your preference, don’t hide an unexpected glitch from the client and then regretfully spring it on them late in the game.
Think of clients as more than just “clients”
A client is more than just a “revenue stream.” Just like you, each one has his or her likes and dislikes, preferences for how to do business, issues and concerns. The more you can identify with a client as a person, rather than as a chance to make money, the stronger the bond between you will grow.
Reward your loyal clients
If you’re fortunate enough to have established a long-term client relationship, it’s easy to grow complacent and to focus your energy on securing new clients. That’s a big mistake. Clients should be honored for their loyalty and receive the preferential treatment they deserve. Reward these individuals (or businesses) with exclusive discounts, “reward program” offers, etc. Be free with expressions of gratitude and look for new ways to say “Thank you for your valued business.”
Have a vision of partnership
If you’re cultivating the relationship in all the right ways (while of course, providing the products or services your client needs), you can work on developing a partnership with the client—something that goes beyond individual project development. A client who determines you’re in it for the long haul, and that you’re actively motivated to help him or her succeed, soon begins to see you as more than just a vendor or supplier. You become a partner in their enterprise and someone they grow to value today, tomorrow and in the years to come.