If your business relationships are going to work, your clients have to like you. If they feel comfortable with you, you’ll be on solid ground; a good rapport reduces the likelihood that you’ll get into difficult client situations. When you invest in a relationship — any relationship — the value of that relationship increases and it becomes more likely to bear fruit. So, once you’ve found awesome clients who are fond of you and your work, go the extra mile to ensure their loyalty and esteem. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Don’t Neglect Them
No one likes to feel forgotten. Your clients want to know they can rely on you, now and in the future. Sometimes we forget to stay in touch with clients, especially if their project is a content management system and they can update it themselves once it’s been launched. Upon delivery and during the first stages of CMS troubleshooting, communication between the web professional and the client usually fades. This is less of a problem when you are maintaining the website for the customer, because you have to be in touch about every update.
Be in touch with your clients a couple of times per year at least, regardless of the type of work you did for them. Holidays provide a good opportunity to show customers that you remember them, and you can combine a couple of work-related matters with a friendly "best wishes" email or phone call. Ask about their current projects and whether they have needs or problems. You can advertise your services: suggest a website or logo redesign, a holiday newsletter or the addition of certain features to their website (a banner, new call-to-action buttons, etc.).
Occasionally contacting your clients will remind them that you’re still active and available, but above all, it will make them feel that you enjoyed working for them — enough to send a greeting and to touch base.
2. Predict Their Needs
Large companies have their own analysts to predict marketing needs as well as CTOs and IT managers to make sure their technology is up to date and scales with their demands.
Small and local businesses, on the other hand, rely a lot on their own experience and usually don’t have the luxury of having expert assistance from specialists. For example, the restaurant next door might need an advertising leaflet and know it, and their current design might look unprofessional or lack certain things that would attract more customers. The same goes for their website — if they even have one.
Working online makes one aware of what clients need to enhance their web presence. You can suggest marketing ideas that a customer couldn’t think of on their own: if you’re creating a website for someone, ask whether they’d like a newsletter or a mailing list, too. If you think their business will grow, propose adding an e-commerce service. If you’re designing a new logo for someone and you notice that their website looks unprofessional, let them know that redesigning it could help — and that you can do it for them. They’ll see that you take their advertising strategy seriously, and a thoughtful response will speak to your professionalism and experience.
3. Follow Their Activity
Sticking to your client’s work schedule will help you to both keep in touch with them and predict their future needs — so it’s tied to the two practices we just went over.
Keep abreast of their activities and you’ll learn valuable information about how their work is going and whether you can do anything to increase their exposure, whether by implementing new services or enhancing current ones. Check whether the services you’ve offered so far have been helpful in attracting customers and getting positive reviews.
Track your client’s business activity indirectly — via social networks, for example — or directly by contacting them and asking about their progress. A combination of the two is optimal; it’s accommodating and not intrusive. Also check the overall activity of the market sector your client operates in; get a general idea of current trends so that you can contribute to business conversations.
Nothing’s better than throwing a couple of new ideas into a discussion about market status or business ventures. Once you learn to speak the language, terminology included, they’ll feel more at ease when expressing ideas and concerns, and they’re bound to pay more attention to your marketing suggestions (as opposed to seeing you as someone who’s great at producing web masterpieces but can’t relate to their daily reality).
4. Don’t Make Them Wait
Ever been disappointed when you were expecting, say, an important package that had a specific date of when it would arrive? That’s how your clients feel when they send you a request (an update, question or suggestion) and you reply a few days later. Sometimes we slack a little after delivering the goods, especially if we’re the ones maintaining a website.
If someone sends an update to be posted on the website, upload it within 48 hours — that’s the general rule. A similar rule exists for customers who face technical difficulties: if a client contacts you by phone more than once within a few hours, it means they are going through what they consider to be an emergency, and you should get in touch with them as soon as possible.
To avoid being tardy with service and replies, predefine acceptable waiting times for your clients. You can either detail the matter in an FAQ page or prepare specific guidelines for each of your clients or services. Let clients know what is considered "urgent." For example, when I maintain a conference website, updates about the program or the registration process are considered urgent, whereas a new photo of the conference location can be posted at any time. Urgent updates should be posted within 24 hours. For less urgent updates, decide on appropriate timeframes and let your clients know what they are. Tech issues can be approached the same way.
In any case, let your clients know you’ve received their request, and estimate a time for its completion. Then, when you’ve managed their request, let them know it’s finished and suggest that they look over the result. If you’ve uploaded some news to their website, for example, send a confirmation email that includes a link to the new content.
5. Grant Them Privileges
Awesome clients should be rewarded for their cooperation and constructive criticism. If you’re interested in establishing long-term relationships, inform your clients of the ongoing benefits that come from collaborating with you.
Offer discounts to those who choose your services a second time.
Be understanding and flexible with your pricing and payment methods for clients who have always been punctual with payments and trusting of your ideas.
Offer freebies to customers who have stayed with you for a long period of time — perhaps a new banner, a website enhancement (like a new design for the photo gallery) or a free domain name renewal for the new year (it’s timely and low-cost).
Let them know they’re at the top of your list and that you cater to their needs first. Appreciating good customers will benefit your relationships, build trust and serve as a marketing gesture.
No matter how much you offer, sometimes things won’t turn out the way you planned. Don’t become embittered if a loyal client chooses a new service provider; maybe they want something you can’t offer. Maybe your services could use some more sparkle. If a relationship with a client goes sour, even though you’ve done your best, perhaps it’s because you’ve spoiled them — or perhaps they didn’t deserve those perks in the first place. Rethink the criteria by which you choose clients.
No matter how vitriolic a client turns out to be, don’t unleash your wrath on other clients. If you can’t handle your disappointment or channel it appropriately, you’ll miss opportunities for collaboration. You’re allowed to be a little cautious, but remember that the client has to trust you and your skills first; don’t be afraid to show off your best attributes and client-management tactics.
What’s your suggestion for making clients fall in love with your services? Have you tried any of these tactics? How did it turn out?