Client retention and referrals are the best ways to build a good client list. While working with clients new and long-term, the mission of every consulting professional is to provide the highest quality service, exceed client expectations and create the conditions for a long relationship and the receipt of referrals. Recently, one of my clients did exactly that and referred to me his close friend and colleague. I was thrilled!
Take your first step on the path towards client retention by fulfilling, if not exceeding, your client's expectations, as noted. Nurture the relationship by considering how you might be useful to the client's business interests, whether or not you are currently working on a project with him / her. For example, if you happen upon an article that you would expect to be relevant to your client, send the link. Pass along the details of a conference or workshop that might be of interest, to show that you think of his / her priorities when or not you are on "active duty." Of course, the very best relationship-building tactic is to refer a client to your client. You will be golden!
Should your client refer you to someone, be certain to call or even better, stop into the office, to express your gratitude in person. An especially large assignment could be worthy of a lunch or dinner, compliments of you.
But the road to client retention and referrals starts with the exceptional work that you deliver while on assignment. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
If you know that you'll be asked to address an urgent problem that must be swiftly resolved, do your homework and come to the job brimming with practical ideas and a few well-chosen questions. Demonstrate that you are a problem-solver and provider of useful solutions.
Listen to the client
Listen up and learn how the client views matters from his / her perspective, whether it's how to implement the solution for the project you're working on, how to resolve a customer service glitch, or any other work issue. Show that you understand and respect the client's opinions and values.
Respect the client's ideas and suggestions
You may not have all the answers. The client's lived experience matters. Be open to incorporating the client's ideas into your proposed solution. Always agree with the client and validate his / her choices. Subtly adapt his / her suggested strategy into something that you know will be more effective, when necessary. If the client mentions that another consultant has handled a similar project in a different way, listen and learn. You may receive useful information on how to improve your own business practices.
Misunderstandings cause relationships to fray and misunderstandings occur when communication is unclear and insufficient. Meetings may be infrequent, but emails are a way to report on your many successes towards achieving the objectives and goals of the project.
Furthermore, the email trail will be helpful when it's time to send an invoice and document your billable hours. What you do not want is a client who questions why you're billing for a certain number of hours and adding that you're padding the invoice. Moreover, if the client notes that some aspect of the project scope should be expanded or diminished, adjustments can be made in a timely fashion.
Get it in writing
Take meeting notes and within 48 hours post-meeting, send an email to confirm what has been discussed and agreed-upon. Include project specs, the fee structure, the payment schedule, project milestones, the deliveries and the due dates.
Client retention is the foundation of every business. It takes less time and effort to retain a client than to pursue and acquire a new one. Furthermore, long-term clients are much more likely to bestow on you that ultimate affirmation, a referral.
Thanks for reading,