Does your entire team care deeply about the wellbeing of all your clients, all the time? Are they always curious about clients, proactively looking for ways to help?
If you can confidently answer ‘yes’ to these questions, you are in very fortunate (and rare) position. You probably have very high levels of client satisfaction, retention, up-selling and referrals.
More likely, while you encourage your team to proactively support clients, you’ll also need BUSINESS PROCESSES to promote productive relationships with clients. Let’s look at examples of these processes.
Collaboration (and information sharing)
Your clients may interact with multiple people in your organization: Partners, Client Service Coordinators, Accountants, the Administration team and so on. Each interaction is a source of valuable information but information that is not shared gets ‘lost’… to the detriment of the client and your firm.
Ensure learnings on key clients are shared via a quick, frequent meeting (or in your CRM) and generate ideas for proactive outreach.
You are unlikely to optimize the relationship with ALL clients… and that’s OK. Client classification involves identifying clients you want to invest in, perhaps because of growth opportunities, their reputation, profitability of the work, referrals and so on.
Develop criteria by which you define your target clients and then classify your clients at least once per year (because things change).
Understand client goals
We mean a HIGH-LEVEL, strategic understanding. What does your client want to accomplish in the next year or two? What are their goals? What matters to them? It’s difficult to be proactive without awareness of what people want to achieve. Clients are usually grateful when they are held accountable and stay on track.
Start each client relationship by capturing their goals and use this as a ‘compass’ for all client interaction.
Ask clients what they need
We can learn a lot by observing… but sometimes we need to boldly ask questions. Most clients are eager to interact when someone shows interest and genuinely wants to help them. You don’t need to come up with solutions right way. Develop listening skills and ask questions which give you the best results. Client surveys can play a role here.
Set a schedule for reaching out to clients (formally or informally) to better understand their needs and act on this information.
Accept that client management takes work and energy. It doesn’t just happen… and even people with advanced interpersonal skills need to invest time to enhance client relationships. Successful firms recognize that freeing someone to focus on this important endeavor can realize huge returns.
Delegate the role of Client Management to create accountability. This can be part-time but dedicate time, even 30 minutes per week, to call key clients or review the latest client data.
Repeat the things that work
Think of the clients you most want to work with. Why? Because they appreciate what you do? Because they pay you well? Because they are easy to deal with? Because they refer a lot of work? These ‘success stories’ are worth examining in depth. How did the relationship evolve to this level? There is no single formula for client management but we can apply these learnings in our businesses.
Define your own client best practices based on your successes and build habits around these.
Imagine if a client’s and your goals were identical. Example: A client wants to raise cash to fund the launch of a new business. If they succeed, they will need a lot of new services which you can provide. Goals are aligned… and you will focus (proactively) on things that matter to client while benefiting in the process. This requires a really good understanding of what YOU want to achieve with YOUR business.
Be clear on your goals in terms of revenue, profit, lifestyle, succession and identify the clients who can help get you there.
Use data management tools
In the lifetime of a client relationship, you will gather a lot of customer data. Once you understand your processes for data collection, consider using automation tools. The most obvious example is Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software in which you keep track of what your client is buying, how they communicate, the support they need and so on. This helps you take early action to help them.
Define what client data is important and consider tools to collect, analyze and act on this data.
Think of some clients you have lost … and regret losing. What went wrong? What can you learn? Sometimes there are clues in their financial statements which suggest a client is ‘at risk’. Sometimes decreased engagement, slow response times or a change in personnel can signal the client is considering their options. On many occasions, when we lose a client, we look back and say ‘that could have been avoided’.
Define the ‘triggers’ which result in terminated client relationships and build processes for early detection and action.
The ideas mentioned above don’t cost much in money or time but they could have a large impact. Other than the financial implications of happy clients (retention and up-selling), your team will be more energized to work in a positive client environment.
It’s wonderful if your team genuinely WANT TO help your clients but ensure your business processes build good habits and certainty in this important area.