by Dana Detrick-Clark
Every business benefits from building a foundation of return clients. They are easier to sell to (since they already know how awesome you are), they are more likely to give referrals, and they can provide an predictable, pleasant workflow, once you are comfortable with each other.
So it makes sense that anything we can do to strengthen this relationship is a good idea.
But, a lot of times, we pick superficial ways to do it that don’t really have an bearing on their decision making and our alliance. Things like sending gifts or cards, adding them to our mailing lists so they stay up to date with our organization (whether that has anything to do with them or not), or becoming friends outside of work are great things, but not pivotal in becoming top-of-mind amongst their vendors.
Plus, none of those things really benefit us, either, other than making us feel nice.
Here are 5 ways we can manage return clients and keep them coming back:
1. Know who they are!
Seems simple enough, right? But if you aren’t working together on a weekly or monthly basis, or they are a new point of contact, you need to build rapport and familiarity to make this client feel comfortable.
You should create a reference document or file with your point of contact’s full name, all email addresses and phone numbers, as well as messaging or chatting IDs, if any of those are methods of communication you use with them.
Having these handy will eliminate the need to hunt around if you need to make fast contact, and ensure you’re speaking with the right person if you have any questions.
2. Establish a workflow.
If I know this isn’t going to be a “one and done” client, and I want to future pace our experience, I find out upfront their workflow preferences. I know their hours of operation, so if they need files first thing in the morning, I know when “in the morning” is for them, or when I can best reach them by phone. I get a feel for how close to deadlines they’re contracting me for content, so I can anticipate the level of priority I will be giving them.
And this isn’t a 100% client-dictated scenario, as I have my own workflow this weaves into. But when both of us are on the same page with each project without having to have this conversation each time, things go much smoother.
Again, it’s best to add all of this to a reference document or file that I can call upon as each new project with this client begins.
3. Create consistency with file properties.
From invoices to mp3s, I simplify the file system for my clients and myself by creating an easy to follow system with naming and delivery. It’s not uncommon to have to resend something, and this makes it fast and easy. Plus, at tax time, we can all easily find everything we need.
Some things I like to include are the year, the client name, any specifics about the project (especially for return clients, it helps to number these as we go). This information plus any file details, like what encoding they prefer, all goes straight to my reference document or file for this client.
4. Know their lifetime value.
What is this client really worth to you? Their lifetime value makes it clear. I do this very specifically for each client, tallying the number of projects we’ve done, the fee for each project, and the length of time we’ve worked together, and factoring in their cost of acquisition.
Having this information is critical to figuring averages, knowing who my highest value/lowest cost clients are, and telling me where I need to put the majority of my effort. All of that information also goes onto my reference document or file.
5. Be flexible.
It’s great to get into a predictable groove with a client, but when you can easily deal with change within the relationship and workflow, you’re even more valuable to keep around.
Keeping an eye on their industries to anticipate trends is a great way to be prepared for what is to come.
Stay on top of the technology you’re working with, so you won’t lose them to someone more able.
And most importantly, keep the conversation with them open, so you’re hearing straight from them what their biggest needs are. Sometimes it helps to do periodic surveys, or a yearly projections meeting, if you’re doing a heavy volume of work with them. That’s also a great time to update records or fees, if there have been any changes.
Our clients aren’t looking for bells and whistles to stay interested in what you’re providing, they’re looking for consistency, familiarity, and trust. By creating some simple management tasks that help you continuously over-deliver on their expectations, you make yourself an irreplaceable member of their team.
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