Churn and Burn: Why your business is dispensable

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Marketing Client Service ImageYou might think your clients could never survive without you, but think again: they can! There is always another business just around the corner just waiting to prove it.  No business is indispensable and most can be replaced relatively quickly and painlessly. Attracting new clients is important for growth, but failing to manage your existing client base can place your reputation at risk.

A Client Service Programme – what is it?

Client service is closely linked to client management and looks at the activities you undertake to service your different client groups to ensure high levels of satisfaction, cross selling, repeat business and referral.

If your business already has too many clients and can afford to shed a few – congratulations and who are you? If not, read on.

A client service program formalises the level of client service you aim to provide and what practical things you will do to achieve this. But be prepared to walk the talk: establishing a successful client service program in your business requires commitment from yourself and your staff. You need to plan it, develop it, implement it and sustain it. It also involves training and feedback.

For a Client Service Program to be successful you should:

  • Make sure your business has someone responsible for prospects once they become clients
  • Understand why you are over/under servicing some clients
  • Regularly review your client engagement  – once a quarter as a rule of thumb
  • Ask the question “what else can they buy from you”?
  • Always consider how you can add value to their business – be a valued resource and a trusted advisor
  • Undertake regular client research

So why do I need one?

According to a study by the Research Institute of America, the average business will not hear a peep from 96% of their unhappy clients. In client service no news is NOT good news. If your clients aren’t communicating with you, you have no idea if there is an issue with your service, and what the issue is, let alone how to address it. Worse still, you have not only lost their business but you also have tarnished your reputation in the industry.

Dissatisfied clients don’t just go away quietly. They tell at least nine other people about their unhappy experience. And 13% of disgruntled clients tell more than 20 people, according to a study conducted for the White House Office of Consumer Affairs. And, with the recent explosion of social media, the potential damage from negative word-of-mouth is even more staggering.

Steps for creating an effective customer service program

  1. Think about what your clients need or will value.
  2. Plan how you will meet their needs. Write a document outlining the program’s aims, planned activities, and how it will be implemented throughout your business.
  3. Deliver training to your staff, including training for any new systems.
  4. Implement the program, making sure all staff are confident applying it.
  5. Sustain the program by reviewing changing customer needs and feedback.

If you leave me can I come too?

A good way to start your program is to look at some of the reasons clients might become unhappy and look at how you would do things differently or better still evaluate what they really value about what you already do and replicate it. Almost regardless of what field or industry you operate within, the principals of effective client management are the same. Howard J. Wolff who consults to the design and architecture professions lists the three main reasons clients “move on” as:

  • Poor or indifferent treatment

Treat you clients as people. Learn about their interests and real relationships – if your clients know you as people they will be less likely to view the relationship as dispensable.

  • Poor availability and infrequent communication

Keep in touch. Clients interpret lack of contact for a lack of interest in them. A Rockefeller Corporation study revealed that 68% of your clients leave because they think that you don’t care about them.

  • They believe you have not delivered as promised

Be clear about expectations from the start and agree key performance indicators and ongoing measurement of your outputs against set criteria. Never “over-sell”. Be transparent in operations and provide reports at regular, agreed intervals.

  • You made a mistake and were not honest nor dealt with it satisfactorily

Always deliver bad news quickly and personally – phone is always better than email. Most clients do not expect you to be perfect but they do expect your honesty. Good client relationships come down to trust.

  • They no longer need the services you offer and you failed to “check in” to inquire about their current situation

Again, keeping in touch regularly and asking them about their business will enable you to assess your relationship and pre-empt any shift in their needs that may affect your relationship.

When all else fails

Ultimately if a client does decide to move on despite your client service program, you need to know why, so ask them – this feedback will inform your overall programme and might just be something you were not able (or willing) to address such as personalities, their financial situation, your or their geographic location, or a seismic shift in the clients’ business that makes your service redundant. Whatever the reason, you need to know it.

Contact 9 Strategic to get starting on creating a client service program for your business.