Margot de Groot
We often underestimate the lifetime value of our clients. Do a quick calculation of how much you have earned in fees from your best clients. And you’ll see for this reason alone, why developing good client relationships should be a priority if you want to retain them.
On a personal level, the chemistry between you and your client has to be right. But on a professional level, the relationship is dependent on your attitude towards and interest in each of your client’s affairs.
Mark McCormack, founder of the International Management Group, believes a professional is judged on three criteria: commitment, attention to detail and immediate follow-up.
Trust is the glue that holds any professional relationship together. Be trustworthy – deliver on your promises. You want to reach the point where a client views you as a partner in planning, or a reliable sounding board.
Understand what makes clients tick
Strong questioning skills will help the client articulate not just their wants but the latent needs they may find difficult to express.
As Rob Rankin, Principal at Rankin and Co. Business Lawyers explains, good questioning helps you peel off the layers, enabling you to take a step back from a narrow focus, into a broader conversation that will uncover needs that they may not even be aware of.
“By questioning their thinking behind decisions and plans, I drill down and learn more about their values, motivations and resources. So I’m not just providing a specific service, for example, drafting a partnership agreement, but can add value by suggesting alternatives or additional advice.”
Many clients move away from a professional service provider because of poor or inadequate communication.
Geraldine Lee, Partner at Fortiz Accountants says she communicates with her clients regularly via their preferred mode, whether it is by email, phone, text or face to face meetings. And she never uses accounting jargon – just precise, easy to understand language.
“Feedback from new clients indicate they moved away from their accountants because they perceived they weren’t treated as important clients anymore. Our approach is to ensure that they have direct contact with us at all times. They would not need to ring a receptionist or junior staff, but would always be able to reach us directly.”
Clients remember professionals who go the extra mile. It is how you treat people that most often differentiates you and lifts you above your competitors. Increase your knowledge of your client’s business and industry and view the world through your client’s eyes.
Rob Rankin: “Most importantly, you need to do a good job. But stay close between jobs. You need to be timely and accessible. Understand what’s useful to them above just what they need.”
Manage incompatible clients
While client relationships are vital, don’t be subservient to them. Service is important but you must do business on your own terms. Stick to your guns and make sure your practices are reasonable and that you have communicated them to the client at the outset.
However, there are times that you will need to recognise the incompatibility and to turn such clients down politely and sensitively. But perhaps there are ways of resolving client issues.
Geraldine Lee: “Difficult situations can often be avoided. We have found that good communication and clarity about what the partnership involves – including who does what and when – will often restore the relationship.”
Top 5 tips for great client relationships
- Deliver excellent work
- Be prompt
- Be accessible
- Be trustworthy
- Be a good communicator – manage expectations and resolve issues as soon as possible