The dictionary defines “loyal” as “unswerving in allegiance” or “faithful in allegiance” to one’s government/persons. In my day-to-day work with clients—many of whom have been with me for years—I am constantly grateful for their fierce loyalty to me and vice versa. Maybe it’s the fact that some of them have been working with me for over 15 years. Maybe it’s that we have sort of “grown up” together through the ages of fax machines to new PCs and the introduction of the internet to now. We have been through a lot together and in thinking about what makes a business successful, I have decided that loyalty is a crucial principle. Without it, we’re just another number or “vendor” to be price shopped and frequently dropped.
Businesses often spend a lot of time and resources on getting new sales, new clients, etc. but I have learned that resources, time and attention are best spent on existing clients and further expansion of services to them. Faithful allegiance to clients means hard work, sacrifices and after hours assistance. Such focus and dedication builds trust which eventually binds the tie that can’t be easily threatened or broken. You become a valued advisor, member of the “family” and are not as likely to be seen as a vendor or a number. Fortunately, I’ve been mentored by great people who also happen to be visionaries and have helped me understand that if you want to be in business for the long haul, there are no short-cuts.
So, from the trenches and 20+ years in business, here are examples of HOW TO cultivate loyal clients/customers:
· Be there for the good times and the bad—not just on the phone, but in person. Learn about your client’s business, go tour the plant, ask to attend meetings (on your nickel, not theirs), celebrate & promote their successes and offer your shoulder when they need to lean on it; I had a client fall on hard times several years ago and they couldn’t afford to pay consultants so I offered to work for them at no cost until they could pay again. That’s called putting your skin in the game. They came back bigger than ever and ended up paying me back and are still a great client, I hope, for life.
· Answer your own phone calls, return calls fast and help your clients if it means on nights and weekends. It doesn’t happen often but from time to time, there’s an emergency, event, merger, acquisition, etc. that will require going beyond the M-F, 9-5. Be there when your clients need you. I give my clients my cell number. My code for them is to call me twice if it’s an emergency and they all know I’ll answer. In the past 2 years I’ve only had to get out of bed once in the middle of the night to help a client. A few cups of coffee and a few hours later we had the plan in play and I used my awake time to clean the house and make spaghetti sauce (true and my kids thought I’d lost my marbles).
· Do what you say you are going to do and don’t promise what you cannot deliver. I once told a client I’d go with him to Nashville to help him interview some job candidates because he was expressing he needed another opinion. It took a whole day out of my day to go, interview and get back, but you can’t put a value on the goodwill that creates, the trust it builds.
· Work hard to be top of the game and never stop learning new ways to help clients. Social media, the internet and all the new channels of distribution of information have been challenging for everyone, especially businesses and by embracing the new, you help clients bridge the traditional with the new (thank you @chrisbrogan for that term).
· Advocate and fight for your clients when you need to. We had a client unfairly attacked by media a few years ago and when the going gets tough, you have to stand up for what is right even if it means consequences such as negative press. You may lose a few battles here and there, but you will ultimately win the war armed with facts and fiercely loyal clients.
· Connect clients with other resources—those who can help them, hire them, etc. I am happy to say I’ve helped clients land business and that is one of the fastest ways to build loyalty.
· Charge fairly for your work. The traditional agency model is broken and is never returning, thank goodness. Greed is evil and it will bite you every time. We bill our clients a fair rate, make what we need to make and hopefully pay for ourselves over the life of the relationship. Once I had a new client ask me how I measured whether or not I was successful with clients. My answer was that clients keep sending me checks every month and that was the end of that.
What are you doing to build loyalty? Is loyalty important in your business? I’d love to know! Thanks for reading and sharing.