Clients quickly learn, there’s an of difference between good and great.
But how do you create the policies and procedures to go that extra step?
There are two main parts to every great client experience…the in-house preparation to provide the experience, then making it happen. Are you looking to improve your client experience? Let’s start with preparation…
Planning the Client Experience
The best way to begin a successful client relationship or new project is to follow an organized onboarding process. This will look a bit different from company to company, depending on your industry and the service you provide, just be sure you have one. A formalized process is the only way to achieve consistency across clients and across work teams…and consistency is key to building and keeping long-term clients.
What are some elements to consider in your onboarding process?
- Client-Signed Documents—statements of work (SOW), Service Level Agreements (SLA), etc.
- Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to make sure both your team and your client are on the same page as your relationship grows and the plan is carried out.
- Reinforcing Value—Before and after the agreement is made, find appropriate ways to verbalize the value the client will gain.
- Client Leave-Behind—What do you place in the client’s hands when they walk out the door, beyond the signed agreement? You might house the agreement in a company folder or binder along with your business card, a summary of the main services your company provides, a relevant case study, a recent article, a press release, or annual report. Include only what is relevant to each client. This package not only looks good, it will achieve three important goals:
- 1) Reinforce the client’s decision to work with you and minimize any second-guessing.
- 2) Provide a longevity piece that the client will hold onto and keep your company top-of-mind.
- 3) Point to additional services they, or others they know, might need.
- Client Welcome Email or Mail Piece—similar to the leave-behind, its purpose is to show appreciation, reinforce the client’s decision, and provide the client peace of mind.
- Internal Project Overview Forms—client contact information, summary project description, budget, key deadlines, billing information/frequency. Subsequently, you’ll add other important information such as a list of internal team members/responsibilities, success measures, quality assurance and review process/timing, and appropriate cost analyses for raw materials or labor required.
If you haven’t yet formalized your onboarding process in writing, some companies find it helpful to start with the end goal you wish to achieve and work backward to map out the proper steps to reach this goal. Others prefer a more linear approach, outlining from beginning to end what will be needed to accomplish these steps. Either approach works, just be sure to always discuss the formation of any legal documents with your attorney.
Prepare Your Staff
Strong internal communication is key to ensure that your team has an understanding of what client success looks like, whether they are customer-facing or not. Everyone needs to be a part of your company’s success, and it begins with a focus on the client.
- Share the client roadmap so that each team member can visualize the progression toward the business goal.
- Divvy out responsibilities complete with relevant deadlines and success measures. Ensure that each team member has the resources and training needed to do the job well.
- Provide frequent progress updates across functions, so that no one looks unprepared when communicating with the client.
- Be proactive. Encourage your team to anticipate client needs, to always think one step ahead. For example, keep your finger on the pulse of industry trends and inform them of any insight that could prove useful. What products or services are no longer as popular as they used to be, or are becoming more so?
- Plan regular touchpoints with each client, to remind them they are foremost in your mind and to keep you foremost in theirs.
- Train up leaders. Not only will your team be better able to confidently interact with your clients, they will be more fulfilled in their work, and ready to step up when you need them to handle unexpected challenges or absences.
Every company should offer sensitivity training around three major roles:
Sensitivity training educates staff about legal workplace protections that all employees should be conscious of and able to utilize properly when communicating on behalf of your business.
Don’t assume that proper interactions are common knowledge or too basic. We are all raised with varying degrees of awareness and understanding of this subject. What’s more, societal issues in this area are in constant flux.
Not only is this training important to demonstrate to staff how to foster pristine and amicable relationships among each other and with vendors and clients, but it also better protects your company in the case of possible liabilities or legal actions. Sensitivity must be taught in the work context for the fairness and protection of all concerned.
Is Your Team Client-Ready?
Once a project is underway, it’s important that your team understands not just project how-to’s but client how-to’s as well. Consistent service levels and communication between you and your clients are key to ensure successful long-term business relationships. Here’s just a few client how-to’s to pass on to your team:
- Reach out on a regular and mutually determined timeframe—Set expectations with the client at the outset and provide at least that level of contact, whether in-person, or via phone calls or email. Touching base weekly may work best for some projects, whereas other situations may call for somewhat less frequent interaction.
- Don’t wait for the client to contact you. Contact them first to offer progress reports or relevant suggestions, always giving them the freedom and respect of deciding how to proceed.
- Listen…to requests, questions, suggestions, and concerns. Offer plenty of opportunities for clients to voice opinions and give feedback, both formally and informally.
- Respect their time—Be on time, and keep to the allotted meeting time. If the client requests more time and you’re booked, provide someone else to help them, offer a follow-up phone call, or another satisfactory solution.
- Take action—Keep careful notes following all client interactions and assign next steps to appropriate team members. Be sure a team lead has the primary responsibility of tracking progress across teams so that nothing falls through the cracks.
- Follow Up—Keep the ball bouncing between your team and the client, not unlike a personal conversation. If the client takes a while to respond, reach back out periodically to reignite the conversation.
- Other Touchpoints—Work with your marketing team to provide additional touchpoints for your clients throughout the year in addition to project follow-ups. These might include:
- Invitations to conferences, wine tastings, parties, or sporting events
- Direct mail or email about new product announcements, media releases, articles, or financial reports
- Ask for advice and referrals after the relationship is well-established. When clients believe you offer something of value, they are often happy to provide referrals. Quickly follow up on the lead, and thank your client for the connection, no matter how it goes.
This same approach can be used with all your stakeholders—employees, vendors, owners, and clients. A strong relationship is one that communicates often.
Showing appreciation is extremely important to client care. Here you’ll find a quick checklist of often overlooked ways to show appreciation that your staff can easily adopt:
- Always thank the client for their time.
- Thank them for any information they provide or documents they complete for you.
- If the client gives criticism, even if non-constructive, thank them for their feedback, and ask for specific ways your team might better meet their expectations going forward. Implement their suggestions, then let them know you did, once again thanking them for the opportunity to work with them.
- Send occasional thank you emails or even hand-written notes exclusively for that purpose—ask for nothing, promote nothing.
- Refer business to your client—a win-win for everyone. The client will appreciate you in a brand new way!
Establish a Personal Relationship
Even in business relationships, people want to feel they matter. Showing a client that you care about them beyond what is laid out in the contract will go a long way toward building trust, the foundation of all good relationships.
Take time to ask and learn about your clients’ personal lives and find some common ground to speak on these matters. Ask about their family, wish them well during the holidays, or comment on the weather or a favorite sports team to establish rapport and a relaxed tone. Discuss any specific access or accommodations the client may require, such as any special needs, and share that information with everyone on the client’s care team.
These personal touches will go a long way when it comes to growing a strong business relationship that’s beneficial for you both.
Vigilance Amidst Change
Change is a challenge. It can be new and exciting…It can also be a company’s downfall.
During times of diversification, accelerated growth, or any time of major change, financial resources often become overextended and staff stretched too thin. So much effort is diverted to planning and overseeing the new venture, it is not uncommon to see companies lose focus on the client relationships that made them successful in the first place.
Business relationships, just like any other, take time, effort, and consistency. With client needs top of mind and these steps in practice, your client relationships will be long-lasting and successful ones.