By Susan Guillory
We’ve all heard it before: it’s cheaper to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new one. This is especially true for service businesses, whether accounting, graphic design or marketing. Existing customers already know what your business does and are happy with the results. New customers, on the other hand, see you as a stranger. They don’t know what they’ll get with your business, so you need to spend more time wooing them.
I can personally attest to the benefits of having long term clients. In the 15 years of running my content marketing business, I’ve had many loyal customers for 5-10 years. Here’s what I’ve learned works to nurture those relationships.
7 ways to retain service business customers for life
1. Listen carefully to your customers
It sounds too simple, but trust me: your competitors may not be willing to really hear what a customer is saying, and that’s where you can shine.
You can learn a lot by asking questions and then listening. A potential client may come to me initially for blog content, but after a 10-minute conversation, I might discover that what they really need is web copy. Sometimes they don’t know what they need, but they can solve it just by talking to you if you’re willing to listen.
2. Don’t force your service business solution
Many service companies focus on this they or they can offer the potential customer, but they don’t actually listen to what the customer wants or needs. Maybe someone approaches you about a one-time project, but you want to sell them the monthly plan because it generates more revenue. This may not be the best way to keep a long-term customer if they feel like you’re unnecessarily selling them something they don’t need.
I’ve been known to turn down potential business because I knew I couldn’t provide what they needed. I’d rather they go elsewhere for their needs than try to tailor my solutions to their needs. They always appreciate my honesty, and sometimes they come back when their needs match my offerings.
3. Be human with your customers
Another way to retain service business customers for life is to consider whether you treat your customers like bills or like people. Yes, customers are the lifeblood of your business, but they’re human, and we could all bear it. inject a little more humanity into our business interactions.
Before you dive into scheduling your next Zoom call with a client, check in with them. What’s going on in their life? How do they feel? This year has opened the door to more vulnerability and more conversations about life in a pandemic, and that, I think, brings us all that little bit closer.
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I had a client I worked with for years, and somehow I discovered that we shared a love for old Nancy Drew books. When I was cleaning out my closet and found some vintage copies, I sent them to her because I knew she would appreciate them. This is how I do business.
4. Regularly ask your customers how they think you are doing
It’s easy to get into a rut when you’ve been working with a client for months or years. It’s the whole “if it ain’t broke” syndrome – if the customer isn’t complaining, why risk messing things up?
My philosophy is to check in about every quarter to see how well I am delivering what the client needs. This sometimes leads to a conversation about other content needs they have. Sometimes this leads to a candid conversation about how I may not be fully meeting their requirements, and it forces me to put my ego aside to make sure I’m providing what the client needs in that moment.
5. Send gifts to your customers
I’ve always been a big fan of send holiday gifts to my clients. It’s my way of showing my appreciation for our ongoing professional relationship. And let me tell you: they to like have a surprise during the holidays! I set tiers for my gift budget so that customers who have spent the most or have been with me the longest receive an appropriate token of appreciation.
6. Refer your customers to others
Part of the good business networking is to connect the dots. If you have a contact that you think would make a great partner for a client, make this presentation. Especially if you work in a particular industry, you may be able to refer business from one client to another or foster some cool partnerships. It’s not something that will directly bring you benefits, but good karma will accrue to you.
7. Maintain the relationship, even after business is over
Sometimes, however, it is not possible to keep service business customers for life. But just because a customer stops doing business with you doesn’t mean they won’t need you in the future. Keep in touch with an annual check-in just to say hello. You don’t need to push your business; the simple act of reaching out will remind them why they love working with you, and if there is a need, you can be sure they will let you know.
Watch your service business customer relationships blossom
Long-term business relationships need to be developed, and that takes work. But the longer you nurture these relationships, the more they will flourish.
About the Author
This article was originally published on AllBusiness.com.