Anyone who knows me or has worked with me in the past knows I enjoy chatting. I am sociable and a little nosey, and I am somewhat of a perfectionist. This probably annoys my team, but it does mean that I am pretty good at client relationships and it comes quite naturally to me. However, this is not the case for everyone, so I thought I would share some fundamental tips for building relationships with your clients. Although some things are obvious, there are a few you might not immediately think of.
Working back from 10 to 1 of what I consider to be the most important things, here are my top tips:
10. Have their back (and also your teams)
The reason I put this at number 10 is that I consider it a fairly obvious one from the client's perspective, but maybe not so obvious when considering your team. I am not a fan of a blame culture, and I have worked with large corporate companies for long enough to know that unfortunately it is quite a common theme. Hence, the importance of this tip. Your role is to be supportive, to ensure that the client and your team know the expectations and to be the problem solver. In the end, it is not about who did what or who didn't do what, but about ensuring that your clients know they have your support as well as supporting your team. If neither the client nor the team feel fully supported and that they can rely on you, you won't develop good relationships.
9. Exceed expectations
Make sure you don't oversell and under deliver. As a result, you will always exceed expectations. This also means that you need to set reasonable goals. Don't paint yourself into a corner because your client relationship will crumble. When going back to a client with a timeline, you have to consider the teams' schedules, other projects, illness, annual leave, and everything else in between. Show them you are efficient and consider their needs and deadlines while remaining realistic.
8. Exude positivity
If you are happy and confident, your client will be too. It's that easy, but how do you demonstrate you're happy? It’s not about grinning like a Cheshire cat every time you are on a Teams call. It’s when there are challenges in a project that it really counts. Have a calm approach, stay optimistic and be solution oriented. Demonstrating you are proactive and showing confidence will mean that it will ease their concerns, and make sure they have faith in you and the business to deliver what they need. Be more duck and less headless chicken.
7. It's not all about work
If you are involved in client relationship management (or even if you are a team member with client contact) its your responsibility to maintain good customer service. And to do that there needs to be a good rapport. Good and long-lasting client relationships develop and grow over a long period of time so knowing and being interested in the ‘person’ behind your client is really important. This is where my nosey side has always come in handy, but equally don’t be a stalker! People buy from people so knowing them as a person (and therefore elements of their personal life, like kids, hobbies etc) rather than being sales/transaction facilitators will only improve and strengthen the professional relationship you have. No two clients are the same either so make sure you get to know each one on an individual basis.
6. Be authentic (that means honest!)
Being authentic is a big thing in business these days. Gone are the days of being the big ‘I am’. Social Media is showing a more vulnerable and accepting side of people, and this is also integral to great client relationships. Being authentic means being upfront and honest. By nature, we are not perfect and this will mean that sometimes things don’t go as planned. Don’t cover it up. Be upfront about the challenges and I guarantee your client will understand and will show a certain level of tolerance. Of course, if things are consistently wrong then this is an internal issue you need to deal with. Being totally honest, what we offer as an agency isn’t delivered through the art of magic. Its skills based and relatively simple so don’t bamboozle with industry terms either. Be clear, straight talking and simplify what you do so they really understand. Being authentic will develop longer term relationships between you and your clients.
5. Be responsive
One of the things we all strive for as client relationship managers is loyalty. Having a loyal client base is worth its weight in gold so delivering a high quality service with a close working relationship is essential. Being responsive to your clients needs and wants is integral to building mutual trust and respect. I am not necessarily saying that you are at their beck and call 24/7, but responding to their emails efficiently and answering/returning their calls when they ring you is something you must weave into your busy day. Set a rule around the maximum time by which you reply to emails, and stick to it. This should also apply to the whole team. On top of this, if their request is complex or you don’t understand then say so. Saying ‘I don’t understand what you mean’ is a sign of confidence and strength. Just make sure you keep positive (point 8 above).
4. Add value
Being an expert in the service you are delivering to your clients means that you are in a unique position to add value above and beyond the service itself. You are a font of knowledge, and if you are anything like me, you love to talk about what you know. But make sure you listen to your client first. Listen to the problems they are trying to solve, make notes on what their job involves and what the pains and gains are, then work to see what advice, training or knowledge sharing you could give to them. This shows that you really care and understand their individual needs.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Good communication is everything. Drawing on being responsive (point 5 above), being clear and open is a top priority. You need to communicate in a timely and efficient way, and above all, try and make it a natural thing between you and your client. Make sure they know there is more than one way to contact you and, if you are in the middle of a particularly complex or challenging project, aim to be available for expert advice. If there are complications, communicate it to the client straight away, don’t try to hide it or sweep it under the carpet because, guaranteed, it will come out! Communicate clearly about schedules, scope changes, deliveries and third-party requirements. If you have discussed something important over the phone, follow it up with an email to clarify everything. It will make sure you are not talking at cross purposes and will ultimately make for a more enjoyable relationship all round.
2. Understand your client’s needs
This draws on adding value (point 4 above) but understanding what your client’s needs are is essential. Find out how they operate in their role, how the business operates as a whole, and listen. When you start to work with a new client, you need to go on a fact finding mission. Ask questions, make notes, read their brand values, look at their services/products so you can start to better understand them. The more you understand them (as a business and as an individual) the more bespoke and tailored you can make your service for them. This also gives you the opportunity to let them know about new services that might be relevant to them and which might help in areas you currently don’t work in with them. Small catch ups, relevant one to one or group knowledge sharing sessions and personal chit chat will have a huge impact on how your client views your service and will foster loyalty for years to come.
1. BE HUMAN!
The most important point on my list has to be about being you. We all know by now that people buy from people. Gone are the days where everything was about what you do and not about who you are. Now, the most important thing to remember about fostering long lasting client relationships is to be yourself. We are all human, so we need to make sure what we do revolves around that. Nothing in life is perfect so let’s not pretend it is, but what really matters is how you respond to challenges and difficulties. Show your human side, make it about the relationship you have with them rather than the service you are providing them. They already know you are an expert in your field and that you will deliver what they need and more. Throughout all of my points, I have referenced on more than one occasion about the need for relationship building, honesty, understanding and listening, and the way to do all of that well, is to be empathetic. It is also important for you to show your client that part of being human, is the need to regularly review, so asking for and receiving feedback regularly is essential.
I have great relationships with our clients, and I can honestly say it is always the highlight of my day when I speak to them. I am what I describe and a very ‘human’ human. Want to know what that means? Feel free to send me an email, drop by the office or pick up the phone.