How To Retain More Clients
Position yourself as a trusted advisor
The market for professional services like yours is crowded and competitive. As you are likely aware, many financial and tax services are becoming commoditized, digitized and de-personalized. Clients can be fickle, and unfortunately your technical competence and reliability don’t ensure loyalty.
But if you take the time and effort to position yourself as a trusted advisor, and use smart brand reinforcement techniques to stay top of mind, and reinforce the tangible aspects of your valuable service, you will become known as a loyal confidant and mentor, and not just another disposable vendor.
The Importance Of Fostering Client Loyalty
The importance of client loyalty is a constant concern for vendors and advisors. As you may already know, acquiring new clients is expensive, hard work. Harvard Business Review reports that, depending on your industry, winning a new client is 5 to 25 times as costly as retaining an existing one.
That’s why knowing how to foster and build long-term client loyalty is worth the investment. The right client retention strategies empower you to focus on delivering more service value, instead of spending more time pursuing new clients.There is no magic bullet, but it’s proven that if you take the time to work on proven tactics, know your clients better, and deliver an experience beyond your basic deliverables, you can increase client retention and foster greater loyalty.
To begin, we suggest looking at ways to build client loyalty through two lenses: trust and convenience.
Number 1: Build Trust By Becoming a Better Listener
We all know that trust is the foundation of every healthy personal relationship. It may seem organic, but there are actual proven tactics you can use to systematically foster trust. Every professional service provider has been in a situation where he or she knew the answer to a client’s problem but couldn’t get them to accept advice at face value. This doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t trust you, but that you haven’t quite achieved that trusted advisor status. You begin to gain trust by first listening carefully.
Listen before you speak: Lay a foundation of trust by listening, by treating people as individuals, and by being a sympathetic ear. Never rush to provide advice or answers. Even if you already know the solution at the outset of a conversation, people will be more receptive to advice if they feel they’ve been heard. So listen first.
“One of the most dangerous sentences in any language is one that begins: ‘What the client wants is …’ No matter how you finish that statement, you will be wrong,” warns the book the book The Trusted Advisor, co-authored by David Maister.
As Charles Green, founder and CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates often points out, you must be able to challenge assumptions and decisions with courage but also with delicacy. It’s true in business relationships just as it is in personal ones: the way you challenge someone should be specific to the relationship and context, in other words, based on trust. If that seems obvious, think of the last time you disregarded an expert’s advice because he or she hadn’t accounted for your individual circumstances.
We all feel tempted now and then to skip the preliminaries. But remember, you’ve earned the right to give advice only when people are convinced they’ve been heard.
Practice Inclusive Professionalism
“The essence of professionalism lies not in distinguishing ourselves from our clients, but in aligning with them to improve their situations,” states The Trusted Advisor.
The secret sauce to inclusive professionalism is Socratic reasoning. Framing ideas as questions, rather than assertions, helps people think more expansively. When you do state advice, do so in a way that leaves room for discussion if your client chooses not to accept it.
Know your “Why” – and Weave It Into Every Aspect of Your Business.
Even hard-nosed professional service providers tend to make decisions based on emotion and rationalize them after the fact. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong; it means they’re complex. That’s why a clearly-stated purpose will not only improve client retention but galvanize employees.
“While most providers sell on the basis of technical competence, most buyers buy on the basis of emotion.” – The Trusted Advisor
Credentials and reliability don’t ensure trust. Instead, Trusted Advisor Associates suggests that professional service providers can build trust by keeping in mind all aspects of “The Trust Equation.” They particularly stress intimacy and orientation toward others.
“Trust is a feeling, not a rational experience,” states Simon Sinek in the business bestseller Start With Why. “We trust some people and companies even when things go wrong, and we don’t trust others even though everything might have gone exactly as it should have. Trust begins to emerge when we have a sense that another person or organization is driven by things other than their own self-gain.”
Ask yourself these questions:
• What inspires me to get out of bed in the morning?
• What does success look like to my clients? How do they want to feel at the end of the day?
• What problems do I help people solve? How does my work make people’s lives better?
• How do I feel when I’ve done my job well?
In addition to improving client retention, a clearly-stated purpose can get you through those occasional pits we all fall into now and then.
Number 2: Maximize Familiarity and Convenience
Think of your last visit to the grocery store. You probably bought a few staples like toothpaste, frozen pizza, paper towels, tortilla chips, bread and milk. Did you feel warm and fuzzy when you pulled those items from the shelf? Or did you select them among other brands simply because of familiarity and convenience? We make tons of purchases just to avoid the burden of yet another choice. So don’t underestimate the power of familiarity and convenience. This may be the unsung side of client/customer loyalty, but by doing little things that make it easy for people to do repeat business with you, you’re doing them a favor.
Here are 4 ways to create familiarity and convenience:
1) Set up strong, consistent channels of communication
How many times have you made a purchase simply because a brand or individual reminded you of their existence? Email marketing, direct mail, social media and customized messages such as birthday greetings can reengage clients.
2) Create or curate, but don’t sacrifice the good to the perfect.
Think of how you can provide content that’s helpful, practical, and to the extent appropriate, entertaining. If you give people worthwhile information, it reminds them that you’re an available, trustworthy resource. Use advertising and sales pitches sparingly.
3) Eliminate steps and give people a clear path forward.
Anything that saves people mental energy or time can make the difference between a former client and a repeat client. Don’t be ambiguous. Avoid calls to action (CTAs) like “Learn More.” That sounds like a rabbit hole, which your clients are likely trying to avoid on any given day. Instead, try tactics like these:
• Simplify your contact forms so you don’t overburden prospects.
• Include CTA buttons in emails so readers can take action in one click.
• Include QR codes and tiny URLs (abbreviated web addresses) in direct mailers.
• Set up designated landing pages that allow people to upload documents to a HIPPA compliant file.
Most of the time those things can be done on the cheap. Depending on your firm that may mean working with your in-house marketing or hiring a digital marketing contractor.
4) Think about your clients’ business cycles.
Timing isn’t everything, but it matters. Direct mailers, sales calls and email sequences that coincide with the approach of tax season, or some business cycle specific to your clients, hit people when they actually want to hear form you. They’ll be more responsive that way, and you’ll save money.