Acquiring new clients is expensive, hard work. Harvard Business Review reports that, depending on your industry, winning a new client is five to 25 times as costly as retaining an existing one. Ouch!
Knowing how to build client loyalty pays. Client retention empowers financial professionals to focus on delivering value instead of pursuing new clients. We get to know our clients better, so we can provide them our highest value as trusted advisors. We earn more and everyone’s happier.
But the market for professional services is crowded. Many financial and tax services are becoming commoditized. Clients can be fickle. And unfortunately, your technical competence and reliability don’t ensure loyalty. This reinforces the value of positioning yourself as a trusted advisor, rather than a vendor. But the importance of client loyalty is a constant for vendors and advisors.
The truth is, there’s no silver bullet when it comes to retaining clients. But you can increase client retention and foster loyalty by using proven tactics. To do that, we suggest looking at loyalty through two lenses: convenience and trust.
I. Positioning yourself as a trusted advisor.
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.
We know trust is the foundation of every healthy personal relationship. It seems organic, but there are ways for financial professionals to systematically foster trust.
[Related Content: Download The Ultimate Guide to Positioning Yourself as a Trusted Advisor]
1) 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 clients want 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. You lay a foundation of trust by listening, by treating people as individuals and being a sympathetic ear.
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.
2) 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.
3) 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.”
- 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.
II. Maximizing familiarity and convenience.
The other side of loyalty is like Trust’s less attractive sibling, but still very much worth discussing.
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 un-sexy 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.
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.
An elevated, more personalized image for your firm is right around the corner.