From the very start, your clients have chosen to entrust their business to you for one simple reason: They are happy (enough?) with the service you offer them. In other words, out of all the other companies who can offer them the same services, they have decided that you are the right one to give them good, quality service. One would hope or think that keeping them satisfied and happy is a relatively easy task to do. If we list the many ways to keep clients happy, we’d be in for a long list. So let’s discuss the shorter list of 7 common mistakes you can commit to lose your clients. These are the big NO-NOs:
(1) Be Tactless.
Imagine talking to a person who is insensitive towards what others feel. Being racist, judgmental, or sexist is a sure way to lose your clients. No one would want to put up with someone who openly declares negative remarks about anyone or any group (or even previous clients!). While this might seem obvious and something one should have learned a long time ago, the danger is when you say off-the-cuff, off-color remarks assuming that person to whom you’ve said this was someone “safe” to tell it (i.e. you weren’t talking about them but “others” instead). E.g. making negative comments about immigrants could get you into some trouble with a 1st generation American who has a perfect American accent but has immigrant parents. On top of simply being offended, your client might see that working with a person/business perceived to be tactless (or worse) could endanger their own reputation (no matter how much butter that person uses in everything). This leaves them with no choice but to cut the relationship short. With social media being faster than regular news (think <30 seconds blast to the world), your mindless remark might make it around the world before your next coffee cup. (2) Be Ungrateful.
Obviously, to be in business, you should get paid for what you do for your clients. While you might be contractually “entitled” to this “pay”, it wouldn’t hurt to let your clients know that you appreciate the additional income you’re receiving because of them. If you have several competitors who offer the same services, then it is only fitting to feel grateful that your clients picked you (and show it!). Don’t take your clients for granted. Always remind them and make them feel that hiring your company is worth their investment. They might even have referrals for you if you stay in touch to simply say thank you.
(3) Be “Trust-UNworthy”.
Confidentiality is probably one of the most important things to keep in ANY relationship. Your clients expect nothing less from you. Whether you have a written agreement or not, you have to make sure that you keep your client’s trust at the highest possible level. To break their trust would cause irreversible damage, not simply from them not trusting you again but from them telling everyone else not to trust you (again, think of that coffee break worldwide tweet). If you must discuss their issues (for the sake of research or in a training setting), don’t disclose ANYTHING that might identify them easily.
(4) Be A “Magician” (and Disappear into Thin Air).
Some people have the tendency to suddenly disappear when faced with troubles that they think is unfix-able, being in denial and somehow thinking that the issue will simply “go away”. I’ve got news for you: this is the age of the Internet (NOTHING goes away). To “disappear” is an unacceptable display of immaturity. Even if you “plan” to terminate your relationship with a certain client, disappearing without any notice will definitely ruin your reputation (I’ll say it again, beware that tweet!). Remember that the world is small, and sadly, bad news/gossip spreads faster than good news; especially if your industry is specialized. If you plan to disappear, expect to do so for good because no one will see you again.
(5) Be Unclear (Especially About Payment Terms).
As business professionals, payment (and contract terms) is an important matter to agree upon from the very start. Before beginning any project, everything should be arranged (and written) to avoid misunderstanding: From the criteria, amount, mode, length, frequency, documentation, delay, non-payment, re-negotiation, and anything that involves the terms of payment. While changes in the agreement may become necessary, there should be open and clear communication between parties (and this should be anticipated and outlined in the agreement).
(6) Be Inconsistent.
Much like dating (especially in the first date), you try to present your “the best assets”. There’s nothing wrong with this, but you have to make sure that whatever “impression” you give in the beginning is something you can maintain or exceed long term. Be consistent and don’t just give your “best service” to your “new clients” or your “best paying clients”. If you happen to get so busy that you can’t deliver consistently good service, turn your attention on internal quality issues instead of blindly trying to court new clients. Not everyone will remember or even notice your best work, but they will remember and retell your worst.
(7) Be Irresponsible.
Being responsible simply means you are able to keep up with the deadlines that are given to you, assuming the deadlines are reasonably feasible; but it also means being able to own up when you can’t or might not meet a deadline (BEFORE you miss it). Keep clients “in the loop” and give them progress updates. That’s much better than them simply hearing nothing at all (or something like “everything’s going well” when it’s not) and then getting frantic communication right around or after the missed deadline. More often than not, your project is a precursor to some other work of theirs (perhaps with a client or another vendor of theirs); the more lead time you give them the better they are able to adjust and course-correct and hopefully minimize any negative cost effects.
Keeping your clients is easier than getting them back once you’ve lost them. Remember that they picked you from the rest, so from the very start, they had faith in you (and want to believe they made the right choice). All you have to do is to maintain and build your relationship with them. Much like dating, be sensitive to your partner/client’s needs (even if you can’t or shouldn’t meet them) and openly communicate and manage conflict as early as you can.
I would love to know your thoughts/opinions in the comments below. How might you have lost a client with the “rules” above? What did you learn from it? Or how did you save your last client relationship that came close to a “break-up”?