Tips for Customer Retention & Keeping Your Cool.
“The customer is always right,” is an old cliché, but here’s why it’s true. It’s harder to win new customers than to keep old ones. A recent survey conducted by accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers found that it costs five to ten times more to acquire new clients than to keep existing ones happy. And with customer turnover of about 50 to 65 percent on average every five years for the typical shop, learning to keep customers is a key part of doing business. Even when your customers are upset (or worse), take a deep breath and remember that their satisfaction is literally part of your bottom line.
Here are 10 tips to manage your clients successfully and to increase retention and overall customer bliss:
- First impressions about how you communicate are important: Your first contact with customers is often pivotal in determining the tone of your business relationship. When you send your project proposal on time, it signals you are diligent and efficient. When you send an email follow-up, it signals you are organized and thoughtful. When you produce correspondence and all other branded material in the same way, it signals you are consistent and professional. On the other hand, you don’t want to set up unrealistic expectations. If you respond to an email within minutes of it being sent, that might set a precedent you can’t live up to later. If you allow your customers to call you at anytime, they may call you when you are on a deadline or have other pressing priorities.
- Set boundaries and expectations and then live up to them: Particularly if you are a freelancer, you should make your customers aware of your boundaries. Freelancers have to balance their development time with customer consultation time, which can become impossible if customers call at inopportune times. Try to make a routine for emails. Instead of checking emails all day, consider checking email only once or twice per day, but make it a point to respond within 24 hours. As for phone calls and IMs, make sure that you schedule them so they don’t become disruptive. If you explain to your customer that setting an appointment for a phone call will be more productive because you can prepare ahead of time, you can make the customer feel appreciated without needing to be on high alert for random calls. When you keep up habits and patterns, customers will know what to expect and will adapt accordingly.
- Be transparent and professional about billing, time sheets, and turnaround times: If you show how much you bill and how, your customers will face less sticker shock. One of the most frequent complaints in customer care is a lack of billing transparency or a gap between perceived value and price. Being upfront can ease this. It also helps to develop real plans for turning around project work items so that you can accurately and confidently quote this information in future correspondence. If the customer suggests a change but you don’t know how long it will take, follow up with more information instead of offering a vague promise. It’s better to follow up with more information confidently than to set your customer up for later disappointment.
- Build self-service, timely updates, and useful features into your website: Your website should offer continuing value for your business. Freelancers should sign up for project management and billing sites to make sure they make professional and accurate communication with their clients. Self-service can help customers to feel empowered, but make sure that your site provides a quality personalized experience.
- Approach confrontation with the customer with their perspective in mind: Everyone eventually faces the irate call from a customer due to a missed deadline or some other problem. Listen to the customer, and respond gracefully and professionally. It helps to repeat back the customer’s question or complaint to confirm that you have listened. It also helps to use positive phrasing such as “Here’s how we can solve this problem”. If the conversation becomes particularly personal, gently remind the customer by saying something such as “I know that these comments are not directed towards me but this situation, which if I were you I wouldn’t be satisfied with either.” Some social scientists have discovered that in the case of refunds, it can actually be helpful to ask the customer to suggest a fair refund price. More often than not, the customer will offer a price lower than you expect, and if you keep the customer, this goodwill will pay dividends.
- Personalize all correspondence and communication as much as possible: When you send correspondence to your customers, use their name and information about a recent conversation to make the correspondence seem more urgent and timely, which gives the customer greater satisfaction. If sending a generic email, at least give users a chance to opt-out. Sending email too often will seem like spam, so use software that detects whether the user is reading your emails or not. Use a service like Scrubly to make sure that your address book contains the best name to use to address customers and that all email addresses in your address book are clean, neat, and up-to-date, which will prevent annoying customers with accidental duplicates and improper salutations.
- Use automated telephone systems with care:If you use a computerized telephone system, make sure that customers are able to speak to a real live person at any time. If you can afford it, use professionally recorded audio instead of text-to-speech, which can sound robotic and unfriendly.
- Ensure that customer care representatives have everything they need to interact successfully with the clients: You should keep a log that documents all customer interactions. No customer likes the sense that they’ve had to repeat information from earlier conversations. This log will also help you to develop a rapport and to find leads.
- Under-promise and over-deliver: Customers get excited about big project plans at deep discounts, but this is a recipe for disaster either because you can’t meet the price or you can’t meet the high expectations. Going the extra mile on a smaller project plan will delight the customer and will show extra value than failing to deliver a bigger plan.
- Cold-call old clients and win them back: One of the difficult things to do, particularly for freelancers, is to learn to cold-call old clients. Old clients could be easier to win back than you think even if you parted on not-so-good terms. Focus on a technique called “the soft sell”. Instead of convincing customers they should come back, remind them of what it was like when they did business with you. Talking about the past conversations you had and other information about your relationship shows that you are considerate and remember their specific business. If they talk about their current projects, suggest how those projects would have been on time and on budget if they were still a client.