— Amy M. Gardner
Landing clients is one thing. Keeping them happy is another. Last week we addressed what to do when you’ve disappointed a client. This week, we’re sharing six tips to help you keep clients happy in the first place.
Tip 1: Just because someone wants to hire you, doesn’t mean they should be your client.
Be clear on what your clients want and expect, and what you can actually deliver. Especially when you’re new to your role, it can be tempting to just be glad for the business and assume you’ll figure it out later on. And in some cases, that may work. But just because you can figure out how to do something, doesn’t mean you should.
For example, I’m regularly approached by people who think that if they hire me, I will wave a magic wand and provide them a new job on a platter. While I have been called a career fairy godmother by more than one client (true!), that isn’t actually how it works. And if I accepted that business without clarifying what I can and can’t do, I’d risk disappointing the client. By declining business when you know the client’s expectations are not ones you can or want to meet, you will save yourself – and your client – a lot of frustration.
Tip 2: Do a great job.
This is so obvious, and yet . . . . Do great work, meet deadlines, and deliver on your promises. These are obviously necessary – but not sufficient – to keep your clients happy. If you are great at the “bonus” gestures but not the sufficient gestures, you’re not going to keep your clients happy. An attorney I know was told by a client that they appreciated his generosity and the free opera and NBA tickets but were moving to another lawyer because they wanted their emails answered promptly. He was so busy trying to “wow” them that he forgot to just do the work and do it well.
Tip 3: Pay attention to communication.
A recent Harvard Business Review article summarizing research on communication with clients lists several specific steps tied to higher client satisfaction. One study, for example, focused on email communication and found that simple and clear subject lines, quick responses, and giving clients one consistent point of contact (rather than sending them to different people for different topics) resulted in 17% higher client satisfaction. Other studies found that during web calls with potential clients, salespeople who turn on the video camera and engage in more back-and-forth with clients during those calls have better sales results.
Ask clients their communication preferences, communicate regularly and clearly, don’t pass them from person to person within your organization, and opt for video calls (with the cameras on!) when you can.
Tip 4: Don’t use one client as an excuse to another.
Unless another client is on fire and you have the only bucket of water, don’t tell a client that you can’t help them because you’re busy with another. A simple “I’m tied up on another matter” is almost always enough information, while anything else risks sending a message to a client that they aren’t as important as someone else.
The only time there might be an exception to this is if one client is truly in an emergency and the other is not. In those cases, the client who isn’t experiencing an emergency may appreciate knowing that you’ll drop everything else for them when the need arises. But remember that to the person seeking your help, they may feel their situation is an emergency.
Tip 5: Deliver more than expected.
Recently I was at my dentist’s office when a vendor showed up to make a delivery. When she arrived, she didn’t just drop off the package and bolt; she also brought donuts, which gave her the opportunity to chat with the staff and ask about their other needs. The staff was abuzz when she departed, expressing excitement and appreciation for the unexpected treat and the fact the vendor came in person rather than using a courier or FedEx. The $15 in Dunkin Donuts undoubtedly paid off in goodwill and in the information she gathered.
If spending your spare time acting as a messenger isn’t possible or appealing, consider other ways you can deliver more than your clients expect. That may be by forwarding articles about tax law changes if you’re an accountant, letting clients know about adopt-a-thons if you’re a veterinarian, or inviting clients to free continuing legal education programming if you’re an attorney.
Tip 6: Thank clients.
An attorney at a big law firm recently told me it’s not in his “nature” to express gratitude to clients. They’re the firm’s clients, he reasoned, so why would he thank them? It’s “just business,” he said. That doesn’t really work. When you work directly with a client, you need to express gratitude whether you directly get a cut of their bills or not. And the more you can act as an owner and develop client relationships, the more likely it is that one day you will be an owner.
Thanks can come in many forms, from saying thank you orally to giving gifts. In between, you can attend events the client may be holding or where s/he may be speaking, send the client referrals, and support them on social media. Whether you prefer to express your gratitude by taking a foodie client out for a nice dinner or through handwritten notes at the end of the year, it won’t happen unless you make it a priority.
When you land a client, your work has just begun. Ensuring you are keeping your clients happy is important to the success of your career, and will make your life much easier – so you won’t have to refer back to our tips for what to do with a disappointed client.
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Amy M. Gardner is a certified professional coach with Apochromatik specializing in career and career transition coaching. Amy is a former Big Law associate, partner at a mid-size law firm, and dean of students at a top 5 law school. Today she works with lawyers and other high-achieving professionals to build the career and life they want. Contact Amy directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.