Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of one of our most valuable resources – lasting relationships with clients that span a lifetime. They are often your biggest cheerleaders and yet sometimes you may take them for granted – or at least don’t focus on what you did to build that relationship.
First of all, as you hear us often remind you – you need to be very clear as to who are your ideal clients. Then, even before you establish an effective marketing plan to find more of these ideal clients, you need to have in place an “onboarding” process for these clients. Finding them is one thing but establishing an onboarding process will help assure you keep them for the long term. Spending the time upfront will help you avoid misunderstandings or challenges that could come up later. This is where you get to know each other, clarify preferred communication channels, and set proper expectations – for both of you. This is the opportunity for you to understand their goals and for them to understand the reality of how the process works.
Communication or lack of clear communication is very often the center of problems that may arise. So encouraging open communication at the beginning and sharing what they can expect is very valuable. Weekly reports and answers to questions within 24 hours make it clear that you welcome questions and clarity. Make sure the communication does not end with the completion of the project. Whether with periodic cards, notes, sharing of information in which they might be interested, or even a lunch invitation to ask their input about something new your firm is thinking about instigating! No matter how you do it, stay connected with them to continue the relationship. All relationships can benefit from better communication, and relationships with clients are no different.
Go Above and Beyond
Always under-promise and over-deliver. In other words, go above and beyond and exceed expectations. People remember those little extras and they definitely help build loyalty. Remember that your client is not just another “job”, but a fellow human being. Treat them accordingly. Yes, their project is one of many you may be juggling but to them, their project is the only one. Your relationships with clients will be stronger if you show that you truly value them.
Be a Problem-Solver
If there are problems – and most likely there will be some problems – be upfront about whatever it might be, address the problems immediately, and keep your clients informed. Once again, communication is critical. If they are ideal clients they should realize that challenges happen, but most people care more about how the problem is solved. In fact, a person may be more likely to leave a positive review if you go out of your way to solve a roadblock for them. Even if it was technically a more difficult experience, it still feels like better service than if everything had gone smoothly. Designers are problem solvers, so live up to that reputation. If there is more than one way to address the problem, then offer the client a choice of solutions. Being a problem solver also involves having a positive outlook. Look at challenges as opportunities to use your creative skills. People would much rather work with someone who is a positive force than a negative one.
Focus on Results
Finally, don’t ever forget to focus on what they envision as the final result. And be sure to connect to what that means to them. Clients will be much more likely to invest in the feelings that the finished project represents rather than the individual things they are purchasing. Be sure to spend time at the beginning of the project to understand the emotional connection they have to that final result – the true “why” of the process. Only then will you be able to become the artist who successfully helps them visualize themselves in the picture you paint for them. If you can make that connection, while offering true value, you will be sure to develop a lasting relationship with your clients.