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INTERNATIONAL: Tips For Long Lasting Customer Relationships Part 1:
Managing Expectations, Encouraging Participation

by Manuel Keppeler, March 26, 2013

Audience: SEOs and Project Managers

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Takeaways:

  • Maintaining existing customer relationships should not be forgotten in the quest to gain new customers
  • Keeping lines of communication clear are key to a project's success
  • A project should have a well-managed outline and timeline

A lot of attention is paid to converting a potential client and to making people or companies buy your product or service. But what comes after that? Do we put the same effort into keeping clients happy, repeat customers?

Those individuals and companies that invest at least as much effort into valuing and maintaining their clients as they do to converting new prospects have high customer retention rates. They seem to not only understand that the cost of acquiring new clients is calculated at eight to ten times higher than the cost of keeping existing customers, but, more so, that customer service and client maintenance is what sets them apart from their competition.

Keeping your existing customers happy is by far the most important activity any organization or individual can do. Zappos is a prime example of a company where customer relationships are the top priority. No surprise then, that, Zappos is often referred to as a customer service company that sells shoes!

In this two-part article, I outline a process for retaining customers through long-lasting relationships. In part one we'll cover the initial setting of expectations required so the team is on the same page with the project outlined at the outset. We also explore the multi-fold benefits of constant communication and keeping the client's team informed and involved at all stages.

Setting Expectations at the Outset

Making customer relationships work well for you and your company already starts with your first initial meeting. Establish clear project outlines, objectives and end product outcomes; when these are well-communicated, it lays down a solid foundation for a long lasting relationship.

Focus on Meeting Client Needs

When meeting your client or potential client for the first time, make sure you avoid telling them how great their business is or how great their products are. Instead, tell them how you are going to meet their needs. What are their problems and how are you going to solve them? The easier you can make their lives, the more pleasant it will be for them to consider you as a friend—a trustworthy entity that they can have an ongoing relationship with. Make customer focus an integral part of your company and brand values as well as your marketing efforts.

Clearly Plan Projects

When the client asks you to write up a quote or provides you with a brief, it is absolutely crucial that you create a project outline which is as clear as possible and as easy to understand for everyone involved. Sometimes the client may be a bit vague about what they expect, but you will know how to create an outline that demonstrates how the work to be done will unfold over time.

The project plan should contain clear objectives and the final outcome of the project your client can expect on delivery. Once it is clearly outlined what exactly will be produced, a detailed timeline should be worked out and you should agree on deadlines. Creating a timeline establishes two significant things:

  1. It sets responsibility and encourages accountability on both ends of the relationship.
  2. It conveys a sense of transparency and trust.

Milestones and timelines remind both parties that collaborative effort continuously has to be made to ensure the progress of the project.

This should also go along with a quote detailing how much the client will pay you. If this is well-established and communicated in the beginning, there should not be any disputes or other issues in the future.

Preparation and Information

Remember that you are the one that has done plenty of these kinds of projects and this is the field in which you are the expert. As such it is your responsibility to keeping the project well-planned and organized at all times. Your expertise and familiarity with the work process should lead your client and keep the project moving at its most efficient pace. Evaluate the project from a bird’s eye view to foresee what might come and make plans to keep the project going smoothly.

Opening Communication for All-Team Participation

Despite the technology we have available today to communicate, it can be really difficult sometimes to reach the right person when you need them the most. Again, because you are the expert, being proactive in setting expectations on what the next course of action should be come from your end. However, the more involved they feel in the project and the more visibility they have into the process, the more confident they'll feel about progress.

Establishing Duties and Participation

Identify the point of contact and the frequency of communication. Establish one person of contact to whom you contact for general communications, questions and concerns. Ensure you communicate with your first person of contact and obtain an introduction— do this early in the project. If there are several people in your team, establish who will be the first person of contact. This way you provide a transparent and efficient way of communication.

Iteration and Confirmation

In your own words, reiterate the key conversation points you have had with a client, which can save you time and trouble further down the track. It is completely normal that people misinterpret what someone has said and then later find out that what you heard was not really what they meant. This is great practice, not only in person, but also over the phone, Skype and any other communication channels. It is also recommended that all verbal communication be followed up by a summary to ensure clarity and accountability.

Manage Time and Meet Deadlines

Getting work completed as promised and on time is very important to maintaining your already well-established client relationships. If you have clearly outlined your project and created a realistic timeline, meeting deadlines should not become an issue. Actually, an additional tip is to set a realistic deadline and deliver the work before the due date for an extra good impression.

Always Keep the Project in Motion

Setting up the next steps will give your client piece of mind that:

  • You have got a grip on the project and where it is at.
  • The client's desires and expectations are being met.
  • Everything is still progressing at an optimal pace.

Following these guidelines will ensure your client has a clear understanding of the goals of the project and how they will be achieved. Continued communication creates a partnership relationship where successes are shared.

In part two we'll dive deeper into the how behind these guidelines, including the characteristics of communication that make for smooth interactions and how to keep in constant contact and listen well. Stay tuned!

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