5 Practices Your Clients Will Love

Jan 11 2011 by Maria Malidaki | 30 Comments

5 Practices Your Clients Will Love

If your business relationships are going to work, your clients have to like you. If they feel comfortable with you, you’ll be on solid ground; a good rapport reduces the likelihood that you’ll get into difficult client situations. When you invest in a relationship — any relationship — the value of that relationship increases and it becomes more likely to bear fruit. So, once you’ve found awesome clients who are fond of you and your work, go the extra mile to ensure their loyalty and esteem. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Don’t Neglect Them

No one likes to feel forgotten. Your clients want to know they can rely on you, now and in the future. Sometimes we forget to stay in touch with clients, especially if their project is a content management system and they can update it themselves once it’s been launched. Upon delivery and during the first stages of CMS troubleshooting, communication between the web professional and the client usually fades. This is less of a problem when you are maintaining the website for the customer, because you have to be in touch about every update.

Be in touch with your clients a couple of times per year at least, regardless of the type of work you did for them. Holidays provide a good opportunity to show customers that you remember them, and you can combine a couple of work-related matters with a friendly "best wishes" email or phone call. Ask about their current projects and whether they have needs or problems. You can advertise your services: suggest a website or logo redesign, a holiday newsletter or the addition of certain features to their website (a banner, new call-to-action buttons, etc.).

Occasionally contacting your clients will remind them that you’re still active and available, but above all, it will make them feel that you enjoyed working for them — enough to send a greeting and to touch base.

2. Predict Their Needs

Large companies have their own analysts to predict marketing needs as well as CTOs and IT managers to make sure their technology is up to date and scales with their demands.

Small and local businesses, on the other hand, rely a lot on their own experience and usually don’t have the luxury of having expert assistance from specialists. For example, the restaurant next door might need an advertising leaflet and know it, and their current design might look unprofessional or lack certain things that would attract more customers. The same goes for their website — if they even have one.

Working online makes one aware of what clients need to enhance their web presence. You can suggest marketing ideas that a customer couldn’t think of on their own: if you’re creating a website for someone, ask whether they’d like a newsletter or a mailing list, too. If you think their business will grow, propose adding an e-commerce service. If you’re designing a new logo for someone and you notice that their website looks unprofessional, let them know that redesigning it could help — and that you can do it for them. They’ll see that you take their advertising strategy seriously, and a thoughtful response will speak to your professionalism and experience.

3. Follow Their Activity

Sticking to your client’s work schedule will help you to both keep in touch with them and predict their future needs — so it’s tied to the two practices we just went over.

Keep abreast of their activities and you’ll learn valuable information about how their work is going and whether you can do anything to increase their exposure, whether by implementing new services or enhancing current ones. Check whether the services you’ve offered so far have been helpful in attracting customers and getting positive reviews.

Track your client’s business activity indirectly — via social networks, for example — or directly by contacting them and asking about their progress. A combination of the two is optimal; it’s accommodating and not intrusive. Also check the overall activity of the market sector your client operates in; get a general idea of current trends so that you can contribute to business conversations.

Nothing’s better than throwing a couple of new ideas into a discussion about market status or business ventures. Once you learn to speak the language, terminology included, they’ll feel more at ease when expressing ideas and concerns, and they’re bound to pay more attention to your marketing suggestions (as opposed to seeing you as someone who’s great at producing web masterpieces but can’t relate to their daily reality).

4. Don’t Make Them Wait

Ever been disappointed when you were expecting, say, an important package that had a specific date of when it would arrive? That’s how your clients feel when they send you a request (an update, question or suggestion) and you reply a few days later. Sometimes we slack a little after delivering the goods, especially if we’re the ones maintaining a website.

If someone sends an update to be posted on the website, upload it within 48 hours — that’s the general rule. A similar rule exists for customers who face technical difficulties: if a client contacts you by phone more than once within a few hours, it means they are going through what they consider to be an emergency, and you should get in touch with them as soon as possible.

To avoid being tardy with service and replies, predefine acceptable waiting times for your clients. You can either detail the matter in an FAQ page or prepare specific guidelines for each of your clients or services. Let clients know what is considered "urgent." For example, when I maintain a conference website, updates about the program or the registration process are considered urgent, whereas a new photo of the conference location can be posted at any time. Urgent updates should be posted within 24 hours. For less urgent updates, decide on appropriate timeframes and let your clients know what they are. Tech issues can be approached the same way.

In any case, let your clients know you’ve received their request, and estimate a time for its completion. Then, when you’ve managed their request, let them know it’s finished and suggest that they look over the result. If you’ve uploaded some news to their website, for example, send a confirmation email that includes a link to the new content.

5. Grant Them Privileges

Awesome clients should be rewarded for their cooperation and constructive criticism. If you’re interested in establishing long-term relationships, inform your clients of the ongoing benefits that come from collaborating with you.

Offer discounts to those who choose your services a second time.

Be understanding and flexible with your pricing and payment methods for clients who have always been punctual with payments and trusting of your ideas.

Offer freebies to customers who have stayed with you for a long period of time — perhaps a new banner, a website enhancement (like a new design for the photo gallery) or a free domain name renewal for the new year (it’s timely and low-cost).

Let them know they’re at the top of your list and that you cater to their needs first. Appreciating good customers will benefit your relationships, build trust and serve as a marketing gesture.

No matter how much you offer, sometimes things won’t turn out the way you planned. Don’t become embittered if a loyal client chooses a new service provider; maybe they want something you can’t offer. Maybe your services could use some more sparkle. If a relationship with a client goes sour, even though you’ve done your best, perhaps it’s because you’ve spoiled them — or perhaps they didn’t deserve those perks in the first place. Rethink the criteria by which you choose clients.

No matter how vitriolic a client turns out to be, don’t unleash your wrath on other clients. If you can’t handle your disappointment or channel it appropriately, you’ll miss opportunities for collaboration. You’re allowed to be a little cautious, but remember that the client has to trust you and your skills first; don’t be afraid to show off your best attributes and client-management tactics.

What’s your suggestion for making clients fall in love with your services? Have you tried any of these tactics? How did it turn out?

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About the Author

Maria Malidaki loves creating and managing websites, focusing on clean and simple design primarily using semantic HTML/CSS. Planning to also work as a vet and researcher, she specializes in building the web presence of academic and scientific events. Keep in touch with her on Twitter @mthunderkit and at her professional website at thunderkit.net.

30 Comments

RBeezy

January 11th, 2011

Good suggestions except for one thing: offering discounts is a slippery slope that will redefine your fee structure. What happens if this client recommends another client to you? The first thing they’ll discuss is your rate.

Vivek Parmar

January 11th, 2011

for me i listen what client says and work according to it so as to present perfect work without any complaints

Kylee

January 11th, 2011

Brilliant, just like being proactive.

Dusan

January 11th, 2011

Very nice and encouraging article, thank you for this clear guide…

Maria Malidaki

January 11th, 2011

Thanks for your comment all :)

@RBeezy, I believe that if you have a discount strategy, it should be stated somewhere in your FAQ file. There you can clearly say who is rewarded a discount and when, for example clients who want a second or third project from you. This will prevent any misconceptions about your prices.

Brian

January 11th, 2011

That dude looks like he’s pretty happy. THUMBS UP DAWG

Robyn McMaster

January 11th, 2011

Like your tip to discuss new ideas with clients. The exchange of ideas can help each player advance.

Thoughtful post!

Igor

January 11th, 2011

Nice article but I agree with RBeezy.

Simon Duck

January 11th, 2011

I agree with the discounts part, but you do need to be careful as giving out to many discounts could lead to losing money, which you could be getting. If you are good enough people should be loyal because your good, trying to establish that first should be the main way to make clients love you.

Hannah Hurst

January 11th, 2011

Some useful tips here and its definitely important to keep in touch with your clients. However you need to be careful not to over do things and become annoying.

I think the best way to deal with clients is to be very adaptable. Every client is different and depending on the particular nature of the client depends on how you need to behave.

Lee

January 11th, 2011

I would have to agree about the discounts. The goal is to raise your prices, not lower them. Virtually everyone I know could raise their prices 20% and never lose any business in the least. I don’t think good clients buy price. They buy quality. Other than that one quip, great post!

Anam

January 11th, 2011

I also agree with RBeezy. If you reduce money then it would be difficult for you to provide better support

Angelee

January 11th, 2011

Guess it’s basically satisfactory customer service! Showing them quality services keep them coming back…

Robert Solomon

January 11th, 2011

These are five good suggestions, but I have 58 more of them in my book, “The Art of Client Service,” and even more ideas on my blog, “Adventures in Client Service.”

If you’re commited to getting better at serving clients, you might want to spend some time at one or both.

Sankar Datti

January 11th, 2011

Absolutely right. Time to impress your clients.

Theo

January 12th, 2011

Useful tips in this nice article only i would suggest to reward awesome clients with some extra services like maybe one extra month seo or site maintain… and not with price discounts.

Graham

January 12th, 2011

Great article. I think we can all do more to improve our client service and our client experience.

Jacob Gube

January 12th, 2011

With regards to the discount part: I see both sides. I think with moderation, discounts can be effective. I probably would do it after a certain number of project hours spent working with a client on multiple projects, though. And it wouldn’t be something crazy like 50%.

And the discount wouldn’t have to be monetary. It could be something like, “Usually this feature is this much, but we appreciate your business and we enjoy working with you, so we would love to throw in this feature along with this project.” Sort of like a bonus that clients can take advantage of if they want this feature. That could be anything simple or complex that you find fun, like a simple icon or setting up a contact form or setting up a blog (where you can sharpen your skills in WordPress, Drupal, or whatever CMS you’re deploying). And then, you can just work off the cost through unpaid overtime (if you’re a freelancer). That is a natural way for you to be conservative of who you give your discounts to, because you wouldn’t want to be working unpaid overtime over the weekends frequently.

In many cultures I know, whether you’re dealing with a doctor, a bar keep, a contractor or a store vendor, customers expect these perks when they become long-time patrons. In western cultures, this is closest (not entirely the same) to the concept of the baker’s dozen.

JH

January 12th, 2011

Good article. Offering discounts is perfectly OK as long as you’re consistent and can explain to customers how you work. If a new client doesn’t choose you because he wants that discount his friend is getting, he or she doesnt deserve you.

Maria Malidaki

January 12th, 2011

@Robert Solomon, skimmed over your blog and you have some very nice ideas there, with practical effects. Good job, I’ll spend more time over it.

As far as discounts are concerned, I find the reaction towards the matter very interesting, for our business sector.

I believe that by no means should you generally lower your prices or risk being taken advantage on. This is not what is suggested, at all. It’s very different offering a small discount to everyone who’ll do a second project with you, compared to giving this privilege to a few, selected clients that have stuck with you over the years.

You definitely shouldn’t proceed to any crazy discounts, but does a 5% for the next project of a client that has trusted you for 5-6 previous works, sound risky to you?

Jacob put an interesting line in there: “In many cultures I know, whether you’re dealing with a doctor, a bar keep, a contractor or a store vendor, customers expect these perks when they become long-time patrons”.
In my country, people are kind of expecting a discount when they have trusted you long-term and when they have gladly paid for a number of projects. It’s because the general market works this way, starting from supermarkets, to local stores, to chain international stores. People are used to the philosophy of “buying more will get you a small discount or a freebie”. If I’m not mistaken, that’s kind of an international market trend.

I don’t see any great danger in that, as long as you are focused on who gets the goodies, when and how much of it. As with any technique, someone must use it with care, and it doesn’t work well for newly started business ventures or those without a certain number of customers. It also doesn’t work well if you extend it to the limits of spoiling. So if your business is still new, or if you feel you might risk your financial balance, you can always opt for freebies and services as Theo and Jacob suggested.

I think it’s all a matter of how many clients you have, what sort of clients they are and how you want to handle your own business. As with any suggestion, discounts can either work for you or not and if they do, adjust and use with care. :)

Ash Menon

January 12th, 2011

@RBeezy I’d just like to say, in response to your earlier post, that I think if a referred client inquired about the first client’s discount, it’s safe to say that the first client got it because of recurring business and long time business relationship? It gives this new client something to look forward to, too!

John

January 12th, 2011

Discounts are crucial with the economy as it is. I give discounts to all new clients and I run monthly special rates for certain types of jobs. If all new clients get say 10% off there will never be an issue. If hey recommend you then the person they recommend you too, logically speaking, will also be a new client. So everyone gets the same rate until job #2. Happy customers are customers that save money. Happy customers will recommend you therefore increasing sales. So to make a long story longer, I totally disagree with everyone who was not pro discount.

Also, the goal should never be to raise your prices. Your goal should be to provide a quality product and excellent customer service. It sounds to me like a lot of the commenters are using the old mechanics sales theory. Try to get as much as you can from every job. That leads to more loss than anything else.

Also, on the invoice, I clearly define:
hourly rate-10% new customer discount=what they pay

Practically every business in the world offers discounts, seasonal specials, reduced fees if you pay up front and a host of other incentives. I would have a hard time believing everyone is wrong and has been for decades.

On the other side, customers that have been using your services for a long time should get a discounted rate also.

Make your clients happy and you’ll have more clients.

Anton

January 12th, 2011

Love it – thank you.

Young

January 12th, 2011

@Maria: I’m with Jacob on that discounts should only be given to long-time patrons, and I like his idea of “discount” – rather than reducing the rate, add a service. I’m Korean and every time I deal with a Korean client they try to take advantage of my services, and once they’ve paid me the deposit (for a rate they haggle down like no other to begin with) they think they’re entitled to everything I’m capable of, asking for one additional feature after another. Now this MIGHT fly if I lived in Korea – but my clients and I are in the states and they should have better business ethic than that. This “when in Rome” mentality might be the reason so many people are at a disagreement with you. All I can say is that I hope people in your country know what’s fair to ask of you.

Oliver Lawrence

January 12th, 2011

Some good points in here, well made, especially about keeping up to speed with developments in regular clients’ businesses/industries. As a freelance translator, though, I’m not convinced that discounts are necessarily an effective way forward, as downward price pressure is all too common in my industry.

Dianne

January 12th, 2011

Awesome lists, also keeping in touch w/ clients on regular basis for development and updates!

Laurie

January 13th, 2011

An initial discount may be the final push to make the first sale, but I think once you’ve won your client with a sale, they will stay with you and build your business through referrals + testimonials if they consider you indispensable. That means being a building block to their success. Understanding their needs and long term picture and being the go-to person for what you bring to their business. Get them to share their strategy-marketing plan with you so you can align your arrows with and support their vision. That will help cement an allegiance between you. If they don’t have a strategy plan, it won’t take much to convince them they need one so they know what to do at any given time in their business.

Maria Malidaki

January 13th, 2011

Thank you for your very interesting thoughts and suggestions, everyone :)

@Young, I don’t see it as people disagreeing with me, really – they disagree with an option. Discounts are one marketing option, so anyone can try it or not. I suggest it as a possibility because it truly is a way to approach clients – this doesn’t imply I should definitely use it for my business, and it also doesn’t mean it’s the best option for everyone. :)

One thing is certain: any customer loves discounts. I don’t think there’s a customer that would turn down a discount offer or that would react negatively towards it. Whether someone wants to use that as a tool or not is a personal matter and taking that decision depends on several factors.

As far as different cultural mentalities are concerned, I think it’s not a “when in Rome” issue as far as discounts go. Mediterranean customers might be more used to discounts, to the point of favoring those who offer them. But using discounts is well-known and quite solid tactics in international management. In my books, travels and online ventures, I can see discounts pretty much everywhere geographically. Some countries “require” it, some simply favor it, but I never came across a country that frowned towards a little percent off :)

What I suggested in my example is that if you happen to specifically work for a culture that embraces discounts (like my country), it’s wise to at least consider the idea, if not necessarily implement it. Your client pool should set a large part of your strategy, and if you miss out on that you might have issues with competition in the field.

Jason

January 28th, 2011

Nice article..

Similar to Jacob – when asked for a discount we instead offer to add a free service or add-on.

You’re then *adding* value to the project rather than taking away from it.

Essentially by giving a discount for no reason your saying either you or your work was never worth what you originally asked for it.

It’s psychologically a very different propostition I think. And personally I much prefer to view it that I’m offering the client a bonus rather than them not paying me what I consider to be a decent wage!

Saying that we do however offer one discount. 10% off for projects that are paid up front in full. It’s a great way of keeping cash flow happy and most client can see the rationale behind it.

Also I found early on those clients that tended to demand discounts are the same ones that end up never paying or paying really late.

Rakhitha Nimesh

January 29th, 2011

thanks for the post. lots of things to learn about clients.

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