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managing client relationships

Great work wins business; a great relationship keeps it.
– Robert Solomon, The Art of Client Service

As a former ad exec, Robert Solomon knows a thing or two about how to build and sustain relationships with clients. And he couldn’t be more right. In the midst of the hustle of actually doing the client work, you can’t forget about managing client relationships.

But what does that mean and why is it so important?

“Client relationship” simply means the relationship that you have with your clients, including how you treat them and communicate with them.

Why is it important? Take a look at these findings from Salesforce:

  • 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated
  • Gaining new customers is six to seven times more expensive than maintaining current ones you already have
  • 72% of customers will share their good experiences with others

When managing client relationships is done poorly, it will cost you their business. But when done well, you retain and grow current business, with potential for referrals. Money is on the line here, so check out Beyond the Chaos’s best tips for managing client relationships.

Communicate About How You Will Communicate

Communication is the foundation of managing client relationships. It is a trust builder. Always communicate about how you will communicate, starting on day zero. There are several ways to create structure around communication.

Pick a communication method

Client needs always come first. So ask your client the best way to contact them: email, chat tools, text, phone, or in-person. The same goes for you. Make sure clients know the best way to get in touch with you, and during which timeframes. Client preferences should be saved in your CRM, and yours should be in your client proposals.

Schedule weekly meetings

A consistent communication schedule is key. Schedule weekly meetings for general project status, and also to make sure your client is satisfied with your progress. Ask for ways you can improve, or how the rest of the organization is responding to your work. Beyond the Chaos has seen success with just 15-minute status meetings.

There are always ebbs and flows to client work. But keep meeting during the ebbs. A set communication schedule ensures the conversation never ends. It also means that your company is top of mind, at least for a few minutes each week. So if a new project or need comes up, you are there for them. You will also gain additional knowledge that helps create a stronger partnership and opens the doors to opportunities they may not have asked for your help with otherwise.

Weekly meetings also help you stay responsive. SmartSheet found that 50% of consumers will wait only one week for a response to a question before they stop doing business with a company. Don’t lose touch.

Set communication boundaries

Set the expectation upfront about when you are available. The beauty of owning a small business is that you get to work when you want to work, but set and keep those boundaries with your client.

Susan relies on an app on her phone to help her set boundaries. It rings on her cell phone, but it’s a separate number so she doesn’t have to pay attention to it in the evenings. Emails also have the ability to be scheduled in advance these days. Go ahead and write that email response, but schedule it to go out the next day at 8:03 or whatever time you’re starting work. That starts to set client boundaries. You’re still responding to them, but just not in your off-hours.

One of the things that you can do when you’re sharing the proposal is to offer a higher service where you’re available to them 24/7. This is of course at a higher price point, as your personal time is most valuable. Then if they don’t pick that option, they’re also well aware they didn’t choose it and are clear on expectations of your service.

Set Realistic Expectations on What You Can Deliver

There are no “silver bullet” fixes available, but, sometimes, clients still expect you to come in and fix all the issues on some level – preferably without a lot of their effort being required. This is where you need to give a good dose of reality sweetened with hope. You are where you are – in whatever stage of chaos – and it took more than a month to get to this point. It will take dedicated effort, and hard work, to improve things. And the need to improve will never go away. Set expectations in line with reality and everybody wins.

And with expectations, make sure you understand theirs too. Ask them their expectations of progress and deadlines. Sometimes they don’t have deadlines and it helps to make them think harder about realistic expectations. Don’t be afraid to level set them with realistic goals.

Say No by Saying Yes

You have a plan. You have a scope. But then your client starts asking for more. No one wants to tell their client no, but you also don’t want scope creep, or to be in the red. So how do you handle it in a way that doesn’t have a negative impact on the client relationship? Learn to say no, by saying yes.

Say you’re coming to the end of a project, and the client wants a new feature added to an app, that was not in your original scope. Here’s what you say: “Yes, we can take care of that for you. But you know what, let’s wait and put it in the parking lot or on that wish list. And let’s come back to it after we finish the project that we’ve already defined. Let’s see if you still need it.”

This way, you are mitigating any surprise about money or time when it comes to the end of the project. If you don’t say no, you’ll dig yourself into a money hole that will get increasingly more difficult to address. Not being truthful about financials or poor budgeting will actually end a relationship.

So always advise clients upfront about the implications of their decisions. Here’s an example: “Yes, I can do that. But if there is going to be a change, it can come out of your contingency bucket or your change bucket. It will cost an extra $1,500 and your timeline is going to be extended by an extra three weeks.”

You’re still saying yes, but you’re giving the client control over the budget. This way, projects will actually get completed instead of them going on for years because they keep asking for things. You get to profit. They get a functional deliverable.

If you need help setting up communication processes to get your client relationships started off on the right foot (or maybe back on track) contact Beyond the Chaos today.

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