Eight powerful secrets for retaining delighted clients
(What they don’t teach you in business school)
Over the years I have come to believe there are few simple secrets to my consulting success with several organizations both large and small. These secrets are not taught in business schools. And it seems the larger firms have stopped investing in helping younger professional learn the craft and soft skills needed. Many of these tips are just common sense and represent proven practice. You can always choose to ignore one or more of them and expect a client experience that is less than expected. I do think carefully about each one of them now in every engagement. They have served me well. Think you will them invaluable in your professional life as well.
1) Help them listen to themselves
The golden rule of any client communication is to listen. Once you are done listening, repeat or paraphrase what you have heard. Helping a client hear what they’ve just said is invaluable. Not only does it ensure you haven’t misinterpreted anything, hearing their thoughts explained by someone else often highlights potential issues. It is always better for the client to recognize problems themselves instead having to point them out.
2) Never ignore or reject a bad idea
When the client says ‘my idea is to …’ avoid the instinct to point out why the hilariously awful suggestion won’t work. Instead, listen, take notes and say something like ‘I will take that into consideration’. When returning with your much better ideas, they probably won’t mention it again. If they do, just say it didn’t quite work. They’re usually happy that you will have considered this and are truly receptive to their ideas. No matter how bad.
3) You can have it cheap, fast or good. Pick any two.
Explain the two out of three rule. All clients will always want you to produce distinctive, high quality work in less than a week for next-to-no money. But they sometimes forget that these things come at a price, and their reluctance to pay your rates or pressure to work faster can make you question your own reasoning. The most demanding won’t even understand why it’s not possible. Help them to understand by explaining the ‘two out of three’ rule:
Good Distinctive Quality + Fast = Expensive
You will defer every other unrelated job, cancel all un-necessary tasks and put in ungodly hours just to get the job done. But, don’t expect it to be cheap.
Good Distinctive Quality + Cheap = Slow
Will do a great job for a discounted price, but be patient until we have a free moment from pressing and better paying clients.
Fast + Cheap = Inferior Quality
Expect an inferior job delivered on time. You truly get what you pay for, and in our opinion this is the least favorable choice of the three. In most cases I decline or disengage rather than commit to something that may result in damaging the relationship. See secret 5 about never presenting ideas you don’t believe in and who can believe in junk?
To summarize: You can have it cheap, fast or good. Pick any two and meet everyone’s expectations.
4) Don’t make delivery promises straight away
Clients want immediate delivery date commitments. As much as you would like to conclude meetings with a firm, ‘yes I can’, always check with your team first or just ask for some time to ensure you have thought about the commitment thoughtfully. Not only does this show you take deadlines seriously, the next time the same client rings with an urgent request, you can buy time before committing. It is remarkable how many must-have-it-yesterday emergencies can fix themselves or simply melt away within hours of the initial request. A commitment is a promise. When you break a promise, no matter how small it may seem to you it can damage the client relationship and your reputation (brand).
5) Never present ideas you don’t believe in (no junk please!)
It’s tempting when preparing solution options to add one more into the mix. I guess we sometimes think that including a not-so-great idea highlights the effort we put into the preferred option and will make our other suggestions look even stronger. But what if the client picks the wrong option? Then you are stuck producing your own dumb idea you simply don’t believe in. If your main ideas are good enough, that’s all you should need. If the client hates them, you can always fall back on the rejects or junk if needed.
6) Don’t assume you’ll find ‘it’ alone
You worked on presenting your ideas alone with little time for collaboration. Looks great to you – what a genius you are. And then client see this and says I’ll know it when I see it and this is not what I expected’. These are the words that you never want hear as a creative, hard-working professional. You have no found it. If a client doesn’t like your ideas but can’t explain why, never assume that you can hit the mark next time. The client not knowing what they want is your problem so spend more time with them exploring other work they like. This helps get inside their heads and closer to finding the elusive ‘it’.
7) Who actually has final approval?
The final seal of approval may not come from the person you deal with every day. Managers have Directors, Directors have VPs, and VPs have a C-level they report to. So always uncover exactly who is the ultimate authority before proceeding with your ideas. Most people usually hate showing rough sketches to their boss, meaning you need to flesh out one or two elements in advance (see the secret number 6) with your client. Ensuring your work avoids a last minute thumbs-down is worth the time and effort.
8) If all else fails, raise your rates
Most clients are a joy to work with. Hopefully these secrets will help you deal with the most challenging parts of the creative process and leave you with a delighted client. But sometimes, you just know deep down someone is going to be impossible to work with. And you will know this quickly. If simply turning down the work is not an option or will create a poor perception with the client, raise your rates by 20%. At least then you can console yourself with cash during another long weekend of last minute revisions, rework, and unnecessary stress. And what about that time forever lost to your family and loved ones? This is a trap; the higher rate is almost never worth the cost to your nervous system. Manage your time wisely, it truly “is never found again”.