We’re talking relationships this month and this week we’re focusing on the one we have with our clients/customers. Ask anyone who works with us, we’re pretty crazy about our clients.
For as long as I’ve been in the industry, I’ve viewed the agency/client relationship like “going out” – that’s right “you and me, sitting in a tree”. This relationship though is less messy and free from the drama (although there may be those times when you see your client courted by a competing company…gasp! We’ll save those stories for another day).
After the dates (courting to win the accounts), the real relationship-building begins. We really get – as I’ve constantly referred to as – “all up in your business.” I always say that I’m going to find another way to describe what happens when we start working with a client, but the reality is, at White Book, this statement works and what happens is we do get “all up in your business.” Doing this allows us to get a sense of how your business works. What your strengths are and the areas that could use improvement. It also allows us to generate solutions for success and come up with various ways to share your story. (This is also why fit is so important to us and should be to you as well when you’re working with your PR/marketing firm. Not all agencies run this way, but regardless, it’s important that you are comfortable with the firm you work with – it makes for a better, longer lasting relationship.)
When it comes to continuously building/strengthening our relationships with clients (and prospects) there are a few things that we’ve found that work best – and serve as our ‘business relationship tenets’ (that also work well for life in general).
1) Communicate. This one ranks high and not just because we’re in the communication industry but communicating allows you to establish and grow the relationship with your customers. Call them on their grand opening anniversary, check up on them (even when you don’t have anything new to report) and tell them what is happening with the product and/or service you’re delivering. If it’s slow…say it (more on this in the next honesty bullet) – communicate. People will appreciate it more than you know. Life (and your clients/customers) are too busy to try and decipher what you’re thinking or what needs to be said – so you need to initiate and maintain open lines of communication. On the flip side, this lets them know that they can also communicate openly with you because you, too, are busy enough that you don’t want to add “reading minds” on your list of to dos.
Establishing this type of relationship practice from the beginning will help to build a healthy partner/client relationship. From setting boundaries to managing expectations. Plus, it’s never too late to start – so if you’re not a talker, don’t be shy, now or never! (Note: Some clients prefer a less communicative approach. We have clients like that. How do we know? Because we communicated with them and they told us. Open lines of communication helps you to build your relationship the way it needs to grow. Double note: This also does not mean you need to call/text/e-mail every day. Just actively communicate with your clients so that everyone is on the same page!)
2) Be Honest. Whether it’s positive or negative news, we deliver it to our clients. If they need work, we tell them. If we messed up, we own it. Working in an industry that some perceive to involve “smoke and mirrors” we’re committed to candor and always being honest. I’ve always said the world is interesting (and challenging) enough without having to figure out who is telling or what is the truth. This doesn’t mean you have to be insensitive in your delivery (which sometimes takes practice!), but we always recommend being honest with your customers, about the good, bad, ups, downs, pretty and ugly. This doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s fine and exactly why we keep an extensive network of contacts because again, fit is important. (Note: Timing is critical in this area as well. Don’t wait until after someone goes on stage to let them know their speech could use some polish. Do them a favor and tell them well in advance so they may improve.)
3) Listen. Years ago I remember Oprah saying that people just want to be heard. They want to know that someone is willing to listen to their thoughts, feelings, concerns and that someone understands and cares. Perhaps this sounds too much like a therapy session to you, but the reality is if you listen to your customers you’ll learn what’s working, what needs to be improved and what changes to make in your business.
4) Be Available. You’re in business, people pay you, so be available. This doesn’t mean you have to take calls at dinner time or drop everything whenever your client e-mails, but you want to return calls and be available to them. If necessary, set and communicate boundaries, but know that part of the customer experience involves being available – whether it’s via phone, in person, through your customer service team or social media.
These aren’t the only principles to maintain a healthy relationship with your clients, but rank pretty high on our list. What ways do you and your business help to grow your client/customer relationships? Share with us in the comments below!