The second most important issue after providing your clients with top-notch work is customer care.
It might sound trite but no matter what whether you are a sole trader with a client base of 3 or a multi-million-pound conglomerate with millions of customers, your level of customer care can make all the difference.
A term that has come from the internet world that is appropriate here is CX or Customer Experience. A good CX will see customers returning time and time again, which for a solo business owner, it can make all the difference between sitting on the breadline and comfortably knowing all your bills will be paid.
Coming from a background in corporate customer services, providing an excellent CX was something that came naturally, but as a consumer, I have to say many people still lack in their ability to show their customers that they care, and believe me, it is not difficult.
In this article, I will show you some simple but effective ways to create the perfect customer environment. It does require a minimal amount of effort, but to be honest, these are all things you should be doing. Businesses that cannot be bothered to create the best CX doesn’t deserve the work.
Your customers are your lifeblood – so pamper them! Follow these top tips, and you will find you have a loyal and happy client base and gain word of mouth recommendations – which are vital.
Be Available and Human
This is a fine balance. Your customer wants to believe that you are available 24/7 just for them. At the same time, you cannot allow them to think you have no work and are not an in-demand professional. However, small touches can help. Aim to be as responsive as possible with email communication. After all, with the technology we can answer emails from anywhere – you could be leaving a meeting with another client or sat on the sofa with coffee. When it comes to live contact, either via phone, Skype or face-to-face, be a little more reserved. Offer them a call later in the day, but impress on them that you are currently tied up with extra clients. That way you are showing them you value their business but are not someone they can constantly harass. If you work from home set hours that suit you. If they email you at 10 p.m., it is perfectly acceptable to leave the reply until 9 am the next morning.
I know that if I rang my accountant at 9 pm, I would get his voicemail because he has an office in town with opening hours. Even though you work freelance, you have a right to create the same amount of distance and respect from your customers. By offering on point customer service and responsiveness through your business hours, you are creating the environment that makes them feel valued. It also means that if they have a crisis and need something doing in an emergency, you can go the extra mile by working an evening for them. They never need to know you choose to work every night, that is your customer free time for catching up on the jobs that slip out of the working day.
Going the Extra Mile
As I get to know my clients and their businesses I am well placed to go the extra mile, without really doing much. You make someone feel important by showing you have them on your radar. A supplier that seems interested in the growth of their business is something special.
With this in mind, I will often send my clients articles I found relating to their industry, or make suggestions that could help promote them. I might see a conference they could attend or a piece of software on special offer that could aid their development. I have yet to have a client tell me to mind my own business, in fact quite the opposite; most are blown away that I have taken the time to contact them in the first place. It is often the small things that make the biggest difference to how someone feels about you.
In a similar vein to point one, you also need to be responsive. When I contact my clients, I am careful to take the time to make them feel that I have placed their needs first. Take these two emails for example:
Hi, Quote Attached. Thanks
I trust you are well today. Please find attached the quote you requested. I hope it is what you expected, however, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any queries.
As a client, I know which email I would rather receive. It takes me about 2 minutes longer to add the extra care touches, but the benefits to the CX are more than you can imagine.
If you are working on a long-term project, I also recommend taking the time to check in. We are all busy people, and clients can sometimes make no comment about the work you are producing. It is down to you to take the time to be responsive. Develop an easy way of following through by emailing them a quick ‘Hi, How is it going’ type email once a week.
Be on the lookout for issues that may arise. If you feel that a client is not as communicative as usual, and you know that the work hasn’t progressed quite as well as you would have like – do not hide. Be reactive and suggest a Skype or face-to-face catch-up. Even it if the issue is their problem and they have tried to make it yours – you can offer the first steps and look caring and professional. This also gives you the opportunity to explain any delays or problems in a way that is less likely to be misinterpreted. And, I find that if I need to get them to do something, it is easier in a more personal forum.
Remember to present yourself in a professional manner if you are meeting in person or over a webcam! If you work from home in joggers and a t-shirt stained with last night’s dinner, that is your prerogative, but when you are facing a client pretend this is an office. Whether you pop a shirt and tie on for the camera, or have to get your suit out for a meeting – the benefits again outweigh your small amount of effort.
Pay iT Forward or Throw Them a Bone
I am not rude or glib here; it is just the quickest way of conveying the message. So, this means offering them things for nothing. How can you do that? Well, you could share their social media posts promoting their business. You can recommend them to others in the business and add a short recommendation to the share.
If you were to write a blog on the merits of outsourcing your graphic design, why not mention your favourite graphic designer as a great example. Sometimes the only reason we lose clients is a money issue. If they are not getting the work they need, how can they outsource work to you? In the world of business, it pays to look after each other. If you recommend them, they will be more likely to support you.
Be magnanimous, offer them up paying no mind in what may, or may not, be in it for you. Do it because you care, and you want them to know you care.
I received a small hamper at Christmas last year, from a client I know is not much bigger than I am. She apparently felt it was a small price to pay to say thank you for my efforts. I felt special. Now, if you cannot afford to be sending gifts then do not stretch yourself financially, but a well-worded greeting, whether that is at a seasonal time of year or the end of a project can also show your customers that they are more than just a line on your bank statement.
So, as you can see, running a successful business is more than just being a master of your craft. Maintain a more human touch and show you care and customers will be back for more.