Developing Trustworthy Client Relationships

Pinky PromiseTrust can be one of the hardest things to give and develop with a client.  Trust in your business relationships is integral if you wish to see your clientele numbers and your own company’s revenues grow.  The level of trust in your business relationships—especially client relationships—is a one of the greatest determinants of a business’ success.  Therefore,building your book of business is intrinsically tied to the trustworthy relationship you have with your clients and developing the long term relationships with them.

The Personal Touch – Consistent communication with clients, and building mutual trust and respect, often leads to repeat business for your company. Try to find ways to show clients how much they are valued, which contradicts the typical deli line “NEXT,” limited attention given to clientele by many business.  Equally as important to the attention you give them is setting reasonable and attainable goals centered on ways to solve their problems with your product or service.  Most client’s want you to set specific goals to be attained, reflecting that you are as equally invested in their success as you are in the ROI.  These  personal touches create brand loyalty with your clients and will cause them to stay with your company even if a competitor offers what appears to be a “better” deal.

Get in Their Head – Knowing your clients is just as important as servicing them.  Small talk during a business meeting is a great way to asses a business’s operational structure and culture, and this intel is critical to reflect your knowledge of their needs.  Gain respect and trust by sincerely asking clients what’s important to them and listening intently makes clients feel heard.  Try to elicit the critical issues that are most meaningful to the to them.  If appropriate, take a little time and diligence to discover not just the clients’ needs for your product of service, but also their personal hobbies, family dynamics and even biggest pet peeves to develop a more personalized relationship.  If they trust you with personal information, they will undoubtedly trust you with their business.

Make it Happen – Trust me, if you  don’t return phone calls in a timely manner, are consistently late for appointments or miss deadlines, it will be disastrous for both the relationship and your bottom line.  For example, when you give a client an expected date of completion – its simple, MEET IT!  Nothing is worse for a budding business relationship or repeat business than failing to meet deadlines.  To keep the fire smoldering and the business coming your way, give reasonable timetables for projects and deliverables.  If something unexpected does come up, make sure to communicate that with the client before the actual deadline date.  When it comes to this issue, it’s always better that you call them than they call you!

Earners Keepers/Lackeys Weepers – To keep your client’s trust and respect,  it must be maintained over time by doing the things you did to earn it in the first place.  You do not have to be perfect – just trustworthy in both words and actions ,and ensuring that they are complementary of one another. Trust can be easily earned by someone with upstanding character and integrity, but hard to dispense if you lack those critical qualities.

Crystal Clear – Transparency is critical to the provider/client relationship.   In this day when contracts with fine print have replaced the nobleman’s handshake, there’s a tremendous need for honesty and not camouflaging crucial facts.  If there’s some aspect of your product or service that a client wants, but you know you can’t provide, tell the truth.  There’s nothing wrong with stating that you can’t do something or haven’t yet developed a particular service or product.  You can still win them over or keep a current client happy by letting them know that you are innovative enough to work on a solution thereby reflecting your commitment to them and their business.

In Summary – Begin or continue earning your clients trust by giving them your best, proving your competency and following through with all commitments to show them you value their business and the relationship. Remember, word of mouth can be your best advertising or your worst adversary.  

Are you listening to your current client design needs?

One of the biggest mistakes I think in this business is to treat your customer as a one time sale. Or even worse, as a number and not a long-term business relationship. This is actually one of our “theories” that a customer is worth more to us than a one time sale.

Now what are you doing as a designer in terms on client retention? Some designers I know have some sort of medium they use to keep in constant contact with their clients. Some of those tools are:

  • Email newsletters
  • Snail Mail postcards or advertisements
  • Facebook messages
  • Twitter mentions
  • Quarterly phone calls

Those are all nice, only IF you perform them as necessary and with an expected frequency. There’s also a level of engagement that needs to be monitored per client too. For example, if you have a few clients that respond more to snail mail letters than they do with social media, you may want to save your energy on social media marketing with those in particular and engage with them via postal mail.

The real issue though is actually paying attention to what they’re saying or thinking about their design needs. Some things to think about may be

  • When was the last time they updated their website?
  • Do they have any new services to add to their brochure or print media?
  • Is their email newsletter ready for a design upgrade?
  • Is their blog up to date with relevant and new posts?
  • Do they need more business cards for newer employees?

I can list out a bunch more but you get the drift. The threat with not listening to your clients is that they’ll end up complaining about their needs. Those complaints may not reach your ears, but a competitor’s ear. I’ll confess to a recent story from me. I created a site for a client maybe about 3 years ago. Updated the site after a year to a whole new look and feel. Client was happy. But I never followed up with them to see how they were feeling about their site, how their business was going, how many leads their site was generating them, etc. Now all of those could have been great reasons to sell them more services and I missed out on the opportunities.  So as a result, they found another designer that was in closer contact with them (almost daily) and he created a new website, domain, and all for my client. Unbeknown st to me, the client was since then promoting their new site on all their media. The new site was horrible mix of flash, dated design and layout, and sub par graphics, and using iframes pulling content from the site I had created. I almost fell out of my chair in disbelief on how my client could have preferred this over my work.

Moral of the story is to keep in contact and close ear of your current clients. Their businesses are growing just like yours, and just as your needs change so will theirs. As you add-on more services, pass those service options to your current clients. Even if they’re not in the position to utilize them now, chances are they will be in the future OR know someone who can now and refer them to you. At the end of the day they’d prefer to work with someone they trust over having to start over with someone new.

Have any experience like this in your design firm? Let me know in the comments below.