We all know that attracting new clients is exciting, but fruitful, long-lasting customer and client relationships are where service providers build and solidify their reputations. The building, nurturing and growing of customer engagements should be a primary focus across the B2B spectrum, whether you’re selling software – like Sprout – or services, like our agency partners. While we know there are nuances to every type of service-based engagement, we do think there are three key ideas from the SaaS side that can help set your agency up for healthy, long-term client relationships.
Give the Onboarding Process Some Love
At Sprout we have a carefully crafted onboarding experience for our new customers so they have not only the best possible understanding of the software they just bought, but also a clear picture of the services, resources and people available to them to ensure their ongoing success. This focus on the “honeymoon” period of our customer relationships builds trust, establishes boundaries and sets both parties up to get the most out of the union.
Any effective onboarding process should start with asking a lot of questions. Try to understand the expectations that lie beyond the scope of work – nuanced relationship expectations like what types of meetings can be handled over the phone and how quickly the client expects responses during off hours. Setting expectations up front and developing a plan for handling when those expectations aren’t met will help build trust. Transparency from the beginning will help you forcast any issues and ensure that your ways of working together are complimentary.
Evolve From ‘Client Service’ to ‘Client Success’
Contrary to popular agency mythology, no individual person owns the relationship with the client. Building that connection should be part of every interaction anyone from your agency has with the client team, because a deep relationship is about far more than their satisfaction with the services you’re providing. It’s about making sure they feel a holistic, emotional connection to your people, your work and the value you provide. If ‘client service’ is focused on the health of the work, ‘client success’ is focused on the health of the relationship. Which means that even if the work needs improvement, there is a vested interest on both sides in getting it right because the human-to-human foundation of the client-agency partnership is solid.
So how can you evolve from a focus on client service to a focus on client success?
Identify each client’s work style: As you get to know your client, determine their personal style for learning and processing information. Pay attention to how they respond to different types of information and communication styles so you can tailor your interactions to fit their needs.
Hold their hands: Go the extra mile. Never just answer the client’s question—always try understand why they are asking and give them more. Every single interaction you have with a client is an opportunity to understand how your relationship is and have a barometer for where things stands.
Be realistic: About your and your client’s capacity. Be choiceful about communications; make sure you’re delivering the client what they need, not just information for the sake of information.
Be human: Let your personality into your communication style and tone. Being a real person makes it easier to forge the types of client relationships that feel like you’re playing on the same team and sharing the same goal: The client’s success and well being.
Surprise and delight: Find little moments that can make your client smile. This isn’t about wining and dining. This is random acts of kindness, handwritten notes and other meaningful ways of recognizing the milestones that matter to them – both personally and professionally.
The Biggest Advantage of Client Success: Retention
Dedicating a deep, symbiotic relationship with your clients goes beyond making all parties feel the warm fuzzies. Investing in human-centric processes like a discovery-minded onboarding and a client management model that prioritizes their success can pay off for all agency models, because the lifetime value of an existing client is far greater than the cost of acquisition. In fact, it costs five times more to attract a new customer than it does to retain an existing customer, yet only 30% of agencies reported having an equal focus on acquisition and retention.
So don’t be afraid to rethink your priorities to make sure you’re dedicating at least as much energy and resources to strengthening your current client relationships as you are to pursuing new clients. Remember, their success is central to your success and happy agency clients – much like our happy software customers – can be some of your most vocal references on the open market. So start strong with onboarding and stay strong with a success-minded approach to client service.
As AdWeek puts it, “Design your company—and the relationship with clients—to be something people can grow into, instead of grow out of.”