Of course we care about our clients, but are they feelin’ it? You may think you are doing a great job of appreciating clients, but consider this disconnect: According to a Harvard Management Update generated by Bain and Co., 80 percent of companies believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 8 percent of their customers agree. The American Society of Quality Control reports that 68 percent of customers leave you because they perceive you are indifferent to them.
The old adage has legs: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Obviously, it’s time to consider some appreciation tactics. If you wait for the contract to end, it’s too late. To ensure these practices are smoothly integrated into your customer service strategy, think through what is realistic for you and your company to deliver. That way, gestures will become second nature. Here are some ideas:
1. Prioritize the client experience.
If all goes well, relationships with clients are based on mutual trust and respect. Communicate openly, honestly and frequently. Establish a working relationship where clients can easily see your efforts. Providing the best work efficiently, on time and with constant attention is the best way to show appreciation.
2. Share your expertise.
Your breadth of industry knowledge and the variety of skills you develop to stay relevant and effective transcend beyond the scope of work for any particular client. Assert yourself as an expert on a wider range of problems than called for in a specific agreement. Share your wisdom. I call this “wrap-around service” — those items you share with your client in addition to the contract deliverables.
3. Share your contacts.
Your clients will appreciate leads and contacts that expand their business, so be generous with names and numbers. They also likely contract various vendors for different services. If you can link your clients up with additional top-notch services outside your own, they’ll appreciate the effort and develop confidence in your advice.
4. Introduce clients to clients.
Consider your office or website a hub where clients can connect with each other. You are in a unique position to know when an introduction might be mutually beneficial. Think globally about whom you know, and put the right people together at the office, business luncheons, industry events and civic occasions.
5. Acknowledge your clients’ business accomplishments.
Skip the birthday cards and the impersonal holiday fruit basket for a more thoughtful approach that conveys your knowledge of your clients’ businesses. Anniversaries, merger and expansion announcements and congratulations on awards received are great opportunities to be attentive. Your gesture will be an indication that a client’s success is important.
And nothing shows you care more than a handwritten note. This old-school method is seldom used and the extra time is worth it. Be personal and specific to maximize the impact. The lost art can be revived easier if you compose the letter on a keyboard first and then write it out — legibly. Don’t use a red pen and use note cards or stationery that reflect your business. Postcards work too.
6. Use your social media platforms to deepen the client relationship.
Clients are clients because they like you and your business. To like you is to know you, and a great way to know you is to follow you on your social media platforms. Although not a replacement for genuine conversations, your social media interaction can reinforce your values, give a more intimate glimpse into your company and transform a business relationship into a personal one. Be aware that your clients are following you, follow them back and offer kudos often. There is nothing like a mention or a tag to build loyalty.
Harvard University’s Department of Psychology learned that the act of disclosing information about oneself activates the same part of the brain that is associated with the pleasurable sensation we get from eating food, getting money or even having sex. Cash in and be associated with all that pleasure. Retweet your clients, share Facebook posts if appropriate and comment back.
7. Provide recommendations.
Your friends, family, employees, colleagues and networks will respect your blessing of a business. Often a letter on your company letterhead endorsing a client’s service can tip the scales in their favor when trying to close a deal. Make sure to provide a copy to the client so they know you followed through.
Consider writing a review for your client on a review website like Yelp or Angie’s List that is relevant to their product or service. Monitor it for a while in case someone asks for clarification. Be sincere and honest with the endorsement. Use LinkedIn to give professional endorsements for specific individuals. Because you have been working with them, you are in a great position to talk about the intangibles such as their work ethic, integrity and professionalism.
8. Invest in their growth.
Send as a gift a pertinent book or podcast that has influenced you and would be beneficial to your client. Even if they don’t use it, the gesture says, “I’m thinking about you.” Be careful your selection doesn’t imply a deficiency on their part. No self-help tutorials!
9. Give your employees the authority to be thoughtful.
Encourage each and every employee to live the same principles of appreciation. Their competent, concerned follow-through is a reflection of your leadership. They will need the authority and the confidence to act reflexively so appreciation is spontaneous and happens often.
10. Gifts do work.
Thoughtful gifts at random intervals or in recognition of a business accomplishment (see No. 4) don’t have to be lavish and do get more attention. Knowing what someone may like is key. Cookies rather than wine? Seasonal fruit as opposed to pastries? Do your research and deliver in person.
Client appreciation comes down to simply paying attention. Just recently, while on vacation, a sales associate at a rental car store showed spontaneous appreciation I will always remember. She took one look at my over 6-foot-tall, college-aged boys, mentioned that her teenagers were eating her out of house and home and upgraded us to a bigger car — no questions asked. Am I now a loyal customer for life? You bet. Will I recommend that car company to others? Of course. Will that company increase customer loyalty? They already have.