Some Hints For Client Retention

You've heard the saying, "For every $5 dollars spent earning a new client it only takes $1 dollar to retain one." But what does that mean? It means it's smarter to keep the clients you've got happy (and sell more services to them) than to continue acquiring new clients to replace the old clients walking out the door.

So, why do clients leave? Fortunately, they usually don't leave due to lack of technical proficiency. Unfortunately, poor client service is generally the reason clients walk.

Here are a few strategies to help you retain your prized clients and probably gain some new loyal clients, too.

· Be first to call. Clients hate to hear from their accountants and advisors only at tax time (or audit time, etc.)
. Communicate regularly with them. Implement a system that will remind managers to keep in touch - through phone calls or visits.
· Put yourself in their shoes. Sure you know that their question isn't a big deal, but chances are they don't. Until their question is answered, consider it "on" their mental checklist. Try to maintain this perspective for your clients - they'll love you for it.
· Be honest. Clients know you are human. If your staff makes a mistake, don't make excuses. Be direct and up-front about the issue. Focus on resolving their problem and building trust for the future.
· Take action. When an issue comes up, take action immediately. This sends the message to clients that "their concern is a priority." Lack of action allows them to assume their concern (and they) are not important.
· Rethink old practices. Many firms are awarding "free" time for clients. This free time can be everything from short phone calls to annual business lunches where clients can air concerns. This can head off feelings of resentment for being billed for what are "routine" questions.
· Create a win-win. Teach your clients how your firm operates. This will ensure client expectations match the service your firm provides. This starts as early as the proposal process - make sure that what they expect is aligned with what your firm can deliver. If they know what to expect, chances are they won't be caught off guard by unexpected invoices and less than satisfactory client service.
· Put it on the calendar. Schedule services and address key project benchmarks. When you propose an engagement, ensure that both you and the client are happy with the time table set. Once it is decided upon, stick to it and if there are delays - call immediately.
· It doesn't hurt to ask. Ever get that nagging feeling that something's wrong? You have a 100% chance of finding a solution if you ask your client about it. Even if there's nothing wrong, they will be happy you cared enough to ask.
· Make a back-up plan. Clients want to know their advisors well - well enough to pick up the phone and make a call. Make sure you provide clients with back-up contacts so they have options - and a greater chance of talking to a person vs. leaving a message.
· Be a gracious loser. In the end, you can't win 'em all. When clients leave, listen to them and learn from the experience. Allowing them to say what they need to will preserve your image with them and will keep the door open should they decide to come back (assuming you want them back!).
· Gone but not forgotten. When clients leave, be sure to keep them on your "non-client" or prospect list so they will continue getting your newsletter and other firm information. Staying in front of them will leave them with an impression - one that may bring them back.

Client retention is a 365 day a year job. It belongs to each person in your firm. Make sure your team understand these concepts and you'll be on your way to retaining clients.

For more client service "truths," see "How To Succeed In Your Own Home Business," published by Doubleday Publishing.

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