Any decent business owner cares about building great relationships with customers. They want them to have positive, healthy relationships that enable both parties to benefit in their business.
But in the same way that all businesses and people are different, all relationships are different too. Regardless of the words you say or how ‘friendly’ you are with someone, there are key characteristics that underpin every good client relationship.
The best characteristics of a client relationship are:
A good client relationship equals good business. It’s pretty much that simple.
When you build a strong relationship with customers, you fuel your business. Customers are satisfied and loyal, and wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else. This creates stability and reliability, and becomes the backbone of your business.
Without this base of loyal customers, business is fickle. You’re much more vulnerable to market trends and fluctuations because you don’t have that loyal customer base to fall back on when things are going against you.
Whenever you start out with a new customer, the best approach is to develop a good relationship from the very beginning. This is the easiest, most profitable way to work together, and it should always be your initial goal.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t turn relationships around if things aren’t going well. In fact, concentrating on improving relationships that need work can be a lucrative strategy.
The relationships you have with clients have potential far beyond just you and them. Everyone you deal with has a network of your potential clients that they can speak to about you.
Referrals are a cheap, effective way of attracting new business. Improving poor relationships not only opens up new immediate business opportunities with that one client, but it creates exponential possibilities within their network too.
Hubspot claims a 5% increase in customer retention can increase revenue by up to 95%. This is a telling statistic, and immediately shows the importance of customer relationships management for revenue.
The best place to start with any new retention strategy is by looking at relationships that can be improved, because they hold the greatest potential for added value.
Strong client relationships not only help to increase your revenue, but they make the work you do easier and more enjoyable. These are some of the most important characteristics of customer relationships:
1. Sponsorship and accountability
In B2B businesses, a leader at the customer’s workplace should be an advocate of yours. When you have a sponsor like this, it encourages their team members to do their best for the relationship. It also creates accountability in that team members are devoted to getting value from your work together, and anyone who isn’t pulling their weight is identifiable.
Participation refers to you. It’s easy for businesses to put the responsibility for making the relationship work onto the client, but you have to come to the party as well. In fact, your role is even more influential than the clients. Any relationship is a two-way street, and you need to show the values you expect from your client in order to get them back.
3. Constant improvement
Being dedicated to improvement means being able to offer clients feedback, and being open to accepting it yourself. There might be some hard truths to say to your customers in the interests of improving your relationship. Don’t be afraid to deliver important feedback.
Remember, the primary point of the relationship is to do good business, so be open to giving and receiving feedback AND actually implementing it.
Humility is what enables businesses to take feedback on the chin and use it. Business relationships are different to personal ones – in a personal relationship, you’d probably keep your thoughts to yourself more.
In business, being humble means not being offended when you get hard truths, being willing to make improvements, and even being grateful for criticism that ultimately helps you get better.
Good communication is how you prevent issues AND how you navigate any problems when they do arise. Keep the lines of communication open wherever possible – clients are stakeholders in your work too, so if things happen that impact them, let them know. Tell them you expect the same from them too.
How far are you willing to go to get good results for your clients? Often, your answer to this question is the same answer they’d give if they were asked it about you.
If you’re committed to doing the best you can for them, the loyalty you get in return will be significant. This includes overcoming barriers or not giving up when you’re faced with hurdles.
Yes, business relationships are different to personal ones, but some things transcend both. Human decency is one of them. Simply, if you’re kind to the people you work with, then they will find it much easier to like you and do business with you.
Ask about their holiday, send them a message if you hear they’re off sick and be kind to them when you’re faced with issues or problems. It can be frustrating when things don’t go your way, but remember that the person you’re speaking to is still a person and should be treated with respect.
The characteristics of a strong customer relationship come through into the way you act. These low-level strategies to strengthen customer relationships have very real flow-on effects for clients, impacting the way they feel about you and the business you do together.
If you’re working with your client for a decent length of time, things will go wrong. The way you react in these instances can be telling, and if you react poorly then it can place the entire relationship at risk. It’s critical in these times to be positive and future-focused – don’t try to blame people, think about finding a solution.
There’s a person behind the email, or talking to you down the phone. Make that person feel valued and you’ll go a long way to ensuring a positive business relationship.
It may be tempting to safeguard your expertise and only give out tips or advice when clients are paying for it. However, a willingness to share what you know and help clients out is a far more profitable customer relationship strategy.
One of the keys to building strong relationships with customers is to go above and beyond their expectations. Tell them about other things that can help them and be willing to share your knowledge. You’ll impress them with the depth of expertise you have, and position yourself as an industry expert in their eyes.
The best way to nurture profitable customer relationships is to understand where they’re coming from and where they’re going. Your role is to help them to get from one place to another. If you have a holistic view of the journey your customer is on, you have more context to help them to get there.
There is a wide range of project management and customer relationship tools available to help you work well with clients. Software is fantastic for monitoring ongoing projects, communicating progress and recording your dealings together so everyone is on the same page.
If you’re dealing with multiple clients at once, as businesses generally are, then it’s easy to lose track of where different clients are at. Using management tools is a basic way of keeping yourself, and your customer up to date.
A customer relationship is like a mirror – what you see in it is often a reflection of yourself. You can’t tell your customers how to act, but by displaying the characteristics above, you’ll encourage them to reciprocate and act the same way in return.
Client relationship management is a two-way street, and it needs to be a constant focus. Crucially, how you act when things go wrong is often the most telling thing. One bad moment can ruin years of hard work, but if you react well to an issue then it can end up being an extremely positive thing for your relationship.
Ensure that you live up to the highest standards at all times and you’ll reap the rewards of positive relationships with your clients.