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"Client Retention": An Interview with Rachel Cieri of Smart CEO

What are some specific client retention strategies your company uses? Which do you feel have been most successful, and why? What strategies do you feel are unique to your company?

Clients are no different than any other consumer. If they have a good experience, they’ll come back. It may not be right away because they may not have a present need or available budget, but if they liked you and your product or service well enough, they will return.

In the meantime, it’s important to stay on their radar without being annoying. We sent out periodic E-news updates that include a very brief overview of what’s new at Incite Creative, both professionally and personally (within reason). We find that our clients, prospects and strategic partners enjoy and appreciate the subtle and periodic (about six times per year) touch point. It may include a new client profile on them, new employees, celebratory wishes or events and charities we participate in. Keeping it light yet combining it with useful information and/or entertaining tidbits seems to work well and is consistent with our company culture and the personality we want to convey. They key is to figure out what’s best for you and your company.

Has there ever been a time when you felt you needed to “fire” a client? Why? Be as specific as possible. What advice can you give to other business leaders on how to identify a client who is bad for business? 

Unfortunately there have been more times when we should have fired a client than we actually did, but we learned from each of those experiences and are now better able to identify the “red flags” at the onset or at least before they become an issue. Since our inception in 1999, we’ve fired three clients and all of them had some or all of the following warning signs:

Red Flag #1: Excessive Fee Negotiation. One round of fee negotiations is acceptable. This gives both the Client and service provider the opportunity to make sure the scope and corresponding investment are in sync. If the scope and fee must be negotiated a second time, raise one eyebrow but try to come to a fair compromise. If a third round is requested, as hard as it may be, graciously decline. This Client is probably not the best fit for you and your business because they will expect that every future fee is open to negotiation and in their eyes, you are simply a commodity.

Red Flag #2: No/Limited Access to the Decision Maker. This may depend on what type of product or service you offer but for consultants, having access to the person in charge at the onset and at key milestones is essential. Otherwise the Client has no vested interest, project and payment hiccups and delays will occur, and your role will more easily be replaced with staff turnover.

Red Flag #3: Lack of Mutual Respect. If your Client is repeatedly late for meetings, cancels them or attempts to hurry you along when a window of time has been set aside, you can’t adequately do your job well on their behalf and they are making it clear that their time is more valuable than yours. Putting up with a Client that argues every point, doesn’t allow you the floor to speak, or has a temper is unacceptable and not worth the frustration. One that sends you an email at 9pm and calls at 9am angry because you’ve yet to respond should also send up flares.

Most of us put in 40-60 hours of work per week and spend more time with our co-workers and Clients than our families and friends. Smart phones giving us 24/7 access to emails, voice and text messages make life and work convenient, but when boundaries are crossed by us or our Clients it’s nearly impossible to go back. Expectations — good or bad  — once set, need to be met. If they aren’t or can’t be, something has to change. If the burden outweighs the benefit, “goodbye” is what’s best for business, and it may be best for you to be the one waving.

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