A couple of weeks ago our Sales Director and I met with a marketing mentor, and a discussed profiling our customers. What is an excellent customer? How do we define them? How do we create the right message and services to target prospects that match the profile of our best customers? We then spent a few moments defining a lousy customer.
We discussed whether we had experienced bad customers and how we handled them. This mentor suggested that bad customers don’t deserve the same respect and quality of service as our good customers and that we should prioritize our efforts towards the better clients and put our not-so-favorite clients on a back burner. Bad clients are the slowest payers, the most grievous and most time consuming for account management personnel.
Our response was we don’t believe in ever giving subpar service dependent on the client’s preferred status.
Furthermore, our mentor suggested that a D client can never become an A client.
We responded that we don’t believe that theory either. We think that if there is a communication channel we can still try our best to improve this client’s attitude towards us.
We have proven our theory to be correct time over time. We have found that if we instead show compassion, interest, engage with the same high standards as we use with all our clients that we can win this client over. You do have to work at it, and you must be a bit stubborn.
For example, we had a client that was moderately in love with our service until we invited a vendor/partner into the mix. This client likes to complain to try to get their fees reduced. They love to negotiate and re-negotiate at every turn that they think that they have the upper hand and they like to bully if they don’t feel like they are winning every discussion. We invited a vendor to provide a secondary service related to our project. The vendor was in direct contact with the client to be able to provide the service. We asked the vendor to keep us posted as to the status of their work and whether the client had any issues or concerns. The vendor along the way made a mistake, didn’t own the error, ignored the client, and didn’t notify us. The client decided not to tell us even though we had near-daily contact with them dealing with other aspects of the project. We were not informed that the client had major issues until we presented our bill.
It took several months to clear the path and resolve the issues between the vendor and the client. All three parties were unhappy with the other parties. Our reputation was harmed because we brought in this vendor. We were not happy with the vendor because they took so long to develop a strategy to correct. The client was expecting a bit too much from the vendor but our wings had been clipped because;
a) they didn’t own their mistakes until too much time had passed
b) they had harmed our relationship with our client
The vendor was unhappy because they had taken considerable losses to correct the situation due to their own inability to react timely. When the client became unreasonable the vendor was without a leg to stand on to demand anything; their only recourse was to honor their guarantee.
In the meantime, our technical team worked diligently to do their jobs well. Our account management team toiled conscientiously to try to improve communications, to resolve the issues and we ended up sharing some of the loss with the vendor. Our team and company worked very hard to maintain relationships with everyone.
Despite our efforts, our relationship had deteriorated with our client to the point that their slow-pay worsened. We were barely on speaking terms, and we were getting ready to fire the client before they fired us.
Fortunately, our team is resolute; we have a mantra. We want every client to not only appreciate our service but enjoy working with us. We thrive by creating lifetime relationships with every client. Our CEO met with their CEO for lunch, and he periodically attended technical team meetings. He showed an interest in ensuring that the client was on the road to stability and that they knew he cared about their business. Our Sales Director followed up with account management calls with the client’s CIOs and technical project manager and kept a pulse on our technical team to make sure that we were doing our job the way we need to do. In our business, our clients nor we can’t afford for us to dive. We always need to work to keep the client and our team in V formation, so their data is accessible, maintained and performs well. This is a tagline, but it means a lot to us. We know that data drives businesses today and our job is to help protect that data.
Our strategy is to communicate openly and regularly, to build a relationship, and to make each client feel as though their issues are our issues and that they are our priority. We do not support our clients based upon favored client definitions. We help every client as though they are our favorite. When they call, we are all in for them.
This strategy has helped us time and again. We are not perfect; we are humans working for humans. We get tired, we get sick, and we get irritable. However, we focus on making sure each client under our wing, can fly higher and better with no client cast aside or left behind.
This same client today has added projects and services, appreciates our team and now readily offers to be a company reference and has allowed us to use the success of their project in a few articles.
So yes, you can formulate a strategy to repair your client relationships. You may have to work hard for a while and persistently nurture the relationship. But shouldn’t you do this with every client all the time? Trust and respect are earned. As a service provider isn’t it your responsibility to be dedicated to the relationship? Every so often there are some people you just can’t satisfy, and then you can decide to sever the relationship, but it should be done on a high note, with respect and an open door behind them.
Authors, Penny Garbus and Royce Cavitt