Client relationships work like a marriage. For a harmonious relationship, you need trust, transparency and an equal partnership. Just like the old saying “happy wife, happy life”, think “happy client, happy business owner”. Here are my top tips for managing client relationships.
Setting and managing expectations
Whilst many people say the key to a good relationship is communication, we would take it a step further and say meeting expectations is the key to a good relationship. A lot of client relationship problems can be pinpointed to when the client and supplier have different expectations of what their relationship entails. Be it expected preferential treatment, extended trading terms, level of communication or “value added” inclusions, determining/setting the expectations at the start of a client relationship can avoid many problems down the road.
Know your boundaries
Knowing your personal boundaries and what you will tolerate when it comes to a relationship is important. Think of what you determine as acceptable, or what you will tolerate as your scope of work. When you get that uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach but you’re not sure why, that usually means one of your personal boundaries have been crossed and you’re now in scope creep. Having and keeping clients doesn’t mean you have to tolerate poor behaviour and sometimes the client may not be aware they’re crossing a boundary unless they’re aware of it.
Know your values
Determine your business values and communicate them. Once you understand your business values, you are then more likely to attract like-minded clients and you will probably start being drawn to suppliers yourself that have similar values. For example sustainability, transparency, or inclusiveness. Until your clients know what your values are, you can’t expect them to understand what is important to you as a small-business owner.
If you make a mistake, be honest about it. Being honest is part of being a good communicator and also shows you are transparent, trustworthy and have integrity. You can generally only hide a mistake for so long and when you do come clean, the problem is likely bigger than when you first noticed it. Don’t ghost your clients either if there’s a problem, nothing positive will come of this. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes and think about how you would like to be treated in that situation.
Take a genuine interest
To have a good relationship, the other person needs to know you’re genuinely interested in them. Get to know your clients, how their business operates and what their goals, challenges and pain points are. Once you understand your client and know where they’re coming from, communication will flow more freely and you will be able to add value to your relationship.
When you know a client is wanting an answer, don’t wait for the client to ask the question, be proactive and on the front foot with communication. Even if you don’t have the answer they’re waiting for, let them know where you are up to on your side of things. This shows that you understand your client and their needs, and that you’re open with your communication. Also if you’re not sure what a client means by something they have put in an email, pick up the phone and seek classification. Don’t assume you know what they want if you’re not sure what they mean.
Remember it’s cheaper to keep existing clients than it is to gain new ones, so if you don’t have a great relationship with some of your clients it’s time to start investing in the relationship.