6 Ways to Keep Clients

By William J. Lynott
[Business Side]

Today’s turbulent economy can be tough on massage and bodywork professionals, and it’s likely to get tougher. In times like these, every client becomes a critically important asset you can’t afford to lose.

Marketing studies show consistently that the cost of finding new customers averages about five times the cost of retaining existing customers. And, these days, finding new customers is more costly and more difficult than ever. Keeping clients coming back should be a permanent part of your marketing strategy.

Put simply, satisfied clients and their referrals are critical for the continued health of your practice. If that foundation is allowed to erode, your business is headed for certain trouble. With that in mind, following are six powerful ways to help you hang on to your existing clients and keep your business asset rich.

1. Make Client Satisfaction Your Hallmark

Client satisfaction is the least expensive, most powerful marketing medium available to you. Nothing will build loyalty faster than happy clients bragging to their friends about you and the quality of your professional service, just as nothing will eat away at your business more relentlessly than unhappy clients complaining about you over lunch at the club.

“Some professionals tend to live in the moment, particularly when dealing with a difficult client,” says Christopher Simmons, president of Neotrope, a business marketing firm. “By focusing on the long-term, and making the client happy right now, you plant the seeds for a long-term relationship. The ‘brick wall’ approach of adhering to inflexible policies can backfire in building relationships. Flexibility in client relations is essential in building long-term client loyalty.” 

It sometimes takes both time and money to resolve a client complaint, and it can be especially trying when you feel the complaint is unjustified. Maybe it was your mistake in recording the time and date of the appointment; maybe it wasn’t. The point to remember, however, is that the dollars you spend resolving any complaint are marketing dollars, which are arguably the most effective client-loyalty dollars you can spend.

2. Treasure Your Client List

You are capturing the name and mailing address of every one of your clients into a flexible computer database, aren’t you? If not, begin today. In time, you will come to appreciate the value of your effort.

The job does not need to be time consuming or difficult. For the typical massage and bodywork practice, a simple way to keep track of clients is with a spreadsheet program, such as Microsoft Excel. “If you make a separate entry for each client with name, address, and other pertinent information such as date and time of appointments, you’ll be able to tell at a glance who your best clients are and which ones you haven’t heard from lately,” Simmons says.

If your record keeping needs grow as your business expands, data from a spreadsheet can easily be imported into a more elaborate database manager.

Even if you use your client list for nothing more than an annual postcard reminder, it can be one of your most valuable client-loyalty tools. During slow times, a postcard listing all your services and products can bring in extra business while you cement the loyalty of your present clients.

Bob Crawford, director of marketing for Sprint Business Solutions adds this advice: “Use each contact with your clients to learn more about them and their particular needs. Then, be sure to capture that information so you can use it to create better offers for them next time.”

3. Never Lose a Client to a Competitor

You don’t need to be reminded that there are lots of competitors ready and anxious to snatch your clients away from you. Armed with that knowledge and your awareness of the cost of replacing a lost client with a new one, it should be easy for you to understand the importance of never giving a client a reason to stray.

Once a new client signs on with you for the first time, you’ve done the hard part. Now, your job is to instill the notion that doing business with you will always be a satisfying and rewarding experience.

You and your employees must never lose sight of the fact that developing a new client is a costly and difficult job. Once a stranger crosses your threshold, a major part of your overall marketing program must be centered on ways to make sure that he or she never has reason to leave you for a competitor.

What problems are most likely to cause clients to default to a competitor? Crawford offers these six potential pitfalls:

• Not knowing your clients and their needs.

• Treating clients like numbers.

• Lack of client communications to keep them engaged.

• Inadequate client service.

• Failing to show up for scheduled services.

• Not addressing client issues/concerns in a timely fashion.

4. Set Your Practice Apart

America’s most successful entrepreneurs, big or small, are those who have carefully developed a unique identity. Your job is to evaluate your strengths and then combine them to form a unique identity—an identifiable image for you and your practice.

Perhaps you’ve been in business longer than your nearest competitors. Or maybe you or your employees have the kind of skills, technical know-how, and desire that will allow a client to feel that working with you will always be a satisfying and rewarding experience. Or perhaps you have a long and impressive list of satisfied clients. Whatever your marketable strengths, you should write them all down, study them, and then determine how to separate yourself from your competitors—how to motivate potential clients to seek you out, and how to make existing clients feel fortunate to have access to your services.

Once you’ve sold yourself and your employees on why you are the best choice for clients who require the utmost in dependability and professionalism, you must focus your marketing efforts on ways to promote this image to both clients and prospects.

5. Never Break a Promise

Arguably, there is no easier way to permanently alienate a client than breaking a promise.          

“Keeping your promises is a vital part of solid client relations,” Simmons says. “For example, when you set up an appointment for a client, you’ve made a promise. Now, you must do everything you possibly can to fulfill that promise—to be available on time and ready to go.”

Surveys show that broken promises are always among the most prominent reasons why clients abandon a business. You probably know from your own experience just how frustrating it can be when a business breaks a promise to you.

Should you find yourself in a position of having to break a promise, any promise, always contact the client as soon as you learn about the problem. An early explanation and a sincere apology will go a long way toward easing the client’s frustration.

6. Go the Extra Mile

You may not have thought about it this way, but a complaint from a client can actually be turned into a valuable asset. Some years ago, a major retail marketing study revealed that clients whose complaints were satisfactorily resolved became better clients of the company than they were before the incident that triggered the complaint.

Some of the most successful companies in the world have been built on a foundation that revolves around the principle that customer complaints provide a valuable opportunity to build the business.

When L.L. Bean, founder of one of the world’s most successful catalog order firms, was just starting out, he suffered what could have been a disastrous setback. Shortly after he began shipping his first waterproof, handmade boots, complaints that the boots leaked started coming in from customers.

Determined to fulfill his promise of complete satisfaction, Bean returned the full purchase price to every customer. Then, he set out to correct the flaw in the boot’s design. That was the beginning of the customer loyalty that helped to make L.L. Bean what it is today.

Sometimes, satisfying a complaint, especially from a difficult client, calls for measures you may feel are unreasonable. When that happens, think of the cost in time and money as an investment in your future.

 William J. Lynott is a former management consultant and corporate executive who writes on business and financial topics for a number of consumer and trade publications. His latest book, Money: How to Make the Most of What You’ve Got, is available through bookstores. You can reach Lynott at wlynott@cs.com or www.blynott.com.