The Big Squeeze

Love your key clients

‘Customer Services’ – the dreaded words. Over time, we have come to expect the worst and we are rarely disappointed. It seems the larger the organisation, the less it seems to care about its customers. The very phrase is an anathema. There are exceptions, of course, but far too few. Interaction with these companies normally entails trawling through websites, trying to solve the problem yourself or, worse still, dealing with a chat bot. You are actively discouraged from calling by phone and if you have the audacity to attempt to circumvent the website, you are punished by having to listen to endless options before being put on hold for the next two days. We have reaped many benefits from technology. Customer service is not one of them.

Typically, SMEs tend to have more intimate contact with their customers. Unless the food is absolutely dreadful, you will probably go back to a restaurant if you were made to feel special. The same is true of your local store or garage or tradesperson. Sadly, you remember these events because they are not the norm. It doesn’t take much effort to be better. Owners and staff just have to imagine themselves at the receiving end.

Professional services companies often boast about the quality of the relationships they have with their key clients, but many fail to leverage them fully. Sometimes, relationships become too comfortable. This is most noticeable where longstanding contacts change, but little or no effort has been made to connect with a broader base – most especially the rising stars – who invariably want to make their own mark.

Securing repeat business from existing clients is generally easier and less costly than having to find new ones. They provide opportunities to cross-sell additional products or services; obtain referrals, testimonies and feedback; and grow margin. Let’s consider the last one. The more you understand your clients’ expectations and drivers, the better you can meet them. In doing so, you should work to improve efficiencies and demonstrate the value you bring. This added value should translate into margin. You have the choice to increase your profit or to pass on these efficiencies to your client, providing you use it as a selling tool to secure more business.

Invariably, one of two things happen. The company becomes reliant on a few key clients, so control transfers to the client and margins come under pressure, or the company takes every opportunity to nudge up prices to the point where they eventually invite competition and lose the client. The answer, of course, is to treat your most valuable customers as though they are new, and to regularly review, internally and with them, what you can do differently/better to enhance your value.

Communicate often. Work hard to develop contacts throughout client organisations. Make sure the relationship is with your company and not solely with the person who deals with them. Demonstrate value. Find out what’s going on inside their businesses and be constantly on the lookout for opportunities to upsell. Meet in person.

All basic stuff, but often not carried through. It’s so easy to become preoccupied with growth or the myriad day-to-day challenges. Your customers are your lifeblood. They are hard won and easily lost. Don’t drift into ‘business as usual’ mode and make sure every single person in your company recognises they are essential to delivering ‘customer service’.

Portfolio Director