If you run a B2C (business to consumer) business, you know the importance of customer service. Your customers are the lifeblood of your business, and often truly great customer service is the difference between customers spending their money with you or with a competitor. In fact, I wrote a post late last year titled “Great Customer Service is Everything” which got picked up and cited by at least three different companies for use in their customer service training programs.
A very close cousin to customer service is client service. This phrase is more routinely used for B2B organizations. For instance, my company, Sprouse Marketing Group (SMG) has “clients” which is a subset of “customers”. Many of the same principles apply to client service that apply to customer service, only with some minor nuances.
If you are in a B2B industry, think about your competition today. More than likely, you have dozens or sometimes hundreds of competitors depending on your geographic scope. To use my company as an example, I know for a fact that we have hundreds of competitors, and probably a multiplier of that when you figure the number of competitors that provide just one of the services we do. Factor in the fact that we serve clients across North America, and again there is a multiplier effect. In short, marketing agencies like SMG are not in short supply; and smaller more specialized marketing services company aren’t either.
I believe the difference between hundreds if not thousands of like-businesses – more than anything else – is client service.
Again, reflect for a second on your business, your industry and/or your location or the regional landscape in which you do business. What are some potential differences in your business versus another? Talent (some businesses might simply have brighter and better people working for them). Sales (some businesses might simply have better salespeople adept at bringing in new clients). The product or service (some businesses simply have a product or service that might be better than the rest).
In my opinion, these differences are shades of gray and relatively small compared to the difference superior client service makes. In other words, if you employ better salespeople, your on-boarding success rate might go from 10% to 20%. If you have better, smarter, more talented people working for you versus your competitors, your client retention rate might increase by 10%. A superior product or service might be responsible for another 5-10% boost in terms of clientele. If your business has the advantage in all three of these areas, the incremental lift is certainly nothing to scoff at though it takes some capital, hard work and luck for all three to become sustainable competitive advantages.
Yet, I have seen instances where exemplary customer service has made a 50% difference between keeping and losing clients. In other words, client service has been directly responsible for attracting and then retaining 1 out of every 2 clients. What are some aspects of exemplary client service that could cause such a boost?
* Dedicated Account Management & Consistent Performance Benchmarking (in other words, how is your business actually doing for the client?)
* Constant Communication (are you shying away from communicating, even if there is bad news to deliver?)
* Giving Clients “Value-add’s” or Freebie service offerings (are you “nickel and diming” your clients all the time?)
* Quarterly Client Strategy Meetings (are you acting as a solution for the client or are you part of the problem?)
* Gifts (we’re not just talking American Express gift cards either; stuff that matters and is relevant to the client. Are you remembering anniversaries and birthdays?)
* Transparency about YOUR business (are you forthcoming when it comes to what your business is doing?)
Each of these aspects, taken by themselves, has its own strategy. Rolled up together, they form a foundation of fantastic client service. The most important elements of the foundation though is the mentality of the business and the client service infrastructure in place. Truly, the company has to embrace clients and client service. Likewise, there has to be a tangible “program” in place which centers on aspects of client service. If you aren’t constantly thinking about your clients like this, you’ll likely end up on the short end of the stick compared to your competitors. We deal with these client service strategies and micro-strategies every day not only for ourselves, but for our clients own efforts too. Literally every day, I think about how we can serve clients better and I know other business owners who do too. I can tell you that getting it right is part science (actual results) and part art (relationships).