Keeping your good, old clients

Sep 22, 2008

I have often felt that architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental firms pay lip service to the notion that they should keep their best clients happy— and KEEP their best clients clients. It always seems like everyone agrees that keeping established clients is a must, yet their actions rarely reflect that as the priority. Why do I say that? We make a big deal about new clients, but little mention of current clients who always give us work. I know this is hard to do and in conflict with the need to really promote new clients so members of the firm keep bringing them in. But, we have to also say something to everyone about who the top 10 or 20 clients are, how much business they give us, and how much we appreciate and value them. The open book management report is a good place to track repeat business statistics, and the letter that accompanies it is a good place to promote client retention war stories. We are too willing to use our old clients as a training ground for new people. Gosh this bugs me! I have seen this so often. The biggest, oldest clients are always the ones whose projects are staffed with newcomers. The new people learn on these projects and the shame of it is these clients are too valuable to let them learn on! We take our old clients for granted. We may be doing so much work for them that we assume we don’t need to spend time going to see them just to maintain critical personal relationships. The situation is further damaged when we make a handoff to someone new because the principal has become too busy with other clients. That says “you aren’t important” to the old client. We don’t train our people to make old clients feel special. One of the main reasons some clients do business with their design and environmental service providers is that they feel special. The receptionist remembers their names and everyone they interact with at the firm shows them that they understand they are an important client for the firm. People say it to them and make a big deal acknowledging their importance to the company. This problem of client retention is not unique to the architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting business. It is a problem in most all professional service industries. I recently switched insurance brokers because my old one never once called me to see how I was doing and always forced me to deal with his underlings. At some point, it just made me mad. I had five properties, general liability, term life, seven cars, three motorcycles, and a motorhome insured through this fellow and he would never return my calls or come see me to review my needs. I got taken for granted. Imagine how shocked they were when I pulled the plug on all of my business! I told the woman I have been forced to deal with there that I was cancelling all of my policies and why. She then told me the broker was out of the office through the end of the week but she’d have him call me when he returned. I told her it was “too late for that,” and there was no need to hear from him at this point. I had a feeling I wasn’t the first person to pull his business for lack of attention! It turned out I had a lot of problems with my coverage. In fact, I would have had serious issues collecting should I have had a claim on some of my investment properties. I also saved some money. And, I will now tell everyone I know what a miserable insurance broker my old broker was. Originally published 9/22/2008

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