No Tricks, Just Treats: Creating Stronger Client Relationships
Managing client relationships can be a harrowing task. There are several types of relationships clients can have with your firm, and it is important to understand the type of relationship they have with each client in order to strengthen that relationship. However, many firms do not analyze their relationships, and as a result, get caught in a tangled web of over-serving, under-serving, or focusing time and efforts in all the wrong places. Client relationships are the most important element of service firms. Understanding what your clients want and expect out of the relationship is key to success. The trick is to know what your clients desire, then cast your spell to create strong, rewarding client relationships that exceed expectations and deliver measurable results.
Collect Information on Client Interactions
Many firms already have systems in place to capture client and prospect data like gender, age, income, education, and purchasing information. Simple, surface-level data is not enough to understand the underlying relationship. Take a moment to think about your clients. Ask yourself: What do they want? How do they like to communicate? What are they communicating? What kind of tone do they typically take in their communication? Are they conversational or do they keep it strictly professional? Examining and documenting client interactions will offer great insight into the type of relationship desired.
Classify Clients by Relationship Type
Once you’ve gathered client interactions, classify them by style or type. In an article recently published in Harvard Business Review titled, “Unlock the Mysteries of Your Customer Relationships,” the author classifies relationships into six categories based on the client expectations.
This category is strictly an exchange. The client enters the relationship to receive a product or service in exchange for payment – no more, no less. They expect good service and dependability, but desire no more than a transaction.
The client sees the relationship as a long-term venture – you are in this together. They seek a valuable and reliable partnership with you and your firm. They actively seek your guidance and input. They communicate their views, but respect your expertise.
This is a short-term or trial relationship. They are seeking something new and exciting, but the “fling” is typically a one-time event or experiment – is this relationship worth the trouble of changing? They usually do not want to spend time on future discussions or reflections.
This client seeks both professional and emotional support from the relationship. They expect open, honest communication, loyalty, and for information to be kept confidential. This type of relationship goes beyond the transaction and is often characterized by activities or interactions outside the boundaries of the working relationship.
The client is looking to build a relationship with friendly overtones, but keeps clear boundaries between professional and personal. They want freedom within the relationship without the constriction of too many demands.
This client sees the relationship as a one-way street. They deliver demands and you are expected to meet them immediately. They expect you and your firm to anticipate their wants and needs, but may not clearly communicate them. This is a demand-driven relationship.
Restructure the Relationship
Once you have categorized your clients, focus on the expectations of each group. What sort of information do they seek? Do they desire more attention and detail? How do they expect you to respond to requests? Make note of the expectations for each of the categories, keeping your clients in mind. Then focus on restructuring your relationships to match what they desire. For example, ask “business partners” and “best friends,” for feedback and discuss future actions based on that feedback. For “flings” and “buddies” share new or interesting information about the industry or current events, but avoid gimmicky promotions or loyalty programs. Think about all your client interactions and processes, and make the necessary adjustments to accommodate the various relationships.
Train Your Team
From principals and partners to managers and staff, everyone on the team should know how to recognize and relate to the various relationship types. Educate your team on the appropriate communication styles and behaviors when interacting with clients. Teach your team to identify signals and adapt to the client’s expectations.
With a clear understanding of what your client wants and expects out of the relationship, you and your firm will not only deliver better results, but will reap the benefits of stronger client relationships. Strong client relationships are longer lasting, more profitable, and more enjoyable. Now that’s a treat!
Posted on Thu, October 1, 2015
by Christine Hollinden