The Ethical Business Guide: Effective Client Relationships

BY VICKY HOAD
ACCOUNT DIRECTOR AT BLUE ROCKET

BUSINESS SUCCESS RELIES ON CUSTOMER SATISFACTION, LOYALTY AND DEMAND. AS COMPETITION INCREASES IN A TOUGHER ECONOMY AN ETHICAL APPROACH TO WORKING WITH CLIENTS HAS FUNDAMENTAL BENEFITS.

Working in PR, relationships are at the centre of everything we do at Blue Rocket. Thankfully it’s very different to the superficial wining and dining stereotype. Honest, cooperative
and genuine relationships have to be maintained with each and every client so that together you can fulfil an organisation’s development goals.

The best campaigns come from working in partnership and over the years many of our clients have come to see their Blue Rocket PR team as an extension of their own organisation. This concept of treating clients as partners is relevant to many different business sectors. Here’s a quick guide to what’s involved:

MANAGE EXPECTATIONS

Relationships get off to the right start when everyone knows where they stand. Before a new client signs up lay clear boundaries about what they can expect. Be clear about what you can do for them and what you can’t. Explain how you will treat them and what their responsibilities are as a client.

This might not sound like a great sales pitch but this honesty often wins prospective clients by showing you are trustworthy. It also sets your relationship up in the right way.

It can be useful to set realistic, measurable goals from the beginning so that the client is totally clear what they’re paying for and you know what you are aiming towards. Asking new clients upfront what they would consider a successful relationship is a good way to find out what they really want. It is sensible then to repeat this goal-setting process at regular intervals to help ensure a long term relationship.

FIND OUT HOW CUSTOMERS WISH TO BE TREATED

Treat every client as an individual and be prepared to be flexible. For example, while some clients may prefer regular detailed reports others will just wanta top line review showing that activity is on track. Similarly, some may feel abandoned if they don’t speak to you over the phone every week, while others are too busy and prefer to be emailed. Make it your mission to find out how customers wish to be treated and adapt to them.

MAKE IT YOUR MISSION TO FIND OUT HOW CUSTOMERS WISH TO BE TREATED AND ADAPT TO THEM

BE HONEST

Some companies will do anything to win business and unfortunately directly lying to clients is frighteningly commonplace. While all decent organisations endeavour to tell the truth it can be tempting to hide things from clients – especially after a mistake. Companies may get away
with it on occasion but it only takes one scandal to lose client confidence and damage a hard-won reputation.

No business is perfect and there are times when you’ve got bad news for customers. It is essential in these circumstances to tell them what’s happened straightaway, why it happened and what you are doing to fix it.

I’ve seen the importance of this more upfront approach from personal experience. With media relations campaigns sometimes the first strategy simply doesn’t work and you have to find out what went wrong and start again. On other occasions a journalist might promise to feature your client then let you down. Many PR companies carry on struggling behind the scenes while presenting a rosy picture to the client. Yet if you tell a client straight away, then work hard to solve the problem, they are very understanding. Once they know what’s happened they can become your ally in getting around any obstacles you might face.

FAIR, TRANSPARENT PRICING

There’s nothing like an unexpectedly large invoice for souring a relationship. Make sure all charges are absolutely transparent and check every client understands them. Where possible services should include all costs rather than coming with hidden extras. If clients ask for extra work make sure they fully understand the cost implications before going ahead.

BEFORE A NEW CLIENT SIGNS UP LAY CLEAR BOUNDARIES ABOUT WHAT THEY CAN EXPECT

MAINTAIN CONFIDENCES

Service providers are often privy to confidential information that could cause damage in the wrong hands. If a client shares sensitive information then it must be carefully protected. Promote best practice as well as fulfilling statutory requirements.

KEEP LISTENING AND IMPROVING

Learn from your clients’ experiences by asking them for feedback and finding out what you could be doing better. Identify the new challenges they’re experiencing and adapt to suit their changed circumstances.

Your clients can also be a great gauge of the viability of new services. Working with them in the pilot stage shows how much you care about their needs as well as ultimately creating a more valuable asset for your business.

VALUE YOUR CLIENTS

Tough times make it more important than ever to provide the best possible service to your clients. Constantly evaluate how you can improve your client relationships and services. This is good business practice anyway but comes into its own in a global recession.

Clients need to see that your work is beneficial to their business and competitively priced in the marketplace. They will also need to feel valued by your team and trust your integrity.

This ethical approach involves working in partnership with customers and providing them with services that really meet their needs. This simple policy of treating clients as we’d all like to be treated helps businesses forge a stronger and more satisfying future.

© BLUE ROCKET AND THE GOOD FOLK 2009