Is it time to fire that client?
5 Steps to Take When Customers Can’t Grow with Your Growing Business
By: Cori DiDonato, Owner, Silver Tiger Consulting in Wakefield, MA
When I work with business owners- particularly those in the construction and service industries, I also help them pull in new customers while we work together to improve operations and finances. When you “fix” certain things in a business's back-end operations it is sometimes hard for certain clients and customers to get on board.
Maybe an owner didn’t always collect a deposit because they were busy and sometimes forgot. Maybe clients got used to a business invoicing them 15 to 30 days after a job was complete because invoicing was taking a while. Sometimes customers and clients were used to “only” talking with or having their service provided by the owner, and not “staff”. For a variety of reasons, when I help business owners improve back-end operations and expand and hire staff, I also help them recruit new customers that want to work with the business the way the business needs to operate.
If you are finding that as you grow and improve your business that some of your customers aren’t liking or willing to go along with changes, it is important to kick up your retention and attraction efforts simultaneously. Your goal with these efforts is to retain your current customers who are supportive of your recent changes and attract new customers who will also be on board with your improved way of operating.
While a growing business can implement a change relatively quickly, customers can’t always adapt to that change in the same time-frame. Sometimes the change isn't adequately announced to current customers and just needs to be communicated better. Just because a customer can’t adopt your change overnight doesn’t mean they’ll never adopt your change, so phasing in changes over the course of a few transactions sometimes helps these customers. But, sometimes a customer just simply refuses to go along with your change no matter what you do to ease their way.
Knowing you might meet some resistance up front will help you be better prepared for handling these types of issues and eventually, if needed, encouraging the customers who can’t grow with you to part ways.
Here are 5 things to do as soon as you start growing and making operational changes in your business:
- Routinely reach out for customer reviews from satisfied customers. Claiming your Google business page, creating a Facebook page, and claiming your free Yelp page are all key to getting your current satisfied customers to review you. In addition, many industries have certain sites like Houzz, Angie’s List, LinkedIn, etc. that customers visit to find people they want to work with. It is important to also claim your free pages on those sites that your customers frequently use for research. LinkedIn is used a lot for professional services, and it isn’t blocked by companies like Facebook sometimes is, so people have access to it if they work in an office setting. I strongly suggest all business owners have at least a LinkedIn personal page where clients can endorse their services, even if they don’t yet have a LinkedIn company page.
- Start marketing via email as quickly as possible to new prospects and current customers. Research has shown that email marketing has a return of $38-$44 dollars for every dollar spent. This is a ridiculously good ROI and is extremely inexpensive to implement. Constant Contact has a very low-cost entry point for businesses that includes live phone technical support. Setting up a monthly newsletter to highlight both key product/service offerings as well as update customers on changes to your business as you make them helps you manage expectations and increase retention at the same time. You can also include links to your various social media and claimed pages to make it easier for clients to find you to leave the public reviews mentioned in item #1. Email marketing done right with a service like Constant Contact is so effective that I offer a managed monthly email marketing package to all my clients. Almost all of them take advantage of the service and get increased business after just the first email blast.
- Introduce new staff immediately to customers. You can do this in person when customers come in to your place of business, but you should also introduce the staff member via your Facebook company page, LinkedIn company page, and in your email blasts. Include a picture, their name (even if it is just their first name), what they are doing at your business and a quick bio showcasing why you hired this person. People like to work with people they know and recognize, so having mystery employees that you never introduce properly to clients and vendors rarely works in the long run. Make sure your clients know that you are expanding and that they can go to this new person for X service or product. Hiring staff frequently makes everyone’s life easier and clients often enjoy faster response times. Be sure to highlight why you are investing in hiring and what benefit the client will receive as a result in your announcement.
- Update your printed brochures, web site, social media pages, and place pages you’ve already claimed with any new relevant information. The worst thing I’ve seen businesses do is leave old, outdated pricing and policies up on web sites, on printed service menus, and in legacy social media posts. Delete old social media posts of sales, get your signs reprinted, or take them down and replace them with temporary signage if money is tight. Pull old brochures until you can update them from your lobby. You don’t want customers feeling like they “just missed out” on a good deal because an old Groupon offer or outdated social media post is still live. You also don’t want customers mistakenly thinking you are somehow giving them a bad deal because they saw different pricing somewhere.
- Write down key characteristics of your “new” ideal client and then write down key characteristics of those clients you don’t want to work with. It is important to have a good, defined definition of your target client in your head. You also want to know if someone is not a good fit before you set yourself up to work with them in a no-win situation. I work with a lot of clients who have put the time in to define who they do want to work with, but they’ve often ignored defining who they don’t want to work with. You probably have three or four characteristics that you associate with someone that is a drain on your company resources to work with- maybe it is that person who is only happy if you don’t make any profit in the transaction, or the person who thinks your work isn’t worth what they pay you, or maybe it is that extremely disorganized client who can’t turn in deliverables or keep their appointments on time forcing you to go to extreme measures to make deadlines or your next appointment. Whatever those characteristics are that cause you stress, set you up for failure, or routinely create an unsatisfactory outcome, you need to get them on paper. Then, you need to create a policy for handling those characteristics. Ultimately, you need to be prepared to “fire” a client if they simply won’t comply with your policy after you explain to them why you’ve implemented the policy.
Growing a business is a joint effort between business owners, staff, vendors, and clients. Business owners lead this growth effort, and sometimes growth does require the owner to eliminate an unsatisfactory client relationship. The more you work with people who don’t help you be successful, the less opportunities you have to find and work with people who do want mutual success.
My next article in this series is how to effectively part ways with a client that just can't get on board with how you need to operate. If you are interested in receiving this article, subscribe to the Silver Tiger Consulting Library below.
If you found this information helpful, you can subscribe to receive additional articles for business owners here: