Relationships, and particularly client relationships, require investment and maintenance. Without the proper care, even a long-term connection can break down.
Losing a stable client can mean more than a hit to your profits: When a client cut ties, your business’s reputation is stained. That, in turn, may make other clients re-evaluate their relationship with you. And if you had a personal relationship with the client, that may suffer, too.
The good news is that with reflection and self-awareness, you can do your part to maintain long-term client relationships. Above all, avoid these four relationship-ruining mistakes:
1. You go dark when things go wrong.
It’s happened to all of us: The project begins to creep past its budget, or the timeline for delivery stalls.
It’s tempting to forget the problem and hope it goes away, leaving the client none the wiser. But the client will notice when his or her emails go unanswered.
Always choose transparent, direct communication over avoidance. Transparency does not indicate weakness. In fact, transparent leaders are often admired because they admit to their flaws as well as their strengths.
While it may be difficult in the moment, being upfront is important for maintaining a client’s trust in you and your brand. An informed client is a happy client.
2. You never initiate the conversation.
Responding to a client’s requests for updates is important, but checking in without the client having to ask matters just as much.
First of all, waiting for the customer to come to you isn’t the best business strategy. It’s like waiting for a neighbor to pass by your lemonade stand instead of going door to door. Reaching out regularly to long-term clients keeps your services top of mind.
Secondly, being the one to reach out builds social capital with clients. If you get to know your clients as people first, chances are that they’ll be more gracious when a deadline gets changed or a deliverable isn’t met.
Treat clients like human beings: Ask about their families and hobbies. Celebrate successes with them, and likewise, send condolences when appropriate. If you’re worried you’ll forget, use automation to remind you to reach out regularly.
3. You don’t set boundaries.
Boundaries might seem like just a buzzword, but guarding your time is important when you need to give lots of accounts regular attention.
The best time to communicate expectations? The beginning of a relationship or, with long-term clients, the start of a new project.
Ask your client how they prefer to communicate. Will he expect regular updates? Or would he prefer that you handle the project and only come to him with problems, questions, or a draft to review? Regardless, be clear that you aren’t available for out-of-the-blue calls or unnecessary meetings.
4. You repeat past mistakes.
Failure is hard to swallow in any setting, but it’s exceptionally difficult when it involves a long-term relationship. Clients who trust you will likely overlook one or two mistakes, but don’t expect them to do so if you keep making the same ones.
What if you do make a stomach-churning, cheek-burning mistake? Don’t look outward for someone else to blame; turn inward and ask what factors might have caused you to make the error.
Take your cue from Brene Brown, who encourages leaders to “rumble” with their mistakes. Use phrases like “help me understand” and “I’m wondering” to put the onus for change on yourself.
What if you do make the same mistake again? Communicate clearly and directly, explain the situation, make an apology, and offer a path forward. In the long run, owning your actions and being a person of your word will always pay off.
Strong client relationships are the cornerstone of any successful business. If in doubt about how to handle a long-term relationship, remember the Golden Rule: Treat them like how you’d want to be treated, and they’ll do the same for you.