26 Oct The Rules of Relationship Building
For most companies, forging long-lasting relationships is a top priority. And rightly so, says Stephanie Vaughan-Jones, Commercial Manager at outsourced communications specialist Moneypenny
A few weeks ago, I was chatting to the partner of a veterinary practice we work with. He told me they have a number of clients who have been with them for over 15 years. That’s an incredible achievement, especially in today’s market where customers are increasingly likely to be tempted by rival offers and switch when they aren’t happy.
These long-term clients are invaluable though. As well as being your most loyal brand advocates, they offer businesses a wealth of benefits including a consistent workload, steady income and lower marketing costs. We all know the much-quoted research that estimates the cost of acquiring a new customer is seven times that of retaining an existing client.
So how can veterinary practices build meaningful and long-lasting relationships with their clients? Here are six fundamental principles that can help achieve this…
Make it personal
As human beings we like to feel special. While we know the reality is that a business will have hundreds, if not thousands, of other clients we want to believe we’re more than just a number. We want to feel valued and appreciated; confident that they know who we are, and in the case of veterinary practices that they know who our pets are. There are a number of simple ways to do this. Firstly, take a genuine interest in your client and their pet. Ask their names at the beginning of your conversation and use them throughout to show you value them as an individual. Make the most of your CRM system too. The more you know – and can recall – about your clients, the better the service you can offer them and the more they will believe you care. It also empowers your team to be able to engage on a deeper level. Our clever in-house software, fondly called RITA, is what we use to manage calls on behalf of clients and it can identify repeat callers, remember why they have previously called, as well as their pet’s name and any contact details. The result is increased client confidence in our service, and in turn loyalty. Think about other ways you could make clients feel like an individual too. It might be emailing them links to relevant videos or blogs you’ve written about the type of pet they own, or sending them a birthday card. It’s often these little touches that mean the most.
As stressed or overwhelmed as you may feel juggling the needs of daily practice life, it’s important to put on a positive face. You and your team are, to all intents and purposes, your practice, so if you greet clients in a caring and professional manner then that’s what they’ll perceive your entire practice to be. Likewise, if you’re abrupt, offhand or uninterested this is the impression your client will leave with. As a general rule of thumb, the veterinary practices we support specifically ask us to be warm, welcoming and friendly when speaking to their clients, so when we ask ‘how can I help you?’, for example, we do it with conviction, energy and a smile. As well as putting you in best frame of mind, smiling physically changes your voice and instantly makes you sound more approachable and friendly which in turn will help clients relax and want to talk to you.
Become part of their life
The first time we speak to a prospective client we ask them to tell us what their business pains are. In the case of vet practices this often includes ensuring reception staff are supported during peak periods of the day, capturing every opportunity and delivering a consistently brilliant service. Together, we then work with them to solve each one, and in the process become an extended member of their team. Be proactive at every opportunity too. Never assume you know what they need or want. What works today may not work tomorrow, so listen, recognise when things need to change and be flexible. Grow with them and ensure you become an indispensable part of their life.
Experience your practice as a client would
We’ve talked about this before, but experiencing your practice as your clients do is crucial to building great relationships. Why? It’s by consistently offering an exceptional service that clients will begin to trust you, and its trust that is key to forging long-lasting relationships. So ask someone who doesn’t work for your practice to call your mainline number, start a live chat, navigate your website and send an email. What standard of service do they receive? Is this consistent across every touch point? Are you are offering multiple communications channels to enable clients to contact you on their terms? It’s only by being objective that you’ll learn and find ways to enhance your relationships with both new and existing clients.
Exceed expectations at every opportunity
Think back to the last time you were ‘wowed’ by a company – I’ll be willing to bet it was because they exceed your expectations in some way. We were recently lucky enough to have the wonderful Geoff Ramm come into our office to talk to us about ‘celebrity service’. An expert in marketing and customer service, Geoff asked us to consider what we would do, what we would say and how we would react if an A-list celebrity called us in comparison to a typical client? This, he says, is the gap in your service you didn’t know existed and if you can fill this gap, your competition will never be able to touch you. Customer experience, as it’s commonly called, is only set to become more important too. The Customers 2020 report estimates that in just two years’ time the key differentiating factor between businesses won’t be price or products; but client experience. It’s this desire to exceed expectations and provide the unexpected service that will continue to strengthen professional relationships time and time again. None of the above happens by accident, but it’s this desire to exceed ‘good’ and aim for ‘exceptional’ that will earn you long, happy and loyal customers.
By Stephanie Vaughan-Jones