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May '05 Build Business: Client Loyalty -- What You Don't Know Could Hurt You

by Stephanie Craft, CPSM, MARKETLINK
May 5, 2005

Editor’s note: As a new monthly contributor to, the Society for Marketing Professional Services is sponsoring Build Business. This new series, written by industry experts, focuses on marketing and business development best practices to help you build business and advance your career.


When I first started in this industry I worked for a large, very well-established civil engineering firm in the Intermountain Region. I was the first marketing person the firm had ever hired, so I was fortunate to be able to set up the department and get the marketing programs put into place. One day I approached the president of the company about establishing a client relations (CR) program to monitor client satisfaction. This was the next marketing program that needed to be established for the firm. After I explained how it would work and the valuable information we could garner, he said, “No.” He felt that if clients were unhappy they would say so, and as long as the firm didn’t hear from its clients they could assume everything was going fine. In the three years I worked there I was never able to change his mind.


Thankfully, a lot has changed in the past 20 years, and firms are much more open to getting client feedback. However, if you’re still in the throes of trying to get a CR program put into place, this may be some help. According to an article published by the Society for Marketing Professional Services (“Client Relations Programs: A Primer for Technical Staff,” by Theresa M. Casey, CPSM; October 1996 Marketer): “Some estimates say it costs six to eight times more to obtain a new client than it does to keep one. One study reports that clients change consultants due to dissatisfaction with the deliverable or product only 14% of the time. However, an amazing 68% of the time, they change due to poor service or ill treatment from their current consultant.”


Whether my former boss wanted to know or not, based on these statistics it makes sense – for pure economics – that we should be willing to ask our clients their opinions of our work and staff. If you have never asked your clients how they feel about your work, then you’ll find out when they do or do not select you for their next project. And then it may be too late to ask.


Here’s a quick overview of how to set up your own in-house CR program:


·         Use your marketing staff to implement the program. My experience as a marketing consultant is that clients are much more open to discussing their feelings with someone who is not related to their project. There is a perception that candidness with the project manager could jeopardize the project – especially if it’s already been a bumpy road. So use your marketing staff, who is already tuned in to client needs, to survey clients for the best results.


·         Develop a list of questions you’ve always wanted the answers to but were afraid to ask. These can include: “Can you tell me what you’ve heard about our firm’s reputation in the industry?” “What do you like least about working with our firm?” “What are your opinions regarding the quality of our work?” “Rate the quality of your working relationship with our project manager.” Include questions that are both project- and staff-related, as well as those to do with the office such as timeliness of returned calls, professionalism of support staff, etc.


·         Determine intervals for surveying. Clients want to be asked, but not so often that it’s annoying. Choose clients with both small and large projects and ask them once or twice during the project depending on how long it will last, or after each phase. I recommend coordinating this with the accounting department so when a project begins, marketing is notified and can decide whether or not to add the client and project to the CR program.


·         Document the findings and share them internally. We always presume we’re going to hear everything we are doing wrong when we conduct client surveys. But the best part of such surveys is learning what your firm does right. Everyone can learn from each other’s mistakes – we tend to dwell on those. But don’t forget there are also lessons in the positive. Some staff members may have better people skills than others, and those success stories should be shared – what’s worked with one difficult client may work with another.


Another important note: Don’t forget to use those positive comments in your marketing efforts. Most clients are more than happy to approve a quote or testimonial you can use in your marketing proposals and collateral materials.


·         Have a plan of action and implement change. Nothing is worse than getting feedback and doing nothing with it. If you’re going to ask your client’s opinion, you have to be prepared to do something if negative comments are made. I recommend putting together a brief plan of action outlining what the firm can do to show clients their comments were taken seriously. Have the project manager get back to the client with what the firm is doing to improve or change based upon the comments.


From my experience conducting hundreds of client interviews, I would agree with the above statistics – the vast majority of the time clients change consultants not so much because of their work, but because of the person or people they were assigned to work with. Joe Hurley with San Mateo County, California, said at a recent SMPS meeting on client loyalty, “Loyalty takes a tremendous effort to establish, but is very easy to lose.” Don’t lose your valuable clients. Ask them their opinions now!



Stephanie Craft, CPSM, is a partner in MARKETLINK, a marketing consulting firm with offices in Sacramento, CA, and Salt Lake City. The firm specializes in developing client perception surveys, business development activities, strategic planning, public relations, and marketing training seminars for both marketing and technical staff.


The Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) was created in 1973 by a small group of professional services firm leaders who recognized the need to sharpen skills, pool resources, and work together to create business opportunities. Today, the association has 50 active chapters and a membership of 5,500 marketing and business development professionals representing design, building, and related firms. To learn more about SMPS and Build Business, the SMPS/PSMA National Conference (August 10-13, 2005), click on links.

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