According to a longitudinal study conducted by Stanford University, over 70% of relationships end within their first year. Anyone who has spent much time on the dating scene probably isn't too surprised by this statistic, but what really stands out from the study is how quickly those breakup rates decline as the years go on.

For unmarried couples, the annual risk of a breakup drops to around 20 percent after five years in the relationship. For married couples, the rate sits at a mere three percent.

As the lead sociologist on the study explained, "The longer a couple stays together … the more time and effort they have jointly invested into the relationship, and the more bound together they are."

In many ways, these relationships are reflected in the business world.

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Gaining new clients for your business is one thing. But retaining them can prove just as challenging. If you're not careful, all the money and effort you put into landing that killer client could go to waste if you don't learn to properly manage your new relationship.

Forging great business relationships requires good systems, vigilant investments and good software to keep track of everything -- especially for agencies that need to do this with several clients at once. With sound relationship management, you can establish successful partnerships that last for many years, creating a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Just like a successful romantic relationship, these business partnerships require genuine effort from both you and your client. With that in mind, here are a few unorthodox ways you can better manage your client relationships.

7 Tips for Managing Client Relationships

1. Involve your client in the goal-setting process.

Your commitment to the client relationship should be made apparent right away during the goal-setting process. Just because a client comes to you seeking a solution, doesn't mean they want to relinquish control over setting goals and developing plans for improving their business.

The importance of collaborative goal-setting is perfectly highlighted in the field of medicine. This process has "repeatedly been associated with improved outcomes … as a component of high-quality care."

Medical focus groups subsequently described these successful collaborations as "a caring relationship where patients and health care providers: (1) listen and learn from each other; (2) share ideas; (3) agree on a measurable objective; and (4) support goal achievement."

Doesn't that sound like the way you and your clients should set goals together? When both parties are actively engaged in the goal-setting process, you'll achieve far better results that are truly tailored to their needs.

2. Don't allow the client to come to you with questions.

Okay, so this doesn't mean you should forbid clients from asking you questions. That's a recipe for disaster. What this really means is that client relationships are all about proactive communication -- and in a business relationship, you have to be the one who takes the initiative.

Clients shouldn't have to send an email and wait for several days before receiving a response. When there is a lack of communication, it's easy for clients to feel like you don't care about their needs. It can also foster misunderstandings or even resentment.

Sounds like a bad dating relationship.

Instead, you should be proactive by reaching out to your clients and keeping them updated on your progress. Essentially, you become so good at keeping your clients "in the loop" that they don't have to ask for updates or information because you've already provided it.

So what can you do to make yourself more available to your clients?

Communication tools like Slack and Trello are great ways to stay in touch and manage projects together. Better yet, they create opportunities for you to reach out and address potential concerns or questions before the client has to ask.

3. Put the onus back on your client, when necessary.

Whether you're creating a marketing campaign or helping a client manage their shipping and inventory needs, you probably won't be successful if the client is completely detached from your processes. In fact, to achieve success, the client likely need to do some work themselves -- especially since there are likely certain items and information that you won't be able to obtain without their help.

All too often, agency projects will hit roadblocks because they must wait for clients to deliver assets. Worse yet, constantly hounding clients for these assets can sour the relationship, creating additional problems down the line.

As such, when you ask something of your client, you should be respectful and try to make things as easy as possible. One great example of a tool that does this well is Duda, a website builder which enables agencies to quickly collect content from their clients by auto-importing assets from existing URLs and providing easy-to-use forms for uploading original files.

This setup greatly simplifies what the client needs to do, making it much more likely that they'll respond positively and deliver needed assets quickly when a request from their agency comes in.

For collaboration on documents or the sharing of basic data, you can't go wrong with Google Drive or Dropbox. These intuitive, easy-to-learn systems make it easy to share documents between you and your client.

4. Address a client's needs before they know they even exist.

No matter what role you take in your relationship with the client, you ultimately have the responsibility to address their pain points and find ways to help them reach their goals.

The problem is that clients don't always know what they actually need. They may understand that they are struggling with something, but they may not have identified the reason their business isn't reaching its goals.

By putting yourself in your client's shoes and addressing problems before they come up, you can build trust and deliver better results. If you really want to make a good impression with your clients, you shouldn't just wait for them to come to you with their problems.

Once again, you need to be proactive.

When you identify a way that the client could be doing better, take the initiative and present a solution to them. Better still, you could identify things your clients will need in the future, demonstrating your competence and dedication.

5. Pick up the phone and make an actual phone call.

At first glance, email seems like it would always be the easiest way to communicate with clients. After all, the ability to type up a message and review what you've written before hitting "send" can help you avoid mistakes and save some time.

But clients appreciate the more personal touch of a phone call -- and quite frankly, there are many situations when a phone call will prove more effective than a lengthy email thread in the first place.

Even though we tend to think that nobody communicates via phone calls anymore, the data shows the opposite to be the case, especially when a major decision is involved.

A Google study of its click-to-call services found that 61% of customers want the ability to call the business when they are ready to make a purchase, with the majority citing the need to get a quick answer or to talk with a real person as their primary motivators. A phone call can often help you achieve quicker resolutions to problems and demonstrate a more personable touch for your clients.

6. There's no place for pettiness, so don't allow it.

Whether in dating or in business, pettiness is never a good policy.

A client may not be the type of person you'd like to hang out with on the weekends, but this doesn't mean you should ignore their calls or talk down to them. These behaviors will only hurt you in the long run and make it harder to find new clients.

According to TIME Magazine, even the pettiness of "being intentionally attentive to trivial details affects relationships and the way people perceive one another … researchers repeatedly found that petty behaviors made people seem less likable, even when the actions objectively benefited others."

It doesn't matter if you deliver great results. Treat your clients with respect and don't get hung up on trivial things, or else they may not stick around for the long haul.

7. Be transparent, even when it's not a good look.

Everyone makes mistakes.

Despite your best efforts, you might fail in helping your client reach those collaborative goals you established. It can be tempting to gloss over these imperfections out of fear that you'll lose a client. But when you choose to be dishonest, the final outcomes can be far worse.

Nobody wants to work with someone who hides the truth in an effort to protect their reputation or maintain higher sales. The notorious Equifax data hack has seen the company's shares and trust plummet because it waited for so long to disclose the information.

By not disclosing information earlier, the company opened itself up to lawsuits, legal investigations, and the loss of major contracts. Though a timely disclosure likely wouldn't have eliminated all these consequences, a more honest approach could have lessened the damage.

A pest control service provider perhaps said it best: "The majority of the time if you give customers the real situation and are honest with them, they'll be able to see you have their best interest at heart and will be on board."

An enduring relationship requires significant time and effort -- both for those seeking romance and for businesses trying to find quality clients.

Though the aforementioned tips may not be the first things that come to mind when for managing client communications, they could just make all the difference in creating a "marriage" that lasts.

To learn more, read about how to prevent buyer's remorse next.

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Originally published Jan 31, 2019 8:00:00 AM, updated March 26 2019

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Customer Retention