Fresh from her “Most Client-Focused Accountant” win at the AFR Client Awards, Litsa Christodulou outlines her advice to organisations wanting to better meet client needs.

The way that businesses go about managing their client relationships can vary greatly. Nevertheless, there are a few basic tenets of client relationships that hold true, regardless of the size or primary purpose of the organisation.

Plan ahead

‘Client relations’ is not an ad-hoc activity, nor one that should be launched into without any preparation or planning. Every business should have a well-developed approach to client relationship management. This includes clear rules on who is authorised to interact with clients and under what circumstances – having the right team working alongside the client can also make a positive difference.

The management of new clients is also an important part of the process – for example, adding their name and contact details to specific databases to receive updates, regular promotional materials, invitations, or other general information, and understanding when further face-to-face contact might be required.

Make sure everyone in the business who has contact with clients – from receptionists to the accounts department and, more specifically, the internal team designated to work closely with the client on an ongoing basis – understands the basics of client interaction, the client’s values, and the steps to take if there are any issues which need to be addressed. Understanding how the client likes to interact is also an important factor.

Know the client

It’s important to invest time and resources to ensure the business is positioned to meet client needs. Also, try to learn what makes the client tick, not just on a business level but also a personal one – this might be tricky in the beginning but will be easier as the relationship evolves. You have to build rapport and trust, which may take some time. It is also important to note that as the relationship develops over a number of years, there is potential for those initial needs change.

Over the long term, asking for regular feedback can be invaluable with regards to understanding how your processes are working and if client needs are being met. These also allow the client an additional opportunity to evaluate your service.

Keep in touch

Even if the relationship with clients doesn’t necessarily require regular personal contact, it is worthwhile to find a way to “chat” from time to time. For example, an occasional follow up phone call following completion of work is always a good idea.

A phone call or a face-to-face interaction does help build rapport with the client and provides the opportunity to address issues immediately, and allows the client to provide additional information they may not express via email.

Additional communication tools such as regular newsletters, news alerts, feedback forms further the personal approach and facilitate relationship-building, shows the company values its clients, and is actively seeking feedback on its service. It also helps ensure any problems or misunderstandings are identified early.

Tailor the approach

Different clients appreciate different types of service and it is important to tailor the approach to suit. Some might appreciate a regular phone call to touch base, while others might find this intrusive or irritating. Some might welcome electronic contact by email, while others would find this impersonal.

Don’t assume a blanket approach will work for all, and if in any doubt ask clients in your regular dealings with them about their preferences.

Not just new clients

A mistake many businesses make is to focus primarily on gaining new clients and forgetting to look after existing ones. Cultivating ongoing relationships with every client is imperative and takes time – aim to generate deeper and better relationships with all clients at various stages of their relationship with your organisation as this serves both sides of the relationship in the long term.

Make the effort to keep existing clients happy and grow the client base from there. Existing clients who are happy with the service are an excellent form of third party endorsement and referral.

Say thank you

Whether it is thanking a long-standing client for their support or for passing your name on to a prospective new client, a simple thank you shows appreciation and recognition as well as an established personal link.

Businesses that pay attention to these tenants of client relationships will find they have a better understanding of what clients are looking for from the service provided, and will build longer-lasting relationships with clients over the long term.