Why are you losing clients?
Customer churn is inevitable. But when you’re delivering phenomenal results for clients and they suddenly start heading for the exit, it becomes puzzling and feels very personal. What could you possibly be doing to spark that vote of no confidence?
Every business has been through some version of this disappointment. But at my company, a holistic digital marketing agency, it seemed to be happening on a monthly basis. Still, we went on as though it weren’t happening, avoiding any attempt to get to the bottom of the problem.
As president, I thought about it and chalked it up to the human vagaries of many clients — a polite way of saying they must be clinically insane. It certainly couldn’t be our fault. We are transparent, I told myself. We give them everything they could possibly need. Our clients have access to our project management system, they can call us anytime, our employees are fantastic, and we send regular reports. Surely, nothing’s broken.
I was wrong. We were at fault — and seriously so. Diving further into the problem, I came to an ugly realization: It wasn’t just one individual item that was broken, it was a combination of issues. It wasn’t our processes, services, account management, project management or employees. Our client experience was broken and it was my fault.
It ultimately came down to two things: trust and maintaining our value to our clients. The problem, I realized, started from within. I had not given our employees a reason to care about our client experience. Perhaps even worse, I didn’t care nearly enough about our employee experience. The two are inextricably connected: Our client experience could never be great if our employee experience wasn’t great.
Our clients didn’t see the value in what we were doing because our employees didn’t see the value.
They didn’t fully understand how their work allows small and large businesses to grow and spread their stories. They didn’t fully comprehend that their work allows great companies to be found and build a tribe of followers. And lastly, they didn’t see how their work can provide jobs, as we expand our clients’ businesses. My employees didn’t know how to communicate with our clients on the metrics that mattered most.
And because our teams weren’t trained to see clients as full and complex human beings with their own hopes and dreams, families, and goals, they couldn’t build an authentic relationship with them. I hadn’t given them a reason to.
Reporting And Communication Aren’t Enough
Now to be clear, it’s not just about reporting or communication. Hitting the right metrics and goals don’t suffice either. We did all that. We communicated, sent reports and exceeded objectives. But we failed to realize other critical aspects of the relationship. Clients stay because they see a continued value. They stick with you because they develop relationships with your brand, your employees or your mission — and sometimes all three.
So how do you work to fix such a huge systemic problem? We began at the source: with our employees. We developed career plans, we trained like crazy, and we built a team of people passionate about our clients who could serve as coaches to all employees. We watched TED talks. We started teaching our employees about empathy and compassion. We are working to continuously provide value. We are nurturing our employees and clientele the way we nurture our leads. We are teaching soft skills and painting the big picture — which gets to why we’re in this business in the first place.
That reason is twofold: to build an agency where employees love coming into work — and an agency that clients can trust and depend on — in an ever-saturated, often scammy industry. It’s daunting, but it’s making a difference.
We also started asking our clients how we could improve. We made a renewed effort to reach out to them with monthly newsletters that contained industry updates and useful tips. We started to send them “small win” emails with information they could get excited about and we did everything we could to consistently work to improve our relationships. We worked to build rapport. We had our teams start asking our clients about their kids, birthdays and hobbies. We started seeing them as individuals. And we got them involved in our feedback loop in every way we could.
Since we’ve been working to build a culture of client experience, our average lifetime value (LTV) of a customer has gone up significantly and morale has never been higher. I don’t yet feel 100% confident about our client experience, but we’re getting there.
The primary lesson from this realization is that you can have the best systems, processes, reporting, products or quality in the business and your clients may still flee. But if you start to understand and care about the people who keep you in business — and make sure your staff understands and treats them the way you do — you have a much better shot at keeping your customers.