How to Build Customer Loyalty and Retain Accounts for Years to Come
It’s no secret that client loyalty is a big deal to marketing agencies. It’s expensive and time consuming to acquire new clients. And strong client relationships help bring in referral business.
No matter how you slice it, it’s best to invest a lot of resources into building relationships and creating a remarkable client experience. That way, you can expand your agency by doing more marketing for your clients and spending less on outbound marketing for your own business.
Of course, you still have to deliver results. But, if you do it right, you can redirect some of your own marketing resources toward loyalty building and account retention, while also helping to win new clients in the process.
This article outlines the best ways to improve your client relationships and build the type of loyalty that retains clients for years to come.
Build Client Loyalty With Better Onboarding
The onboarding process might be one of the most overlooked aspects of running a marketing agency. Think of it like this:
When you go out to eat, you don’t rate the experience based on the quality of the food alone. You also care about the atmosphere the restaurant provides and how the staff treat you. And it’s definitely a plus if the server asks if you have any allergies and warns you about certain menu items.
At the end of the day, a marketing agency is a service-based business. That service doesn’t just involve content marketing, managing social media ads, or running a Google Adwords account — it’s also about the customer experience and making sure you don’t do anything that triggers the client’s allergies, so to speak.
That customer experience starts with the onboarding process. Here are the steps you should take with each new client:
1. Learn About the Client’s Company Culture
It’s a common mistake for agencies to only focus on the marketing aspects of the client relationship. But you also need to understand the client’s company culture.
Who has a say in marketing decisions? Are there any stakeholders that keep a low profile but have a big impact on operations? What does the client’s internal review process look like?
Basically, you want advanced warning of any points of friction or potential culture clashes between the client and your agency. That way, you can make adjustments to minimize or avoid those issues altogether, rather than having them blow up in your face during a project.
2. Send a Client Onboarding Questionnaire
Learning about the client’s company culture is usually handled in phone calls, video conferences, and (potentially) in-person meetings.
On the other hand, the onboarding questionnaire is where you collect the formal marketing project information that usually gets all the attention when onboarding new clients.
Your onboarding questionnaire should be created with the aim of collecting information about your client’s company as a whole, as well as their marketing objectives. Plus, you should ask for any additional details you know your team will need to do their best work.
3. Introduce Your Team
After you assign people to an account, be sure to schedule a call or a meeting to introduce the team — the entire team, not just the account managers.
It can be uncomfortable for the client if they only know one person at your agency and everyone else only exists in title (“our copywriter,” “our designer,” etc.). You’re building collaborative relationships here. It’s best if everyone knows names, faces, and who’s responsible for what.
Also, be explicit about everyone’s roles. Make sure your client knows exactly what each person’s responsibilities are, so they know who to go to with specific questions, whether they’re about SEO or press releases.
4. Make Completing the Paperwork a Collaborative Process
It might seem like a small thing, but the process of reviewing project proposals, signing contracts, and taking care of administrative tasks is part of the client experience, and it should be as painless as possible.
One of the easiest ways to ensure this is to create an onboarding workflow within your internal project management software and add the client to the workflow. That way, you can create a more streamlined onboarding process without all the email ping pong.
5. Have a Kick-Off Meeting
Get everyone together and hash out the project details — short-term and long-term milestones, communications plans, review processes, and all the rest. That way, everyone is on the same page when the work starts.
If you dedicate some time to developing your onboarding process, you’ll avoid the miscommunications and frustrations that torpedo client loyalty and cost you future projects.
Focus on Communication
When you start work on a new account, you’ll probably schedule a date for another meeting in a couple of weeks, then put your head down and get to work.
Unfortunately, this approach tends to make clients a little nervous. Even though they agreed to the next meeting date, most clients will prefer hearing from you between now and then.
One of the best ways to close this communication gap is to create a standardized update day that you use for all your projects. For example, you might tell all your clients that you’ll send out weekly updates on Fridays.
They’ll rest easier knowing an update is coming soon, and your team will have the time blocked out on their calendars, so you can be sure these updates won’t fall through the cracks.
Make Transparency a Priority
When something goes wrong or we hit a roadblock, it’s natural to make our best adjustments to avoid impacting deadlines or project quality. And, if we think we can handle the issue without making timeline adjustments or project changes, it’s tempting not to say anything to the client.
But this is short-sighted.
It’s best to be transparent, even if you don’t think the issue will have a major impact on the project. Just send a quick update letting the client know what issue you ran into and what you plan to do about it, all while assuring them that things should be fine.
Then, if the issue does cause a more significant problem, the client isn’t blindsided by a request for a deadline extension or some other project adjustment.
This level of transparency goes a long way towards building customer loyalty. Delivering a flawless project on deadline is great, but handling a project disaster with poise and transparency is even more impressive.
Deliver Useful Reports
This is the most important thing to remember when you generate reports for marketing campaigns and projects: the client will need to make internal decisions based on the information you give them.
This means that your SEO reports should focus on more than demonstrating results and justifying the money the client is spending. You should also give context and include data that can help the client improve their side of the operation, even if that information isn’t directly related to marketing performance.
For example, if the client’s internal review process is slow, you can include information about how long each part of the project has taken as a result. That way, the client has a data point they can use to adjust their review process.
When you create your reports, ask yourself these questions:
- What decisions will the client need to make?
- What information will help improve the working relationship?
- Is there any additional information or simplification that will make this report easier for stakeholders to understand, especially if they aren’t familiar with marketing terms and jargon?
Know Your Clients Better Than They Know Themselves
The default mode of operation for most agencies is reactive. The client makes a request and the agency takes care of it. And, to some extent, working like this is necessary.
However, you’ll build a whole lot more client loyalty if you understand your client’s business, goals, and marketing needs well enough to take a proactive approach.
Rather than only starting new projects based on client requests, make a habit of regularly reviewing each client’s current projects and marketing data, then forecasting what to do next. This way, you can begin recommending projects before a client even presents you with their next idea.
Of course, clients may not always take your recommendations, but adopting this type of collaborative approach to project planning will make your agency a much more valuable asset and position you as an operating partner rather than a mere contractor.
Set Yourself Up as a Trusted Partner From Day One
Signing on with a new marketing agency is nerve-wracking for companies, especially when there’s a long-term contract involved.
The first instinct you’ll have to combat this fear is usually to show proof: here’s what we’ve done before; here’s why it worked. This can help but, ultimately, you’re trying to use logic to counteract an emotion. A better approach is to focus on building trust with potential clients.
Clients are scared of what they don’t know. They don’t know how your work will perform. They don’t know how well your agency will get along with their team. They don’t know if you’ll take time to understand their unique business goals and needs.
Believe it or not, showing more case studies is not the best way to counteract these fears. Here’s how to set yourself up as a partner and start building client loyalty right from the start:
Take Time to Understand Your Client’s Business Well
Prospective clients want to know that you understand their specific needs. Spend plenty of time asking questions and learning about their business.
Not only does this help you make your pitches more specific, but it also gives clients an opportunity to talk about themselves and makes them feel like you’re not just trying to get the next contract locked in.
Offer a Short-Term Trial
If you’ve studied a prospective client’s business closely enough, you should be able to identify a quick win or two that you can get for them within a couple of months.
A few months of work is much easier for new clients to stomach than a long-term contract. This gives you an opportunity to convince them that your strategies will work for them in the long term.
Get Buy-In From All the Stakeholders
Everyone has an opinion on how marketing should be done.This can be a problem for you if there are internal disagreements on the client’s side.
Avoid this by directly asking decision makers to consult the other stakeholders in their company and get everyone invested in moving forward with a contract.
Identify Exactly What Success Looks Like
One of the scariest things for clients is not knowing exactly what’s going to happen — or what should happen — when they finish the onboarding process. Be sure to identify the specific metrics that you’re going to improve, and be clear about how this is going to help your client expand their business.
If you’re too ambiguous about this, it will be difficult to convince the client that you’ve succeeded at the end of the project, just when you’re trying to secure a new contract.
If you and the client agree on specific metrics for success right from the start, you won’t have to explain why improving those metrics is good. They’ll speak for themselves.
Personalize Your Account Management
Personalization has been a staple of marketing for a long time now, but it often gets overlooked as a tool for maintaining client relationships. Once the contract is signed, it’s normal to default to a purely professional relationship.
If your goal is long-term client loyalty, don’t fall into this trap. No client likes to feel like you only care about how big of a check they write.The good news is that personalizing your account management doesn’t have to be tremendously labor intensive. People really appreciate small touches.
Here’s what you can do:
Celebrate Personal Milestones
You’ll get a certain amount of personal information during the onboarding process and, the longer you work with a client, the more information you’ll collect.
Use that information to deliver a more personalized experience. Send a birthday video or email. Congratulate clients on hitting certain business goals. Write a thank you note to each client on the yearly anniversary of their contract signing.
You might be thinking that none of these things are directly related to the usual duties of an account manager. But these gestures keep the lines of communication open, even when there’s not much project news to report.
And being friendly makes it much easier to broach more serious conversations like contract renewals.
Customize Your Renewal Packages
At the end of a long-term contract — or even after a short trial — you’ll have a good idea of how your service packages could be tailored to the client.
Offering tailored renewal packages is a workaround for agencies to create loyalty programs, similar to businesses that sell products. If you offer a customized renewal package, you’re much more likely to win a new contract, which is the peak of customer loyalty.
Consider Factors Other Than Revenue
This is about internally personalizing your account management based on what’s most important to your agency. Identify what makes a client most valuable to your agency beyond just how much revenue the account generates. Then strategically allocate resources to each account.
Consider other objective criteria to assess the value of each account. This can include:
- Cultural alignment
- Geographic alignment
- Product fit
- Long-term growth potential
- Referral potential
If you select clients and assign team members based on criteria other than just how much revenue an account brings in, you’ll be able to reduce working friction and assign team members that are more enthusiastic about their projects.
Nothing Builds Client Loyalty Like Client Relationships
Ultimately, building client loyalty is about focusing on relationships. Yes, you have to deliver results, but you also need to be mindful that you’re working with people who want to feel important to your agency.
People are emotional creatures and a better overall experience will create a stronger bond with your clients.
If you build strong relationships and focus on delivering a better overall experience, your clients will be much less likely to jump ship to another agency simply because that agency boasts some new tech or marketing strategy.