Lost Friendships and Lost Customers

Client RetentionSitting with a parent as they fade away is one of life’s more difficult moments. It makes you think about what matters and what doesn’t.

My father is failing quickly after a five-year fight with glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive brain cancer with a 100% fatality rate. He’s losing the battle but is leaving this life surrounded by love and nothing left unsaid. I think we can’t ask for much more than that and I’m grateful.

FYI: To spend more time with my dad at the hospice facility, there will not be a Rock The Pitch post this Friday.

Because of a few things I’ve shared on Facebook about what is happening in my personal life this week with Dad (a huge thanks to those who have shared support!), I heard from a long-ago BFF today on Facebook. Friends who met in college, we shared a deep love of horses and similar timing in falling OFF said horses when jumping a course in our final exams for a riding class. I was the one who made her laugh through the pain as the doctor stitched up her butt (she fell on a metal cup that holds up the cross rail). I wish she were helping me laugh through my pain today.

Once we left college and started our lives as adults, she joined the military to fight for our freedom, then we both had children. We didn’t try hard enough to talk about what really matters over the years, so the friendship became superficial and faded away.

She only realized it today, but I had unfriended her almost three years ago. The unfriending was a passive-aggressive way to lash out, I think. My son had almost died and I needed her, but she just wasn’t there. I gave up. Since I had reached out many times over years prior with no response, then she stopped returning my calls for years at a time, I gave up. I was hurt  and I mentally walked away from a twenty-some year old friendship.

Perhaps the fact that she only realized it today is telling, since I did it years ago, but her hurt reaction made me stop and think.

Was it my fault? Did I try hard enough?

Or did I blame her lack of response on the failure, when perhaps I wasn’t there for her before that point and never even realized it.

Agency-Client Communication

Customers can be like that. Sometimes, the relationship is lost and the easy solution is to blame them for being difficult or stubborn. But the road goes both ways and if fingers are pointed, they usually should point both directions. But it’s easier to blame than accept responsibility, and use it to drive change.

In public relations, our role is to communicate. We communicate brand attributes, news and information to the public. We communicate to customers and prospects.  But do we communicate enough to our clients?

Do we put them first, thinking not only about our job performance for them, but how to communicate better and more often? Do we show them we are on top of our industry and theirs?

Customer retention at agencies is often about performance – but just as often, even more, it is about our communication skills and our ability to form relationships. Yet, the same way life trains us through hard earned experience, agencies often rely on experience and self-education to shape their customer service.

Imagine a company that has no marketing department… No logo, no key message points or press release distribution, no control or participation in how their brand is being created in the marketplace and no connection to their customers or audience. Untrained staff can be like that. Giving them zero support or assistance in how to build strong relationships and even stronger communications skills leaves retention and reputation up to chance. Who wants that?

Agencies and independents that have clients for years – even decades – they have much to share with us about what works for them. If you have had a client for five years or more, can you tell us about it in the comments, along with why you think it works so well?

Five Ways To Show Clients You Care

1. Over-communicate on critical deliverables. This doesn’t mean going to ridiculous levels and becoming a pest, but sharing what you might consider the smaller details (such as how a press check went on that print project, or sending regular updates when teams are working furiously on the back-end yet the client doesn’t see movement on a campaign) can make a HUGE difference. It isn’t always about what you communication, but simply sharing that you are completely on top of things and working hard on their behalf. It’s comforting.

2. Realize a client who micro-manages is insecure about something. Instead of allowing it to annoy you or using it as an excuse to pull away, find out what it is and focus on communicating more often and more clearly. If they call you for an update, for example, it’s a red flag that you are not actively communicating enough, so step in and step it up. It also helps to continually self-educate on communication skills. Just because WE think we are fantastic at communicating doesn’t mean the client sees it that way. Sometimes we just aren’t aligned in the right way to meet their often-unsaid expectations.

3. Make a regular practice of sharing articles with them that are important to their industry. This shows them that you are in tune with their industry and more likely to understand their needs, and their audience/prospect hot buttons. It’s also convenient, especially if you add a little of your expert insight to what you are sharing.

4. Take a fresh look at your monthly status reports, and make sure it reflects THEIR needs, not just yours. Using an agency template doesn’t always work and a good account executive should know when to modify something. If you don’t know, ask the client. It’s a great chance to demonstrate that you are focused on value, not just delivering a product or service.

5. Focus on giving them confidence. Clients don’t invest in just an agency deliverable – they invest in you, so validate their trust and respect is well-placed. Similar to the quote flying around social media about how employees don’t leave a job, they leave their boss – clients don’t leave an agency, they leave a relationship they are not comfortable. They leave the person handling their account on a day-to-day basis. Invest time regularly in thinking about how you can make them more confident in YOU.

I’ve been fortunate in my career. In past agency roles as in-house talent, I was the go-to person for rescuing almost-lost clients. I’ve stepped into a job or account dozens of times to figure out where problems are causing ripples, repair client confidence and bring them back into the fold. Many lessons have been learned along the way. However, I spend a few hours each month specifically focused around learning something new about how to communicate. It definitely helps me improve.

What’s your biggest lesson when it comes to client retention?