As an entrepreneur or small business owner, the most important people you’re going to meet are your clients. The way you treat them will determine how long they remain your clients – and longevity in business relationships is extremely valuable.

According to Andrew Maren, founder and CEO of ProfitShare Partners, “Clients know things. They know when you’re being genuine or if you’re hiding something. In my experience, being honest with clients is always best – even if you have to tell them news they may not like. Transparent communication is key.”

So, how do you ensure your clients come back to you and not take their business elsewhere? Here are five tips you can implement:

Become an industry expert

  • Learn all you can about your industry. For example, if you sell or lease printers, make sure you know what printer to suggest to any given client. Small clients may not need large-format colour printers, and trying to sell them one may damage your reputation.
  • Understand each client’s business needs, and find an affordable, sustainable solution for them.
  • Knowing all you can about printers – or any other offering – will get you to return business. Being honest and fair in your recommendations will get you loyalty. Your reputation as a knowledgeable, fair business person is priceless, in any industry.

Listen to client feedback

  • Communication is vital in every industry and all business dealings. The biggest part of effective communication is listening to your client. Importantly, listen to hear exactly what they are saying, and not just to respond.
  • Call your clients periodically just to make sure they’re happy with your products or services. Ask them if there’s anything they’d like to share with you about the service your company is giving them, and make notes.
  • Never be afraid of criticism – if you take it personally, you could lose a client. Listen, tell the client you’d like to do whatever is necessary to make them see your firm in a better light, and ask them how you can do that for them
  • Keep a client file with notes on any complaints or compliments you get so you can keep doing better. When you listen instead of defending your business, you create a relationship where your customers can talk to you, rather than “ghosting” you and finding another provider.

Learn about your customers’ markets

  • When you get a new customer, learn everything you can about their market. This will make recommending a service or product you offer easier to do.
  • Keep in touch with the business trends and requirements of long-standing clients, too. You could up-sell a new product or service if you do your homework regularly. Make sure your suggestion is, indeed, going to add value to your customer’s contracts or purchases from you. 
  • If you note a new trend in their market, drop them a note and suggest you can look into its value for them. Don’t immediately go for the “hard sell”. Learn about the trend and whether your client can afford it and can make money from it. If they can see the value, you can provide the goods.

Communicate, communicate, communicate…

  • In an age where there are so many different ways to communicate, there is no excuse for not communicating with your customers. Learn what form of communication suits them best and use that. Remember, e-mails and text messages can be stored to keep track of discussions, which is always valuable.
  • When communicating by email, make sure:
    • Your email subject line describes what the mail is about
    • If the conversation changes track, note this in the subject line
    • If more than two people have added to the email, always end off with a mail noting the “bottom line” of discussions
  • Rather over-communicate than under-communicate: It’s easy to think, “We discussed this on the phone” and send a too-brief email. By copying in what you discussed on the phone, you’re showing your client that you know they are as busy as you, too, while ensuring your message is always clear.
  • Don’t assume any customer received your message. Mobile devices go missing; power outages can cause chaos with emails. Always ask them to acknowledge receipt of your message.

Surprise them – genuinely

  • As you grow closer to your clients, find out things about them that you can celebrate with them – their birthday, the anniversary of their company, their child starting school. Send a note or a small gist, if appropriate.
  • If you keep notes on your discussions and contracts with clients, you’ll be able to send a message when an anniversary comes up. Something like, “Our records show our company first started doing business with your three years ago today. We just wanted to thank you for your continued support, and let you know you have ours”.
  • Be genuine when you surprise your clients – it’s not a sales opportunity, but a small lesson in loyalty and trust.

“Having walked the path of the entrepreneur and small business owner, it is often the small things that turn a business deal into a long-term relationship,” says Maren. “Keep the lines of communication open, honest and genuine. It’s the cornerstone of business longevity.”