You Probably Mistreat Your Best Clients

PR people, social media experts, marketing experts, not to mention lawyers, accountants, and consultants: do your long-term loyal clients get the worst treatment? Do they pay the highest rates? Do you take them for granted?

It’s not an idle question. I’m not trying to make trouble. It’s just that I think this happens a lot. I think it’s a natural result of efforts to generate more business and new business.

I confess that I did it at least once that I know of. Very early in the on-my-own portion of my professional service career, I had a retainer arrangement with a large textbook publisher. They paid me $1,000 a month to have me on call, while the rest of my business planning clients paid me a negotiated amount for each engagement. I built the thousand dollars into my sales forecast, but I hated it when they called. I wanted to deposit the money without any work. I took it for granted.

Telephone companies do it, don’t they? Give the new customers better rates than existing customers? The longer you’ve been with your provider, the more you pay? And don’t the cable companies give new customers better deals?

How about this: review your client lists. Make sure your longer-term clients get the best rates and the best treatment. In professional services, repeat business is golden; but there’s a temptation to focus on recruiting new clients instead of keeping existing clients.



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  • phil says:

    excellent article.our business plan has always been to take care of the long time clients we give them prefered treatment over the new ones because of that they refer us more often.the cost involved in obtaining new customers can be high but retaining customers is priceless

  • Cat Eli says:

    Not to mention that retaining a customer (or employee) is money in the bank – no commissions to sales reps like on new clients, no preparation and expenditure on marketing materials, no training ramp-up… a bird in the hand, as they say, is worth two in the bush! Appreciate those who support you and never, ever, forget that’s who got you where you are now!! Thanks.

  • Brent Urton says:

    So true & yet so often ignored is the importance of client retention. My old clients make up the majority of my referral base & yet I have ignored them for years and chose to spend thousands each month to attract new ones. I recently sent a letter to all of my old clients thanking them for trusting us in the past, letting them know that we were still here for them and included several coupons for free labor and existing client discounts. Immediately the phone started ringing with clients I hadn’t talked to in years that had been thinking about remodeling the other bathroom or referring us to their family, friend or neighbor. All for the cost of a stamp and a few minutes of time. Thank you for the article!

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  • Michael Kypros says:

    That was an excellent post Tim. Businesses are made up of people, and people can tend to get greedy. Sorry Michael Douglas, but greed is not good. It’s important to regularly put oneself in the customer’s shoes. We need to ask ourselves the all-important question, “Is this how I would like to be treated?”. Respect is a two way street, and we can’t keep our customer’s respect if we don’t respect them first. Thanks again for the great reminder.

  • Dina Meek says:

    Thank you! I have been singing this song to clients FOREVER. I think you can have attraction and retention campaigns and its worth every penny. As the old adage goes, it costs far less to retain a client than to find a new one.

  • Marketing Actuary | @mActuary says:

    Experienced employees can also get neglected while companies “go the extra mile” to hire someone new at today’s market rates. Family members can get neglected too.

    It’s so easy to ignore the people who mean the most to us. Thanks for this reminder.

  • Lisbeth Tanz says:

    Your comment about phone and cable companies really hit home. I just moved and dealt with that exact issue. My Internet access rate went up because I dropped TV off of my plan and then the technician showed up 5 hours late to turn it on.

    Your point about taking care of existing clients is just good business sense. Alas, I think small business owners can sometimes get into a “lack” mentality, meaning they feel they must continue finding new clients, which leaves the old ones wondering what happened.

  • SD Williams says:

    Thank you, for proving that my plan is not insane.

    My business is based on repeat and referral clients. I included from day one a loyalty price level. I have had the same clients since the proverbial shingle went up. They are not only my best customers but my best “marketing team”. They refer business constantly. Our relationship spans years not months.

    However, in our current disposable society where we are constantly trading “up”, I’ve been told my way of thinking is out-of-date.

    Thanks for showing that at least one other person doesn’t think so.

  • Bob Cuomo says:

    I think it is human nature to focus our attention where we are spending our time. If we spend much of our time growing our business then our attention is spent talking to people who are not our loyal customers. Focusing on existing clients requires a systematic approach to allocate an owner’s time. When the time is spent on them, they get our attention. This is part of the bigger issue of writing down the procedures you find important and make them habits. This is what successful new business owners are doing late into the evening when the noise of the day has subsided. Make time for your customers you spend so much time acquiring!

  • Bradford Shimp says:

    I absolutely agree with this. Wouldn’t it make sense to reward long-term, loyal, customers, rather than punish them? I think too many businesses take current customers for granted. There should be more focus put on retention and current customer satisfaction.

    What phone and cable companies do is sick. I suppose they do this because what they sell is a commodity. They underprice to bring in new business, but then have to make up for it with loyal customers. This is not a good plan for small business. The best customer service experience I have ever had was with my bank (a large, national chain). They called me out of the blue and helped me to lock in some better rates. This is reflected at the local branch, as well, with the manager always being helpful and trying to make sure I have the best services and rates. This kind of service creates true loyalty. Don’t take your customers for granted.

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