Last Friday after school I drove Emily to her horseback riding lesson at Silver Lining Stables in Monroe, CT. She rides a sweet horse named Ty who belongs to the daughter of my friend Cindi.
I was thirsty and a little tired, so I decided to drop Emily off and go back to the local Duchess Restaurant to get a Diet Dr. Pepper.
After going through the drive thru, I cracked open my straw and took a sip. Bleah! It was completely flat. There are few things worse than a flat soda (especially one that costs $2.69), so I made a U-turn, parked and went inside.
I walked up to the young woman at the counter and explained the problem. She told me to pour it out and grab another one. Same problem.
I asked to speak to the manager. He suggested I try all the machines in the seating area. These were all flat too, so he offered to give me my money back, which I accepted.
What surprised me about all of this is that no one tried to solve the problem (i.e., fix the carbonation).
One might argue that this is a big company and the employees aren’t empowered, they can’t get the machines fixed, the owner’s not available, etc. But I’ve seen this same mentality with solo professionals and small businesses, too.
The solution, whatever the cause, is to put yourself in the shoes of your clients. Here are three ways to put your clients first and make them happy:
1. Make it easy to work with you. Think through the new client on-boarding process. If there are standard forms that clients need to fill out, put them on your website and make sure they’re up to date.
Have the tools you need to make work more convenient for your clients – file sharing, screen sharing, a way to share passwords and other critical information. Discuss deliverables and due dates openly and report back with any changes on your end.
2. Make it easy to pay you. Take the emotion out of your money. Be clear about your payment terms up front. Make sure you bill on time and give the message that you’re serious about your terms. Be matter of fact and clear – practice saying it out loud if you’re uncomfortable. “I charge X for this type of work. I’ll send you an invoice at the end of each month that will be due within X days. I prefer to be paid by check, PayPal, etc.” It’s not a question. It’s a statement.
If the project starts to grow out of scope, stop right away, explain the situation and talk to the client about how they want to handle it. It can be as simple as, “I would be happy to do that for you. It’s not in the scope of our current project. Would you like me to let you know how we can add this to our work together?”
3. Make it easy to find you. We’ve all heard about that “disappearing person,” so make sure you take those fears off the table from the start. Make sure clients have your phone numbers, email address, text and Skype, if that’s appropriate. Put your phone number on your website and your email signature so they’re not hunting for it.
Reply to emails in a timely manner and listen to your voicemail. One of my clients has a great email auto-responder that he uses whenever he’s out of the office:
“I’m on the west coast on business this week, returning X. I’ll see your email but won’t be able to reply right away.”
It is a short clear message, sets expectations (including the time zone he’s working in, which is helpful) and leaves me feeling taken care of. Love that.
It’s not possible to anticipate every client need. Even so, by noticing your experiences with the people you hire (both good and bad) and thinking about what it might be like to work with you, you’ll be able to take big steps in the right direction.