Laura Hogan spoke to Ken McGaffin at BrightonSEO explaining why maintaining trust with your clients is crucial when building relationships with them. If you’re seen as a person who can help them in their day-to-day work and help them do their job better, they’re more likely to be a client for a longer period of time.

Laura highlights the value of face to face conversations or even phone calls are hugely important as the client can understand the tone of your voice which is lost when using text or email. She’s quite often found the value of human connection being significant in building client relationships and quite often going the extra mile will only embolden the relationship. She’s often found buying birthday presents and wedding gifts which have allowed her to get to know her clients on a personal level which has built her working relationship with them.

But why might a client leave? Laura explains that a lot of the reasons are in fact in our control, communication being a significant factor. Not making the client aware of what they’re paying for and what they’re getting with their money or even external factors such as a rankings drop will only weaken the relationship.

To ensure a strong foundation of communication from the beginning of a relationship with a prospective client, Laura’s new agency JellyBean gives clients an on boarding questionnaire to find out the product with the highest revenue, their customer demographics as well as spending time at a client’s offices to find out their logistical operations and customer service.

Laura explains by having a day in the life at a client’s offices, it helps you to create an overall strategy that is fit for the client. One of Laura’s oldest friends, her former commercial director always used to say to her that ‘we should aim to be part of our client’s marketing team’ which is something she has taken into her new agency. Getting to know not just your direct contact at the client’s company but the whole staff allows you to hone in on a personal interest you may share which in turn emboldens your relationship with the organisation.

How to Retain Struggling Clients And Rebuild Trust Transcript:

Ken: Well, it’s good to see you Laura I’m looking forward to your talk today as well.

One of the things that attracted me about the title of your talk is right retaining struggling clients. I thought that’s really interesting but then a second part of it is how to rebuild trust so that for me is really fascinating because I think those are two things that really go together and are really important for any agency work. So can you tell me the sorts of stuff that you’re gonna be covering?

Laura: Yeah absolutely, so for me I thought it was something that isn’t covered enough in our industry yet it’s so important to our day-to-day work especially as an account manager you need to be able to keep the trust with your clients, you need to know when something’s gone wrong, spot it but also take accountability for it and just build those relationships with your client that are outside of just you’ve been a data giver for them. You want to be able to help them in their day-to-day and the more they think of you as someone that they can rely on, someone who’s got their back, someone who’s helping them do their job better too, the more likely those relationships are to stay longer so they’re more likely to be a client with you for a longer period of time.

Ken: Yeah, and of course everybody makes mistakes and indeed one of my favourite quotes about experts is “the definition of an expert is someone who has made more mistakes than anyone else” and that’s absolutely true because it’s by mistakes that we really learn and I think we should embrace them and not be scared of them.

Laura: Absolutely! There’s a piece of research that says that we make 119 mistakes a year at work! That’s quite a lot of mistakes and when you kind of build that out to the wider team that you’re part of, you think about how many mistakes it is across the team and how costly those mistakes could be if they’re not dealt with in the right manner. But yeah you’ve gotta learn from them and that’s the important thing. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with testing something and it not working and saying to the client you know what, we tried it, we tested it, it hasn’t worked but here’s what we’re going to do next. That’s the most important part, having a plan, having the next step. Say if something goes wrong be very clear about why you went wrong and what you’re going to do. But don’t do it via email that’s really important and one of the big things we’re going to be talking about later is, how we’ve lost touch, speaking to people face to face and even on the phone. And that takes so much more guts to say to somebody face to face I’m really sorry I messed up.

Ken: Yeah, but it is a completely different experience when you pick up the phone and you say I’m really sorry about that, because then people hear the tone in your voice and we all know that people can misunderstand emails.

Laura: 100% I do it all the time I suppose text messages, WhatsApp’s, emails, it’s so easy to not understand the context behind them when you read them. Whereas a face-to-face conversation like this, you get the context there because you can see the emotion on somebody’s face, you can see their body language and you understand that actually, they genuinely care and they’re really sorry for what’s happened but they’re going to put right and this is what they’re going to do.

Ken: Okay and I think of other things when you when you talk to clients then you get little insights and you get ideas almost from the offhand comments that that they make and I think when you’re open to talking to people that’s one of the bonuses that comes along with that.

Laura: So one of the most important things I found with working with clients for six seven years now I’ve been working with clients is getting to know them on a personal level. I’ve sent birthday presents out to clients, I’ve said wedding gifts out to them, baby presents. Unfortunately once I had to send an Aston Villa onesie out and I’m a Birmingham City supporter out it was quite painful to do that one. But that’s how you build the relationships with them and then they know you as a person then you get to know them on that level and it just builds a working relationship so much more.

Ken: Yeah okay now one of the things you were talking about earlier was and the reasons why clients leave and again I think this is nothing to be scared of but could you just give us a quick summary of the main reasons why clients leave.

Laura: Yeah I think a lot of them sadly are actually in our control as to why people leave. Communications a big one, yeah you know it’s quite often you might find clients saying I don’t know what you were doing, I don’t know what was next, I didn’t hear from our Account Manager. You actually have the ultimate control over this so it shouldn’t be a reason why people leave so you’ve just got to make sure that you’re communicating with your consul to tell him to make sure they know what they’re paying for, what they’re getting for their money, what are you going to achieve and what’s next. Also it could be ranking drops; it could be any kind of underperformance or what. I know we probably have to explain in the last week to a few people about Google randomly drops some pages haha but as long as we’re open with clients and we’re telling them our industry updates, we’re telling them what’s going on, then they’re less likely to leave because of issues like that. It could be that they don’t know themselves, they could feel that you don’t understand their business as well I’ve had that one a few times before where people go actually you’ve been wanting to push this but realistically this product brings us the highest margin it’s elements like that, that as account managers we need to make sure we know.

Ken: Okay you can’t know that by telepathy you’ve got to ask about again it is so important to have those conversations but have them in an open way that’s friendly and listening is great, great business skill.

Laura: Yeah well one of the things that I do and that we’re gonna be doing at Jelly Bean is we give our clients an on boarding questionnaire. The first time you meet them we go through it with them and that’s how we get to know what’s your highest revenue product which is the one that’s actually gonna bring you the most margin in who do you think your demographics are? Because sometimes they’re not what analytics says so it’s good to get the balance of the two and I actively strive to go and do half a day at the client’s company. I want to know about their logistics, I want to know about their customer service, I want to kind of get a day in the life of how that business runs because that’s going to help your overall strategy you know if you’re suggesting that they do a big Twitter campaign that might lead to questions and they don’t have much customer service support you’re gonna be making work harder for them, rather than helping them. My old commercial director who is one of my really good friends always used to say that we should aim to be part of our client’s marketing team and that’s something I’ve took with me and that were taken into JB and I definitely agree with that and that really does help to build the relationships.

Ken: And I think one of the things is not just talking to the direct person who’s employed you, but to other staff as well like walk around, chat to people.

Laura: Get to know the wider staff, more than just what they do ‘Do you like dogs?’ that’s always my icebreaker like everybody knows I love dogs and it’s just people are passionate about their pets it’s a really nice in and then you get to know them more than oh that’s so and in customer service.

Ken: Right okay so it’s homing in on something a personal interest that you have, I remember once having a great chat with a client about keeping hens we keep hens at home and fresh eggs and that led to a really good conversation and a great relationship.

Laura: Like an old client of mine I knew owned over 200 pairs of trainers which is a really obscure thing but then that was always like a point of conversation that we went back to what was the newest Adidas trainer that had come out. Like had he seen these new gazelles? And it just it worked really well because that was his little tip.

Ken: Right okay and what’s the best way to make this happen?

Laura: I think I’m a drama kid so I think it’s probably always come a bit easier to me – it’s just about making sure you meet people really early on. Get to know them even if you’re able to get involved at the pitching stage rather than when someone’s on-boarded. As an account manager get to know them straight like meet them take them for a drink it doesn’t have to be in an office maybe pick a mutual setting where you know there’s no kind of power struggles or anything.

Ken: And let’s say something really has gone bad you know we’re all screwed up then you’re in a situation of having to rebuild trust so how do you go about that – if a disaster does happen?

Laura: The first thing is take it off email – I cannot stress that enough you need to get a meeting is as soon as you can. It doesn’t matter how far away they are from you, doesn’t matter if you’ve got to take a day out to go and get this resolved. You need to go down meet the client face-to-face with a plan with an explanation of why did this go wrong sometimes you don’t know straightaway and you’ve got to put some time into research why it is. Sometimes you know it could have been an algorithm update it could have been something was tested and it didn’t work out it could have been the development agency implemented the tech wrong. There are so many reasons where things can go wrong but know why it went wrong, understand the ramifications of it going wrong and what’s next and just being accountable and be honest don’t try and cover it and fluff your way around and it wasn’t us we didn’t do it. If you did it just be honest people will respect that so much more.

Ken: Absolutely and they must forgive it because everybody makes mistakes.

Laura: I say don’t start an email but I think it’s a good idea to follow up on email afterwards just to go ‘this is what we discussed’. yeah these are the next steps just want you to have them but even after that, make sure you have been keeping the client updated of what’s happened you know anytime you’ve done a fix that it’s part of this action plan let them know. Pick up the phone to them just so you know we just implemented this, we’re hoping to see xyz whatever.

Ken: Okay is there a final piece of advice you would give to our listeners about what they should be doing – be it a solo business or an agency?

Laura: Don’t rely on email so much pick up the phone meet people face to face and get to know your clients your customers on a personal level and don’t especially when things are wrong don’t rely on email to break the bad news because you just don’t understand the context that it will come across.

Ken: Okay that’s great Laura thanks very much for your time and great luck with your presentation today, thank you.

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