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November 06, 2003
How To Keep Your Clients Coming Back
by Mike Ramer, CPC

A wise, long tenured veteran in the search business once said to me,

"Our business can be very complex, yet at its heart it's very simple. Always KISS [Keep It Simple Stupid]: It's all about servicing clients."

How very true. With all of our technology, successful search consultants know it's still the people skills ­ the human touch -- that separate the $300K+ billers from the rest. Unquestionably, the latest technologies can increase our effectiveness. The foundations of great service businesses are built on both the efficiency and know-how of those performing the service. The underlying secret to the search business lies in creating effective processes in both marketing and service quality.

Think for a minute about the service professionals in your life: Your doctor, your lawyer, your accountant, your financial advisor or insurance salesman. How did you initially come to them? Referral from family or friend? Convenience? Maybe, price? You heard "they were good?" How long have you used their service? Why do you continue to go back to them? Do they meet or exceed your expectations every time? What would cause you to look for a different professional? Think about the same for your search business.

The holy grail of search lies in delivering the kind of service where clients always come back.

Early in my career, I was fortunate to have attended a management development program with a Fortune 50 bank ­ a world class service company. Many of the classes emphasized service quality. Two Disney-style courses I remember were: "How To Delight Your Clients Every Time" and "The Magic Of Customer Service." The same rules apply today for our search businesses past, present and future. The question now is:

What can we do to increase the quality of our service? Why not ask our clients ­ the very people we are servicing?

In my first work assignment following the management program, I had the opportunity to write a "Client Satisfaction Survey" for our region's most valued business clients. One of the survey's questions was, "If you could choose to meet any person in our company, who would that be and why?" Not surprisingly, the survey came back with multiple answers citing the CEO. So we put together an event with the CEO in attendance as the keynote speaker. We had a terrific turn-out and a room full of satisfied clients. The buzz generated in the marketplace increased referrals and led to referrals and new business.

Now I'm not suggesting that you ask the same question to your clients. Reason being -- I'm not sure how thrilled they would be meeting the CEO of your firm! But the idea here is clear:

KISS: To keep our clients coming back, we need to learn what our clients want, then deliver it and exceed their expectations.

Another survey question we asked was, "What can we do to service you better?" Answers came back such as, "I'd like to be called once in a while when you don't want to sell me something." So, we implemented a Service Quality Calling Program. On a consistent basis, our sales people (whose titles were Relationship Managers) would call quarterly to ask, "Is there anything we can do to assist you with at this time?" Mostly, answers were, "Not now, but thanks for calling." The result: A positive, service quality reputation developed which led to measured, increased client retention.

Create a client satisfaction survey, written or verbal, and ask your clients how they want to be serviced. The best ideas can come from them.

Those who have seen my training know that I emphasize why it is so important to be a consultant to our clients. The same approach is closely tied to how we service them. Thinking like a consultant, let's ask the following service quality questions from our clients' perspective:

What do our clients expect from us?

  • Being available when they call us.
  • A can-do, communication style.
  • Qualified candidates.
  • Reasonably fast service.
  • Competitive pricing.
What can we offer our clients to exceed their expectations?
  • A trusting, open relationship.
  • Anticipating their needs/thoughtfulness.
  • Industry-specific market knowledge/intelligence.
  • Our advice, counsel and/or recommendations.
  • Referring top tier, excellent fit candidates in less time than we said we would.
  • Your idea: _______________________
  • Your client's idea: _________________
(Notice I didn't mention price! In fact, higher fees may equate to a higher level of perceived service quality!)

To exceed client expectations, we need to deliver what we said we would in the time frame we said up front.

10 KISS Service Quality Ideas:

  1. Communicate with your clients on a consistent, regular basis, whether it by phone and/or email. My firm sends a valued-added email to our industry specific client segments on a quarterly basis.
  2. Send a personal note and/or article in the mail that you thought a client would be interested in. (Even if they don't, they'll appreciate your thought.)
  3. Take your client to lunch (or a sporting event or a concert) for no reason other than to get to know them better. Or send them the tickets!
  4. Send holiday cards. An e-card can be fast and cost-effective.
  5. Tell your client a memorable story. Laugh with them.
  6. Share industry specific knowledge that will help them "look good" internally.
  7. From your conversations, anticipate their need to fill an open position and call with a qualified, motivated top candidate.
  8. As highlighted above, create a "Client Satisfaction Survey" designed to ask your clients how you can increase your service quality.
  9. Your idea: ________________________.
  10. Your client's idea: __________________.
In closing, I'd like to leave you with one more thought. As we know, search and recruitment is a sales business. Yet at its heart, it's about service quality. We have numerous sales figures we're tracking: # of marketing calls/day, # of sendouts, sendout to placement ratio, etc.

Why not consider tracking service quality activity ­ as well as sales ­ and reward staff accordingly?

Ideas for service quality tracking are:

  • Phone calls and/or letters received from clients commending service quality.
  • Client Satisfaction Survey scores. (CSS's)
  • Track and/or record Service Quality Calls. (SQC's)
  • Implement Service Quality Awards -- monthly, annual. (SQA's)
  • Your idea: ____________________.
  • Your client's idea: ________________.
In summary, by taking simple steps to increase your service quality, you can significantly increase your firm's repeat business ­ and keep your clients coming back. The time to implement such programs is now, just at the market is poised to strengthen in the new year.

If you'd like to receive my firm's Client Satisfaction Survey (CSS), email me at mramer@ramergroup.com and I'll forward it to you.


  About the Author
Mike Ramer, CPC of Ramer Search Consultants, Inc.
Mike Ramer, CPC, is a national trainer for the search industry. Mike designed his "ART of Search" training programs which he presents at industry events, conferences and recruiting firms nationwide. He also customizes "Personal Performance Training" for qualified consultants. For more information about Mike's training and speaking schedule, visit his firm's website at www.RamerGroup.com. To sign up for his "ART of Search" quarterly e-letter, email his at mramer@ramergroup.com. For select inquiries, Mike can be reached at (973) 324-0240.

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