Breaking up is hard to do. And when the client/agency relationship is severed, it can be especially heartbreaking. But while we have certainly been on the receiving end of a “Dear John” letter or two, overall Trevelino/Keller is quite successful in the client retention realm. The majority of our clients, some of whom we’ve had for all of our 10 years, become long-term business partners and we become true extensions of their team, committed to helping them reach their goals.
With over 20 years of experience in PR agencies, I’ve learned quite a bit about what it takes to retain clients. We all know it’s critical to a successful business. According to the Harvard Business School, increasing customer retention rates by 5 percent increases profits by 25 percent to 95 percent. But profits are only part of the story. To achieve a successful long term agency-client relationship, there must be some basic personal tenants to adhere to.
1. Communication and Responsiveness. In any relationship, communication is critical to success. We err on the side of over-communication with our clients and are happy to pull back a bit if we overwhelm them. Our willingness to update them, run ideas by them at any given moment shows our commitment to their business goals. And when a client reaches out to us, it’s ingrained in our culture that we respond and react quickly. Deadlines are tight and meeting those deadlines goes a long way. The client should feel that all focus is on them in that moment, no matter what else is on your to-do list.
2. Own it. Sometimes things go wrong. This doesn’t have to mean the end of a relationship. Own mistakes or unpleasant situations (even if you had no control over them). Acknowledge how much you, too, are disappointed. A sincere mea culpa and a “it won’t happen again” can ultimately strengthen the relationship.
3. Be Excellent Budget Stewards. There should be no surprises when it comes to a client’s invoice. They have a monthly budget and it’s your job to stick to it. It’s their job to ask for everything. Finding the balance between satisfying the client’s needs but staying within budget is critical to long-term success. If they know they can trust you with their money, they’ll be more comfortable spending more when needed.
4. Invest. Sometimes the client’s needs don’t fit within the client’s budget. That’s OK. Know when you need to invest in their business and get the work done anyway, without giving away the farm. It proves that your agency is in it for the long-haul and that you’re invested in their success emotionally, as well as financially.
5. Make Business Personal. We’ve all heard “it’s business, it’s not personal.” But when your client is putting his blood sweat and tears into a company, it is very personal. Get invested in that and allow yourself to be passionate about their success. Learn what success looks like from your client’s perspective and go make that happen. At the same time, you should expect the client to make your partnership personal too, affording you the respect and communication you, too, deserve.
Ultimately, client longevity comes down to work ethic. Are you willing to invest your time, money and emotions for a company you believe in? At the very least, you certainly should be willing to invest in it for the sake of your own reputation. There is no better reference for new business than a client who can say “we’ve been working with them for 10 years.”
About Kira Perdue
Kira Perdue was employee #2 at Trevelino/Keller in 2003 and has over 20 years of experience in agency work. She lives in the Charleston, SC area with her husband, a professional photographer, her daughter, a new teenager and her 10 year old son who never stops moving (much like the PR business).