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Speak with — not at — clients

- Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals.

It’s Monday morning. I arrive at the office — coffee in tow — sidle up to my standing desk, and flip open the MacBook only to be greeted by a gaggle of junk mail littering my inbox. Each one of them staring back at me with a defiant grin, knowing full well that I didn’t sign up for that newsletter.

As a business owner I’d rather not be viewed in the same light as these big-box retailers or marketing bots that force-feed me emails every day.

I sure don’t want to be “that guy” contributing to the disheveled-inbox epidemic plaguing the nation. Well, it turns out that many business owners share my opinion. Some even take it as far as contracting “communication paralysis” by refusing to reach out to their clients altogether.

This strategy isn’t just unimaginative, it’s also costly. Research shows that regular and meaningful communication is the most effective way of maintaining relationships, increasing retention and capturing word-of-mouth referrals. So switching off the voice box isn’t a good idea. Rather than reducing the frequency of touch-points, focus on increasing their quality.

If you’ve ever taken a road trip with children, you've surely experienced voices emanating from the backseat: “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” The knee-jerk reaction is to plead for silence, but consider for a moment, what if the incessant chants were replaced with reciprocal dialogue. You’d likely find value in a meaningful conversation if the kids produced something other than noise.

Similarly, the key to communicating successfully with your clients is encouraging two-way conversation. Make them feel like you are speaking with them, not at them. Clients are smart enough to differentiate an obligatory email blast from something more personal and genuine. If you don’t bark at them from the proverbial backseat, they’ll be happy to hear from you.

The Net Promoter Score (NPS)

Perhaps the most effective way of opening a dialogue with clients is by utilizing the Net Promoter Score (NPS), a single-question inquiry used to gauge the loyalty for individual clients. The NPS asks clients to rate an agency from 0 to 10 by asking “How likely is it that you would recommend (x business) to a friend or colleague?” Respondents are grouped into three categories based on their score: Promoters (9-10), Passives (7-8), Detractors (0-6).

The NPS was developed in 2003 by business strategist Fred Reichheld as a metric to determine the overall loyalty of a company’s client base. Fred found that — unlike client sentiment measured by traditional satisfaction surveys — client loyalty was directly linked to referrals, retention and repeat business.

Because of its simplicity, the NPS survey yields a higher-than-average response rate. At Rocket Referrals, for example, 40% of surveyed clients give a score rating — with the majority expounding on their response with additional feedback.

Furthermore, segmenting clients based on their loyalty allows for more personalized and purpose-driven communication. Detractors, for example, should be given a phone call to resolve any issues before they defect. The NPS can be used as a vehicle to directly drive favorable behavior from your clients. We call this the “NPS Process,” which is essentially the method of leveraging the high response rate of the NPS to influence additional action, including the collection of positive testimonials, referrals and online reviews.

How to communicate

Routine touch-points throughout the year will dramatically increase the chances that your clients not only stick with you, but also refer you when the time is right. Every touch-point you deliver plays a huge role in reinforcing your brand and the perception of your business. The idea here is to keep you “top of mind.” Remind them that you’re working behind the scenes and providing an ongoing service.

When implementing this strategy, I’m not suggesting that you ignore your detractors and neutral clients — rather, that you communicate with them differently. For example, the last thing you want to do is speak to disgruntled customers as if they think highly of you (it’s impersonal, even condescending, and it shows you didn’t pay attention to their feedback). Tailor your communication based on each client’s NPS response. Begin with your best promoters (the 10s) and work your way down from there. This strategy will get you the best bang for your buck when reaching out to your clients. It’ll allow you to remain cost-effective, while sending quality, personalized communication.

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