You are usually so busy with current projects that answering calls from past customers can seem like an unnecessary and non-profitable chore.
Here is how you can plug back in to your client base and turn customer service into the profit center that you never thought it would be.
1. Ditch the "Pump and Dump" Model
Many of us tell ourselves that web design isn't like other businesses. Therefore, we don't have to behave as other business people do. We can design websites, get our final payment from the customer once the job is done and move on to the next client. This is completely wrong thinking. Web design is a service just like landscaping, legal representation or car repair. You are providing a service for money. While you may be in demand now, in a downturn you will only keep your business profitable if you provide outstanding service. While you do need to devote a certain percentage of your time to finding new leads, you should devote the same amount of time each week to helping out your past clients.
2. Make Your Terms Clear
Most web design firms offer maintenance packages or charge for updates. While it is important to provide good customer service, you should spell out clearly what constitutes free customer service and what constitutes a paid request.
This is best handled in your initial contract with the customer. Many web designers don't like to produce contracts as they are worried about scaring off the customer. On the contrary, the customer will often view such a move as a legitimate business transaction and a sign that you are a professional. Be very wary of any company that is not willing to sign a contract for whatever reason.
The contract should include a copy of your quote to your customer with a statement that anything over and above what is included in the quotation will be charged out separately. One-time charges for updates and maintenance packages should be on offer in the contract and on your website so that clients can refer back to these charges.
3. Deal With Emergencies
We've all gotten that strange call from a client declaring that something is an emergency and needs to be fixed RIGHT NOW, regardless of what that emergency is. While it may not be an emergency to you, your client perceives it as such and how quickly you deal with that emergency will reflect on your business. It may be helpful to explain to your client that something isn't as bad as it seems after the fact, but don't even go there unless you have fixed the issue at hand.
4. Treat Every Contact as an Opportunity
From simple questions about search engines to irate clients, each call is an opportunity for you to reach out and either educate or placate your client. One of the most common complaints about web design companies is their lack of responsiveness after the project is complete. All you need to do to combat this is answer your clients when they phone or e-mail you.
You can build on this by weaving sales techniques into your after-sales service. The key to doing this properly is to address the actual needs of your customer. When a customer calls you, ask them at the end of the call how everything is going and if there is anything more that you can do for them. This is when they'll start telling you about a form they have been thinking of adding or a new technology that they want to try out. Leave it open-ended and let the customer talk. If they simply say "No.", then thank them for their call and move on to your projects. At least one in ten of them will probably say "Yes" and give you more business.
E-mails are a tricky subject. One of the problems with e-mail is that we get so many of them in our business day that it is easy to let a customer request fall to the bottom of the pile. Flag customer requests or put them in their own folder for immediate answering so that this doesn't happen to you. If an e-mail isn't something that requires an e-mail reply, such as a customer asking for a link to something, pick up the phone and call them. You'll have a much better chance of impressing the customer over the phone then you will over e-mail.
5. Identify and Cultivate "Angel" Customers
Develop an 80/20 list. It is a general rule that 20% of your clients are responsible for 80% of your income. Once you have identified them, treat these clients as "angel" customers. You need to retain their loyalty in order to keep your business viable. This may mean taking each of them out to lunch a couple of times a year or bringing them to a lecture on search engine marketing at a local trade show. Whatever you do, make sure that you don't just know their names, but can actually come close to calling them friends after a while. While this concept may seem tacky, it is an old school way of doing business that most people still appreciate. Loyalty is earned by doing a good job first and forging a relationship second. If you don't forge that relationship, your customer does not have the necessary loyalty to return to you for their website needs.
6. Turn The Rest of Your Customers Into "Angels"
Look at the remaining 80% on your list. Ideally, you would like to move them into the 20% column. You can do this by sending out educational e-mail newsletters, sending Christmas cards once a year and occasionally calling them to see if they need anything or have any questions for you. Treat these calls with the same importance as your sales calls - they will lead to just as much business. Consider having pens or other promotional items made with your logo and sending them to your customer, then following up with a phone call to make sure that they got them.
If you can find a way to incorporate at least a few of these customer service ideas into your everyday business, you'll be making your clients happier and making a little more money in the process.
Written exclusively for WDD by Angela West.
Are you following these principles with good results? What other ways do you use to keep your customers coming back?