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How to keep clients happy

02/01/2020

How to keep clients happy is an art as well as a science.

So that was Christmas (to paraphrase John Lennon).

Now it's over, you've got time to take stock and evaluate the 'before and after'. Did you get everything you asked for? Did you get anything you asked for? Was the festive break everything you expected or are you feeling a little underwhelmed?

When things don't go according to plan it's natural to ask why. And to see if you can pinpoint the exact reasons for failure.

It's much the same when you've finished working for a client.

They've expected you to deliver 'something' that they want and have specifically asked for – be it a new network, a clearer strategy, a new logo, balanced books, or just some good advice.

To extend the Christmas metaphor a little, the difference is that they've paid for their own gift. They haven't just written a letter to (whisper it) a fictional fat guy in a red suit and hoped for the best.

In essence, you're their Father Christmas and the last thing you want is for them to be disappointed. To keep clients happy is an unwritten part of your job.

Trouble ahead

So why worry?

Well, the point here is that a disgruntled client won't just sulk about not getting what they wanted. If they think you've not delivered what your contract (or you) said you would, they have every right to take action against you. Legal action at that.

That's because you're a professional and have a duty of care to your clients (both legally and morally). In simple terms, you're an expert and it's your responsibility to do a good job for those who've paid for your expertise.

A failure of that duty of care – actual or alleged – means you're liable for your clients' losses. That means stumping up for a solicitor to defend you, and covering the cost of compensating your client if needs be.

If the worst does happen, you don't need us to tell you that professional indemnity insurance takes care of everything.

But even if you do have a policy in place, prevention is always better than cure. It's best not to get into a sticky situation in the first place.

Top tips for how to keep clients happy

All it takes is a little preparation and risk management, and perhaps a subtle change in your approach. You should always focus on doing what's best for your clients, of course, but there's nothing wrong with looking after number one.

With that in mind, here are some pointers on how to keep your clients happy and your business out the line of fire:

Evaluate. A thorough project scope will soon reveal if you can actually do what's being asked (be honest with yourself!). It will also tell you if you need to subcontract work, and help define your costs and timelines before you start.

Project manage. Document exactly what's expected, by whom and when. Make sure there are clearly defined milestones/outcomes. Build and update a timeline as you go. Get all this agreed by your client.

Put everything in writing. Remember that verbal contracts are legally binding, but unless you record every conversation with your clients, what has or hasn't been agreed is open to dispute. Avoid your-word-against-theirs scenarios by documenting everything.

Get sign off. It's a well-established precedent in law that your client accepts responsibility for your work once they sign it off. Putting pen to paper at regular intervals helps avoid potential confusion and finger-pointing.

Use terms and conditions. Just a one-page document detailing what's what is often enough. Ts & Cs form the basis of the contract between you and your client, define what's expected from both parties and help protect your interests in the event of a dispute.

This isn't an exhaustive list by any means and we all know what happens to best-laid plans. But the more boxes you tick, the less chance there is that something gets missed, and the less chance there is that you're liable.

How to keep clients happy is an art as well as a science. All being well, your client gets just what they asked for and you get your invoice paid. It's all about giving and receiving.

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