10 Ways to Keep a Client for 10 Years

October 25, 2021  |  Andrew Dvirnyk

Recently, we celebrated a decade of working with global shipping company Hapag-Lloyd. Naturally, this led to some great conversations about how our businesses are growing together as our partnership enters its second decade. And we came up with this list of 10 Ways to Keep a Client for 10 Years. Think about how you can apply these tips to your own client relationships.

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Like Each Other

On a personal level, we really like our partners at Hapag-Lloyd. From the start, we got along well. Both sides are open to conversation, and to listening to and learning from each other.

Ultimately, this simple foundation of liking each other allows us to really communicate. Without this fundamental respect and appreciation for each other, the relationship cannot go deeper. There is no second step with the client. With respect and appreciation, comes an opportunity to trust each other enough to grow together.

Take Interest in Each Other’s Businesses

In this case, both on the client and the provider side, we enjoy discussing our businesses together. When each side demonstrates that they care about (and want to learn more about) what the other does, working as partners and succeeding together is the natural next step.

You start thinking about how you can help each other. And you start considering the dynamics of your business relationship from the other’s point of view. This deepens your relationship. It enables you to come up with new ideas together and to expand your conversations beyond immediate transactions and services. Instead, you start investing in each other’s success. You learn from each other, and talk about more than what you can do for each other.

Talk and Listen

It can be difficult to create meaningful connections with clients when working remotely, whether it is offshoring or another scenario. So, for Hapag-Lloyd, our philosophy of building a partnership through talking and listening made a big difference.

That give and take of real conversation often is a new experience for clients and service provider partners. On both sides, we underscore it with valuable information exchange that lets us do better work for our clients. Effectively, we have created a culture between client and provider that enriches the culture of both our companies. This means a lot with a company like Hapag-Lloyd, which has operated for 150 years. We became a listening ear, and a guiding voice for them to try out new ideas. In turn, we benefited from their rich experiences.

Empathize with Each Other’s Challenges

The longer you work with a client, the more you start to understand how they do business. You also come to understand – and empathize with – the challenges they face. Once you understand those challenges, you can help to resolve them in your work for the client.

As a service company, that means finding ways to help. Remember, the best way to discover how to help is to understand (and care about) what your client needs, what matters to them, and what challenges they face.

Meet Regularly

With a longstanding client, meetings can take up a significant chunk of time. And too many meetings take you both away from the work you need to be doing for your businesses. Moreover, getting on the schedule of a busy client can be difficult.

However, taking time to meet directly with your client (consistently but not constantly) is key to maintaining your healthy, mutually productive relationship. Dedicated meetings hep you concentrate on what needs to be done. They give you the opportunity to exchange important information. And they prevent your longstanding client from feeling like it’s always “business as usual.”

Meeting quarterly, for instance, gives you time to prepare, and to present information on trends and performance. Quarterly client meetings also force you, as the provider, to concentrate on tasks and goals. And to be more effective.

Know When to Say No

This is an important one. There were times when this client asked us to do things and we had to decline. Over our decade-plus relationship, we have had difficult negotiations and faced challenges. The most important thing is that both sides consider this normal. We remained respectful and considerate of each other. On both sides, we always had intentions to solve problems.

Even when we had to decline certain projects, the idea to separate was not in mind on either side. We understood that together, we can achieve more. Part of why we understand this is because we are honest about our limitations and respectful of our boundaries and theirs.  If we can assist them, we do. But we know we cannot do everything. So, we find another way to get them what they need, but that does not change our relationship.

Say No at the Right Time

The most important thing about saying no to a client is that you do so directly, clearly, and immediately. Do not equivocate. Do not say yes, then come back and tell them all the reasons you should have said no.

Be clear and respectful, and a “no” will get you a better relationship than a “yes.”

If You Say Yes, Mean It

And don’t just mean it. Do it. Be certain that you can do what you promise to do for your client.

Then, focus on doing everything you need to deliver on that promise.

Develop Your Professional Relationship Together

We know you are busy, especially if you are good at what you do. So, you cannot develop every relationship the same way. The challenge is to choose what relationships you develop and what your goals are for those relationships. The challenge also is to develop yourself professionally and personally, so you continue to bring more value and more interest to every client relationship you have, especially the longstanding relationships.

When you take this approach, you grow and nurture your client relationship over time across projects and changes in the cycles of each of your businesses. Creating the contract does not foster that kind of living relationship. Your engagement in the relationship does. Appealing to each other and growing together on a human level does.

Be Flexible – and Stable

Dr. Bastian Dolle, IT Director for Software Engineering, Quality Assurance, and FIS Management for Hapag-Lloyd, points to flexibility as key to our longstanding relationship. He says, “We appreciate the reliability, flexibility, and professionalism of IBA experts.”

As the client, it is that mixture of flexibility and stability that assures him we are a solid partner for the long haul. In addition to flexibility to move with the changing demands of business, he notes our stability. He says, “The stability of the IBA teams created an atmosphere of friendship, resulting in high productivity and efficiency within the partnership.” We couldn’t agree more! And we are grateful to Hapag-Lloyd for their flexibility, stability, and continued trust in us.

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