How do you build loyalty? Does it have to be cumulative, like years of service at a company? Does it have to be nurtured like a sapling in order to amount to something? I think many people would say the answer is yes to both, with a big emphasis on the long-term aspect. People become loyal to clients or customers when they’ve worked with them for a long time.
For years, that was how loyalty worked with me. I’m loyal to many of my clients because project after project, we’ve grown our relationship. Project after project, they’ve chosen me over someone else. So if one of their competitors offered me a contract, I would say no because I’m loyal to my client. But last month, something very special happened to me: I developed a strong loyalty to someone in a very short period of time. A brand new client did something that—in the space of a few hours—made me instantaneously loyal to them. It wasn’t anything big or dramatic. It was a small thing. But it was a big small thing.
I completed a contract for this client, who happens to be an extremely busy person working for a major international corporation. As I often do with my clients, I asked him if he would be comfortable giving me a testimonial. Now, I ask for a lot of testimonials, and I usually get them, but the way this one developed was special. Here’s why: I requested the testimonial with an email. He responded within an hour with a yes. Then, when I thanked him (that was fast!), he responded instantly with a small note, which went like this: “What else can I do for you? Do you want me to put this on LinkedIn as a recommendation or something?” Of course I said that would be fantastic, and that same day, there was the recommendation, on my profile. I was amazed. Now, I’ve had other clients recommend me on LinkedIn, but no one has ever volunteered to do it without asking and no one has ever done it that quickly. To me, the initiative and the speed of the execution truly said, “I appreciate your work, and I want to prove my appreciation by taking the time to do something for you, not later, but right now.”
It’s a great feeling to think someone appreciates your work. But there are different ways of showing your appreciation. Telling someone they’re doing good work during a formal evaluation is different from doing it spontaneously. Why? Because at an evaluation, you haveto make a call. You have to either give the person a thumbs up or a thumbs down. When you work with a client for years, you’re providing them with a service, so they have to pay you. Expectations exist and have to be met. A specific and predictable action is required.
My client didn’t have to respond so quickly. He could have taken his sweet time, and that would have been okay, because we’re all busy. But he didn’t. He did it immediately and then he followed up with an extra step. An extra step for someone who doesn’t have time for extra steps. Maybe for some people what my client did wasn’t such a big deal, but to me, it was.
Now, I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t appreciate the other clients I’ve been collaborating with for years. Those guys are still tops in my book. But my book also has a new entry for this new guy at a pretty close—if not equal—level to those other guys.
So when my old clients ask me for a favour, I’ll be ready to help them because we have a long and successful history together. And when my new client asks me for a favour, I’ll be ready to help him too, because he went out of this way to say thank you and I appreciate that.
Michel Semienchuk, is the founder of a content, marketing and media agency called Nexplica, Inc. and a proposal (RFP, RFQ, bid) consultant. To find out more, visit his LinkedIn profile or www.nexplica.com.