Let’s face it, without customers, we wouldn’t have freelance businesses. The last thing we want and the last thing many of us can afford to do is to drive them away. Many times, small business owners commit customer repelling acts that could be avoided. Often, it happens because our time isn’t managed well. Other times, it’s because we don’t have systems in place that can prevent these occurrences. What follows are six common reasons customers don’t come back after doing business with a freelancer or why freelancers don’t close sales with potential customers and what you can do to change this.
1 – You take too long to return their phone calls
When a prospect calls your freelance business, chances are great that they are ready or nearly ready to do business. It’s an opportunity that you do not want to miss. It’s also a call that, if you miss it, you want to return it immediately. The best option is to always answer the call and tell them you will call them back; however, as a small business owner, that luxury is not always an option. Since you can’t be too sure what situation you are leaving a customer in, and you want to demonstrate that you are a reliable freelancer they can count on, do not keep them waiting long. Although you may not be able to serve their need at the moment, it’s important that they know they are being heard and attended to. The first second you have, return the call.
Successful business is built on trust. Trust is created by you, the person at the helm. When it’s breached, there is no one else to blame . . . even if there is.
Many freelancers and other small business owners, myself included, have found virtual phone systems to be an indispensable addition to their business models. These phone systems provide your freelance business with the same features enterprise phone systems have, minus the high price tag. There are many services out there to choose from. You can get a toll-free phone number and have it ring to your cell phone or house phone, to your virtual receptionist or the calls can be placed, momentarily, on hold until you are finished with the call you are handling (if any).
The virtual receptionist can provide your customers and potential customers with information and can guide them through your freelance business’s virtual phone system. Your callers can also dial extensions and be connected to voice mail boxes designated for specific issues, e.g., “if one if you are a new client and wish to contacted by Stacey Mathis, press 1; if you are a current customer and have a question or comment about an ongoing project, press 2 for all other calls . . .
2 – Your customer relations management is inadequate
Perhaps, you don’t continue to make your customers feel appreciated and important. Or maybe your attention to their concerns wanes after their check clears. These are some of the complaints customers have about dealing with small businesses. Making matters worse, small businesses cannot recover as quickly as a large one can once we fail a customer. And, in light of Twitter, Facebook and the like, the damage to our businesses can happen in seconds.
As freelancers, you have to be vigilantly conscious of the how you treat your customers. The following few small, but conscientious, gestures can have huge positive results for your business
■Don’t just pay attention to the compliments, pay attention to the complaints, and address them.
■Service your customers with a smile, whether you are in the mood or not. They don’t have to do business with you.
■ Listen to your clients. It’s not just about the money.
■Address them by name.
■Pay attention to details.
■Try to anticipate their needs.
■Keep them in the loop as progress is made.
3 – You make it hard for them to contact you
Your contact information should be displayed prominently on your website, your Facebook page’s information page and any other social media tool you use. A customer should never have to figure out how to get in touch with you. You should even have relevant contact information as part of your phone system recording, which should also include your hours of operation and any holiday information you think is necessary.
4 – Your email replies take days. Customers have no idea if you received their email inquiries or not
Automate everything. This is one of the greatest things about doing business in a high-tech world – being able to automate certain steps in the course of doing business. Autoresponders are excellent tools to handle email inquiries. They’re perhaps one of the greatest inventions for small businesses, heck, and big business. It’s a way of responding to your customers’ and potential customers’ emails without having to get back to them instantly yourself. In addition, autoresponder emails allow you to introduce potential customers to your freelance business; you can address frequently asked questions; and you can establish and build trust by sharing valuable information and perform a host of other business marketing tasks.
5 – Your talent does not live up to the hype
Did you get caught up in the moment during a networking session and exaggerate your capabilities to a potential referral source. Or perhaps you included samples in your portfolio that you merely lightly edited, but did not actually create. These are the types of actions that result in clients feeling disappointed. This happens because your actual work product does not meet expectations. It is especially exasperating after the customer has invested time in working with you on a project, and it’s too late to turn back. You’ve taken away their choices.
Do not hold yourself out to be something that you are not. It breaches trust and will come back to haunt you in the end. People talk. It’s your responsibility and in your best interest to help assure that the chatter out there about you and your freelance business is good stuff.
6 – You give them just what they paid for and nothing more
One way companies are attempting to hold on to business (and it’s working extraordinarily well) is by going above and beyond the expectation customers have by giving them more than their money is paying for. No one is saying you have to bankrupt yourself or provide more that you can give, but do a little something to help them remember your services. You want them to become a fan, an evangelist to sell your services for you via word-of-mouth.
An outstanding follow-up experience is one thing you can do. It can help to build a stronger relationship between your clients and you. In today’s market, your job is to deliver an exceptional customer experience, which should include a great post-experience service anyway.
Lastly, send out, by regular mail, a handwritten “thank you” note. If you can’t mail it, say it in some other memorable way, but, by all means, say it and make it genuine. Your “thank you” should not sound like a form letter. Add something to it that is specific to their project, perhaps mention some aspect of it that you enjoyed working on, etc. Thank you is an enormously powerful tool, if you will.
Your customers are top priority or should be. Run your freelance business proactively, and you’ll increase the chance of repeat business and the likelihood of converting leads.