Good client relationships will pay off

In this era of technology, companies are learning that one of the most important lessons of the old economy still holds true - building and maintaining client relationships is vital, says Sally Laker

I read with interest the recent BM Solutions research which found that only 55% of brokers use technology to secure repeat business.

This research also found that of those brokers who do use technology, 49.5% rely on manual database research. Furthermore, few brokers use automatic email technology to contact clients.

As the internet grows in importance, we must remain mindful of the human dimension of what it is we are providing and selling. Even though computers apparently rule the world, human beings are still required to press the computer keys.

Moreover, the house buying decision rests on human motives, therefore human methods are required when it comes to client retention. It is important for brokers to remember that ways in which to hold onto their most important asset – namely their clients – date back to long before the electronic age.

Business and marketing research has repeatedly shown that it costs around five times as much to sell something to a new prospect than to sell the same thing to an existing customer.

The key to client retention therefore lies in building relationships so that customers not only repeat their purchases from you, but also become a source for generating referrals to new clients. A client who will perform this function for you must be one for whom your initial product or service has exceeded expectations. To deliver this requires listening to people and learning a lot about them and what they are trying to achieve, together with what their problems are and how you can help to solve them.

One of the main reasons customers go to new suppliers or decide to stop buying is that there is no follow-up after an initial sale has been made. Sophisticated e-commerce and internet technologies amount to nothing if customers are left feeling ignored and neglected. If the company from which a client first purchased a product appears not to appreciate them, they will give their business to a company that does. Brokers and providers must therefore build and maintain client relationships.

Although much of the skill involved in customer retention is based on pre-electronic business methods, new media channels can be harnessed to achieve customer retention. For example, where purchases or enquiries are made or researched online – such as mortgages – this data can be analysed to find what it is that customers are repeat buying or enquiring about. Also, the internet is a powerful tool for communicating regularly with customers to make them involved and feel part of your organisation’s community.

Some e-business-focussed companies are beginning to see the folly of strategies that are all-consuming in their pursuit of new customers at the expense of efforts to keep existing customers around for the long haul. Many have learned a lesson from the old economy the hard way – it’s a lot cheaper to keep customers than to continually trawl for new ones.