Clients come in all shapes and sizes. Some clients are “difficult” while others make you say, “I wish all of our clients were like you.” Unfortunately, we remember the difficult ones because of the challenges they presented, whether it was their unreasonable ‘center of the world’ demands or the general stress they caused us. For engineering professionals, these can be one-off clients who only need your services for a specific scenario or repeat clients who have the potential to be long-term relationships with an assortment of different projects over years. Each has its own unique opportunities when it comes to repeat business.
Long-term relationships can lead to continued success for both parties over a long period of time and like any relationship, should be cared for. Here are 3 reasons, repeat clients are the best clients:
1) They know the game and the players
Some clients only know they need an engineer but don’t understand the scope or scale of the situation. For example, a family that is interested in subdividing a few lots off of their family farm. They are not developers and don’t plan to get into the development business. These clients need the project manager to explain the process and communicate constantly, in non-engineering terms, to assist them through the project.
When clients return to you and your company, they are already starting out with an understanding of your organization, and the knowledge you have already shared with them, and they already have an idea of the quality of your work. If the last project left them with a warm and fuzzy feeling they know there is a good chance that they can continue that happiness. It takes the project manager a lot less “horsepower” to educate the client and the communications can be focused on the specifics of the project. It doesn’t mean there will not be an educational aspect of the work the project manager does, but like working with others, you are already starting with an idea of what both parties already know.
Repeat clients also know different people in your organization. They may have corresponded with different staff and have sometimes developed relationships with more than just a project manager. They understand your billing process and know what your expectations are of them. This is great for continuity as staff changes or promotes. I remember when I started taking on project management responsibilities, it was regularly with repeat clients who I had worked with before and my name wasn’t completely new to them.
2) They understand your limitations
As you build a relationship, they recognize when you bring in or refer them directly to other resources. Working most of my career in a land development firm, repeat clients knew we outsourced geotechnical and traffic engineering services. Knowing this, they may ask for recommendations on who to use or ask us to develop an entire team. It also opened the door for them to use other engineers who they had worked with in the past for the same exact reasons they had come back to us.
They also have come to learn what your typical delivery schedule is. If you are a large firm or a large team with enough people to turn work around in a day, that’s one thing, but for small firms, they know you are a team of six people and work takes time. All in all, their past experiences with you help manage their expectations of you and your team. If you met every deadline on that last project, they are not going to worry as much about the next deadline. If you missed every deadline – well they know you will probably miss this next one too.
3) They improve your reputation
Whether you realize it or not, people talk, and they are not afraid to share their feelings on social media. A 2018 study by Sitel Group found that while 30% of consumers would share a negative experience on their platform, a surprising 49% would share a positive experience. In total this means, 4 out of 5 consumers share something about the companies they hire on social media, good and bad.
Repeat clients are obviously at least minimally happy with you. At least they like you more than their other options! In any case, they are much more likely to share a positive experience or offer a referral to someone for your company.
This is also why you cannot discount those one-off clients. I suspect the clients who know they will not need your services again, like that family subdividing those lots off the farm, are much more likely to spread the word and offer referrals knowing they cannot support your business any other way.
I was doing work in a subdivision that had individual stormwater practices on each lot, but property owners wanted to install pools which created conflicts. One owner approached me about preparing a plan to adjust the stormwater practice on their lot. This one chance encounter led to at least six other clients based solely on word of mouth and a positive experience.
Every firm should be in the business of seeking out repeat clients. I learned early in my project management role that my job was to keep asking the client, “what can we do for you (on the next project).” Business development and corporate staff sought to locate new clients, but the project manager is the best resource to leverage their own relationship to garner repeat business.
This is why it is vital to work with your project managers, support them and keep them from feeling like they are on an island all alone. This is also why the quality of your work is key to continuing that relationship. Yes, they may return if it was a good relationship but if the work doesn’t meet their expectations, or even worse, cost them money, the chances of them coming back drop significantly!