My oldest client was my first beta test. In 1998, an IHOP franchisee with a dozen restaurant locations in Arizona took a chance with me because they believed in my vision. Today, nearly 20 years later, we continue to service the franchise that has since expanded with 80 locations in eight states.
From a startup – of which I was once the sole employee – to now operating nationwide, serving high-profile clients such as state and local municipalities, the road has not been easy. The most important lesson I have learned along the way is what it takes to maintain true partnerships with clients. The word “partnership” can be thrown around loosely in business when referring to client relationships. In the end, a partnership isn’t about attending a client’s child’s graduation or wedding – it’s realizing that our purpose in this business relationship is to produce results.
I surmise that these are the top six reasons my company has kept long-term clients:
1. Understand a client’s motivation.
Design your services to help your client achieve their goal(s). While that sounds obvious, oftentimes plans are developed without constantly benchmarking against goals. We assess results for each client monthly, quarterly, and annually, and adjust our services to maximize the benefit to the client
2. Operate under the premise that the client has the right to fire you at any time.
You need to earn your client’s business every day. If you are not helping them to achieve their objectives, you are not doing your job. The definition of true partnership is not instituting handcuff contract models.
3. Respect is a two-way street – you too have the right to fire.
The client must pay you and your team the same respect you give them. I show that with my employees. As an example, I once had a circumstance in which the client’s primary point of contact was verbally abusive with my team. I phoned my key client contact and said this is unprofessional behavior and requested the client speak politely and civilly to my team. The behavior continued so I gave the client 30-days notice. In the end, the primary point of contact was terminated, my employees received an apology letter, and they have been our client for over 15 years. I cannot stress enough the importance of treating your employees well and expecting clients to also treat them with dignity.
4. Company culture is more than a buzzword.
I have had employees leave Company Nurse for a “better opportunity” over the years, only to come back because of our company culture. Personal life and business life balance is touted by employers across the country, but are you really affording employees that opportunity? I set reasonable lines with employees to achieve this balance, and I have found that employees return the favor by being even more accountable. Family is important to me and I have worked hard to be involved over the years in my children’s lives – from serving as a scout leader in the early years to being on the board of the dad’s clubs throughout high school. I respect my wife and our marriage; we make time to travel together and share hobbies, like tennis, to keep our marriage strong. I encourage employees to find their balance. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that finding personal balance takes effort on a daily basis.
5. Say I’m sorry.
In 2010, I brought my whole call center operations in-house. The switch over was not seamless and I underestimated some challenges. My rowboat had leaks and I was trying to fix this leak and that leak, and it was slowly sinking – and my clients felt it. So, I did a lot of travel on what I now call my “apology tour.” I was truthful with clients about what I had under control, and what needed to be handled. One major municipality requested I speak directly with some very frustrated members who were rightfully fed up with the situation. I was transparent with them, and we were all finally on the same page. My clients gave me some breathing room, the transition soon was successfully complete, and the municipality referenced has been a client for more than 10 years.
6. If you do the right thing for the client, the money will follow.
These were the words one of my early mentors gave me at a very young age. This is how I have always tried to lead my business. In conclusion, by making decisions with the best interest of your client at heart, coupled with good communication, you will build strong trust and earn credibility over time.
Paul Binsfeld is the founder and president of Company Nurse, LLC, a firm that specializes in medical triage and injury management for workers’ compensation. His career began as a workers’ compensation consultant with mid-size employers helping to streamline claims processes and improve outcomes for injured workers. By working with many different types of employers, he identified a common need for early intervention in the workers’ compensation claims and injury management process, and thus, Company Nurse was born in 1997. Binsfeld – one of the pioneers of the pre-claim nurse triage industry – has over 25 years of experience in workers’ compensation and is one of the most influential leaders in the market.