Secrets to client retention

You're hearing and reading ideas all over the place for diversifying your practice and attracting new business. If you're feeling a pinch, the best place to start, 100 percent of the time, is with the business you already have.

The old adage "if you love something, set it free" does not apply to client retention. Here's an adage that does: "It costs more to get a new client than keep an old one." You need to pay attention to the business you have. And then pay more.

By following a couple key strategies you can help turn existing clients into satisfied, long-term sources of business. Try some or all of these:

* Be a squeaky wheel. Thank your clients for their business. If you haven't heard from them in a while, send an e-mail or give them a phone call. If they refer you to someone new, definitely thank them for that.

Don't just be a PDF attached to an e-mail. When was the last time you dropped by your client's office? Do you go to mortgage broker association and other group meetings where your clients are likely to be? Even when you can't have face time, consider sending holiday greetings and birthday wishes.

XSellerate is a tool lots of appraisers use to make their connections with clients more personal. You can identify a list of contacts you want to get a regular "campaign" of e-mails, tell it which ones you want them to get when, click it and forget it. You stay front of mind with your clients but stay free to do what they hire you to do.

* Consider a "customer rewards" program - formal or (more likely) informal. Now, you need to be careful. It's unethical, as you know, to give a client or potential client a gift to induce them to order their next appraisal from you. That's why you need to look at this as relationship maintenance. You're not bribing them to order from you again, you're thanking them for their business in the past.

Some appraisers are careful that thank-you's they send to clients include something for everyone in the office, not just the decisionmaker. Buckets of Boy Scout popcorn, for example, or a nice plant for the reception area. However you do it, remembering your highest-volume clients goes a long way.

* Ask for their feedback. Do you assume you know why your clients keep coming back? Do you figure you're a nice guy or gal, your fees aren't outrageous and you deliver your reports on time? When you want to know what makes your clients choose to do business with you - and you need to know, to keep them - it doesn't make much sense to ask yourself. Ask them.

Is turn time really the most important thing? Do they like electronic delivery? Do they want someone who's ultra-responsive to requests? Ask, and they'll tell you. Then you can concentrate on doing better at what your clients think you do best.

* Don't ignore the low to the ground stuff. You might hear the first and best way to keep clients is by doing good work, and that's true. You're going to do your best work anyway. But don't forget about the seemingly small things.

Be responsive to client requests. Deliver work product and other requested information or materials on time. Be polite on the phone and in e-mail. If you let basics like this slip, a plant for the reception area isn't likely to win your client over.

If you've got a killer client retention strategy, we'd love to hear about it. Tell the editor at