Kenny Rogers Talks about Client Retention

client retention and customer service

A man who knows when to hold ’em and fold ’em

In every professional’s life, there comes a time where the question is begged: do I keep this client or do I let them go?

Not always a black-and-white scenario, mind you, I mean, its not like you just caught your girlfriend in bed with the top account executive from your biggest competitor. While some might be inclined to rationalize that situation (if you are one of them, I kindly refer you to a useful list of self-help blogs), it’s not always as simple as cold, hard facts in your face.

There are financial considerations, the value of the relationship, and a relationship’s potential to bring you more business down the line. And finally, there’s the question of Who’s Running Who?

Today, we’re going to take a look at some questions you can ask yourself when evaluating your client list. We can all learn a little from the bearded sage when it comes to client retention.

Know When to Hold ‘Em

They’re your favorite clients. They pay their bills on-time (or at least they’re predictably late and still pay). It’s the work you enjoy, or perhaps enjoy not so much but at the day’s end, the client is happy with your work and sends you referrals.

Or…

They’re a complete pain in the ass. You cringe when you see their number on caller ID. They phone you more than an unemployed guy trying to win NASCAR tickets from the local radio station. They’re famous for changes at the 11th hour and will predictably shift blame (to you, of course) when a deadline is missed because they didn’t get you stuff in time. But they pay. And occasionally you share a laugh or two.

Where is the line that lets you feel good about keeping a client? Here’s my own personal metrics and I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

  1. Appreciation (definitely pocket 10’s or higher): I’ll bend-over backwards…hell, I’ll even let ’em take photos of me doing it…for a client who is appreciative. Piss me off, run me around, make me want to work at Starbucks. But if you pay your bills and say thank you, treating me with common decency, I consider you a keeper.
  2. Communication (hard to beat, but pocket Kings at least): They’re the clients/customers that tell us their expectations and are adept at communicating them – conscisely, efficiently and without argument. They’re also known as a rare freakin’ thing. However, if I have clients with whom I’ve established a line of communication, are open to a two-way street and understand that the better I make their product/project look – the better THEY look…those, my friend, are keepers.
  3. Volume (a solid pair of Queens): Along with the appreciative client comes the consideration of work volume. Are they a client who sends you dribs and drabs and it’s always a firehose mentality when they call (it’s on, need it yesterday and of course, “within budget”)? Or are they they client who provides you with a predictable workload, adheres to schedules (or something resembling one) and can you establish a rapport with the client that will lead to a better working relationship over the long-term? Volume/predictable workflow clients move up my personal food chain.
  4. Referrals (pocket Aces every time and you flopped a set): Huge. No matter what business you’re in, your ability to generate more business is always important. Whether for your company or your own shingle, you’re looking for the endorsement-based marketing of The Referral. A client who is tedious and demanding yet sends me referrals is higher on my food chain than even the nicest of clients who never mention my name to anyone. Just think: you’re happy to refer a co-worker to your vet’s office for Sparky’s annual exam. I take every referral I personally dole-out as a confident endorsement of another professional. Clients who don’t understand this are missing the boat. Down the food chain with you, I say.

Know When to Fold ‘Em

Money’s tight. Every dollar affects your bottom line. How could you possibly consider letting a client go?
Gasp…

FIRE a client?

Good ‘ol Kenny says that there’s a time to fold ’em and I couldn’t agree more. While you can discern from the above what I think are the qualities of “keeper” clients, here’s a list of complete dealbreakers for me. Again, I’d love your thoughts on your own dealbreakers. And might I say – if you’ve never fired a client…you might want to take a look at your client list!

  1. Lack of Appreciation (or a 10-2 offsuit): If a client never says thank you (and believe me, they’re out there), it’s time to consider the future of your relationship whether they pay their bills or not. While personalities vary, there’s a rule in business for expressing appreciation. If you don’t and you consistently make demands on me for my time and services, you’re not so interested in a good business relationship as your project. Possible fold, I might see the turn card though.
  2. Poor Financial Responsibility (pocket deuces when the board plays): My mortgage company doesn’t wait. My credit cards don’t wait. A client who consistently pays their invoices/bills late or has to be nagged is a liability in my bookkeeping. I’m human and understand an oversight, an apology, a circumstance out of your control. I’ll work with clients on a case-by-case basis. But it’d better be good. You’d be just as pissed if I paid YOUR bill late. Show me the same courtesy, else you’re off the island when the opportunity arises.
  3. Lack of Respect (they guy to your right has Aces up his sleeve): We all work hard. We all, I’d like to think, do our best to deliver a superior product for our clients. When clients choose to berate you, swear at you (and I can swear here ’cause it’s MY blog) or show you anything less than the respect you’re due as a human being, it’s time to tell them to hit the pavement. They might pay their bills, but here’s where you make the conscious choice between being a whore for the paycheck or a respected professional who is IN business and doesn’t NEED just any business.

While the above might seem cut and dry, it’s not. We’re all faced with difficult business decisions each and every day. And we’ve all LOST a client because a relationship deteriorated. I’m advocating being conscious when it comes to analyzing your client list, and it’s likely you’ve got some less-than-optimal ones on your books.

Decide who you are, determine the costs. Recognize the value of the services you provide. We’re all valued professionals, and since I can swear here since it’s my blog: Don’t allow anyone to screw you. Call bullshit on it – and the same goes for your clients. They can call bullshit on you, too.

The best advice from The Gambler? Know when to walk away, know when to run.

32 comments
The Redhead
The Redhead

Thanks, sugarplum fairy. And thanks for the stat juice ;-)

The Redhead
The Redhead

Are we talking about bowling or Kenny Rogers?

Bret Juliano
Bret Juliano

Great article. I actually had this with a client not too long ago. A few months back the client who consistently paid late and wanted to know everything I was doing asked what the charges were and I told them and that it was time to stop. So I did and invoiced him. 2 months went by without another word from them. After the first 30 days I emailed, twitter, called repeated times and there was no response. Then the day before I am going to revoke the changes, I receive a check in the mail for the original amount (excluding the late fee) and no further response. I now know not to go back to them for work, even if I am desperate I can find other clients. I should have folded that client long ago.

IconicImagery
IconicImagery

Great article! I wish this had been available before I decided to move into self-employment - would have left my job a lot sooner.

mememe
mememe

You mean Lucky Strike?

Diane Irwin
Diane Irwin

Great article - I fired a client about a year ago - you hit the nail on the head with your description of "Know when to Fold'em" It was such a sense of relief for me to get rid of this person...he came back to me after work was painfully concluded and wanted additional services. I told him in a nice and professional manner that I felt we were no longer a good fit and it was to his own benefit to start fresh with someone else. Whew!

Lissa
Lissa

Erika, I absolutely love Kenny Rogers. He was my favorite as a child and this was my favorite song. Great comparison & blog post! Lissa

Ben
Ben

No posts in a while. When are you coming back to write some more for us?

Ben
Ben

No posts in a while. When are you coming back to write some more for us?

ciaoenrico
ciaoenrico

I think straight profitability is an important criteria as well. Specifically, if I’m charging a client $1000 a month, and through various requests for extra stuff, or resolving issues, or having to deal with their drama every week, it could turn out I’m billing $6000 worth of time. A lot of jobs you can tell a client are outside of their retainer and offer to create a new agreement for the work. However, if they’re good at getting you to go above and beyond, with no plan of ever paying you more, they aren’t clients, they’re tapeworms.

ciaoenrico
ciaoenrico

I think straight profitability is an important criteria as well. Specifically, if I’m charging a client $1000 a month, and through various requests for extra stuff, or resolving issues, or having to deal with their drama every week, it could turn out I’m billing $6000 worth of time. A lot of jobs you can tell a client are outside of their retainer and offer to create a new agreement for the work. However, if they’re good at getting you to go above and beyond, with no plan of ever paying you more, they aren’t clients, they’re tapeworms.

Richard Becker
Richard Becker

Erika, A very entertaining analogy. Statistically, 20 percent of the clients in our field require 80 percent of our time. If you can fold that 20 percent, it's easier hold onto the other 80 percent and find more time for promotion. All the best, Rich

Richard Becker
Richard Becker

Erika, A very entertaining analogy. Statistically, 20 percent of the clients in our field require 80 percent of our time. If you can fold that 20 percent, it's easier hold onto the other 80 percent and find more time for promotion. All the best, Rich

Party Plan Pat
Party Plan Pat

ok this piece is amazing of course and very timely during these so called "difficult economic times" It's time to let go of dead weight, cause dead weight sinks! Up ward and onward. There are too many people looking for help and success to spend time persuading and coaxing prentenders to get with the program. I would rather work with contenders! There is something about vegas marketers that is so on point. Must be the water y'all drink out there! Speaking of which, Kenny Rogers loves africa (kenya and Tanzania to be precise). He wrote this song called Shimoni (which is a place is Manimba a.k.a Zanzibar of my youth). fabulous song. SO I must have missed the pictures of your recent trip. where oh where might a girl go to see pictures of her homeland?

Glen .L .Graham
Glen .L .Graham

Hi Erika In my line of work as a web-designer the clients that I let go in a heart beat are clients that don't appreciate my time and work.

Glen .L .Graham
Glen .L .Graham

Hi Erika In my line of work as a web-designer the clients that I let go in a heart beat are clients that don't appreciate my time and work.

Eileen
Eileen

Its the look of desperation that attracts the big, bad and ugly! Unfortunately, everyone is a piranha out there looking for blood, if you look weak, chances are they'll get you. Quality work being sold for 'pennies on the dollar', putting illegals out of work! HA! Look on the bright side though, at least this way we all know what we are capable of hanlding with the time restraints given. the body is a mysterious thing and can be pushed to ridiculous limits! Winning is half the battle! - G.I. Joe

Eileen
Eileen

Its the look of desperation that attracts the big, bad and ugly! Unfortunately, everyone is a piranha out there looking for blood, if you look weak, chances are they'll get you. Quality work being sold for 'pennies on the dollar', putting illegals out of work! HA! Look on the bright side though, at least this way we all know what we are capable of hanlding with the time restraints given. the body is a mysterious thing and can be pushed to ridiculous limits! Winning is half the battle! - G.I. Joe

JB
JB

Hey, Redhead! Great post! In my line of work we've sometimes realized too late when we shouldve "folded" on certain clients. However, I'm now challenged to work harder at making sure the good ones get more appreciation from me. Right on as usual! JB

JB
JB

Hey, Redhead! Great post! In my line of work we've sometimes realized too late when we shouldve "folded" on certain clients. However, I'm now challenged to work harder at making sure the good ones get more appreciation from me. Right on as usual! JB

Kat
Kat

Great article, and I love the poker analogy. Found your site through a friend; always good stuff here. Keep up the good work! (BTW, I always fold on a pair of swans, as well as a Doyle Brunson...;D)

Kat
Kat

Great article, and I love the poker analogy. Found your site through a friend; always good stuff here. Keep up the good work! (BTW, I always fold on a pair of swans, as well as a Doyle Brunson...;D)

Paul Beiser
Paul Beiser

Great column, Erika. Actually your advice applies beyond clients and to many other aspects of life (both work and personal). A lot of it comes down to communication and respect. Keep up the great work!

Paul Beiser
Paul Beiser

Great column, Erika. Actually your advice applies beyond clients and to many other aspects of life (both work and personal). A lot of it comes down to communication and respect. Keep up the great work!

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