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SEO Website Audit

Getting and Keeping Clients and Customers

June 11, 2008
Today's article is a bit off-topic as it talks about how the little things you do can make a big difference in obtaining and keeping your search marketing clients. I've taken a page from my friend Michael Katz of Blue Penguin, who usually starts his newsletter with a personal anecdote that ends up being an analogy for his main topic. (If you don't receive Michael's newsletter, you're missing out on a treat. )

Here's the story of how a local hangout got us in and kept us coming back. It's a testament to how important good customer service is to anyone who works with customers or clients.

How They Got Us In

This little family-owned bar/restaurant is about 2 miles from our house. It's been around for longer than we've lived there (over 22 years). The owners are brothers who split the duties of running the place. When our kids were younger (like 12 to 15 years ago), we tried their inexpensive Sunday brunch, but at the time we weren't impressed. The food was okay, but back then smoking was allowed inside and the place was full of smoke. Since we were non-smokers with little kids, it didn't seem like a great place for us.

When the smoking ban came to town a few years ago, it really hurt their business – they had built up a huge clientele, most of whom were smokers. To keep them happy, the owners built a giant deck/porch outside with a built-in bar (with a roof), TVs and a large dining area with umbrella tables. It was great for the smokers, but it also brought in new customers who enjoyed being outside in nice weather. We figured it was worth another shot because we were looking for a good place to enjoy some Red Sox games outdoors with a drink in hand.

Why We Kept Coming Back

What we liked about the place from the start was, first and foremost, that their drinks are twice as strong and half as expensive as most places! In fact, they were so strong that I'd sometimes need some extra soda or juice added. Similarly, while the food is nothing fancy, it costs half as much as many places, and we always end up with leftovers for lunch. Plus, from the very beginning, even though the place was often filled with tattooed Harley riders, we were made to feel welcome in a variety of ways.

One of the first warm evenings that we were there to watch a game, the bartender (a woman a few years younger than I am) introduced herself and asked our names. She also remembered them (and our drink orders) on future visits. On various occasions, one or another of the owners would buy us a round of drinks for no apparent reason.

With the overall low drink prices and good customer service, we always tip generously. This in turn results in better service for us. For instance, if they make an extra drink or open a beer by mistake, they will often just give it to us rather than dumping it. The other night I ended up with a free Frozen Mudslide – they had just gotten a new blender that the bartender wasn't quite used to, and she ended up making too much for another customer.

We've gone there so many times over the past few years that we would definitely be considered regulars. While at first we would mostly just go during nice weather, we now go into the regular bar and don't even notice all the keno tickets on the floor, or it being fairly dark inside. None of that matters because it's a friendly home away from home.

So what's all this got to do with running a search marketing business?

Plenty. Any business that works with customers or clients can learn a lot by looking closely at all the little feel-good experiences that create a loyal following.

It's a Two-way Street

You'll notice in my story above that part of the reason we get treated so well is that we give back (in the form of tips). We're also respectful of the bartenders' time, especially when they're extremely busy and running around like crazy.

In search marketing, being a good client also reaps benefits. While we don't expect (or want) tips, being respectful of our time is certainly important. It's critical for us that you answer any questions we ask in a timely manner, and that you generally be available to us as we work on your project. A client's communication often sets the stage for how a project is likely to go.  

Underpromise and Overdeliver

Personal touches that don't cost a whole lot can go a long way. At our local bar, you might assume that for the low drink price you'd get a crappy drink, but in fact it's the exact opposite. I relate this to any business in the form of underpromising and overdelivering. While I don't recommend that search marketing firms ever underprice, it's critical to overdeliver with every service you offer. At High Rankings, I personally still stress about every site audit report, always wondering if it's good enough. Yet I know by the feedback we receive that we always provide way more than the client was expecting.

Another way of underpromising and overdelivering is when clients ask by what percentage we'll increase their traffic once we get into our SEO campaign. Since every website is different, and things often depend on the client correctly implementing our recommendations, it's very difficult if not impossible to accurately predict the targeted traffic increase. Therefore, we generally start with a small number like 10–20%. In reality, for most websites that allow us to do exactly what we want to do, the increases are often in the hundreds or thousands of percentage points. Overdelivering can definitely make you a hero, while underdelivering can cause you to lose the client altogether.

So what are you doing with your customer service to get and keep your clients?

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Company.

If you learned from this article, be sure to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so you can be the first to receive similar articles in the future!
Post Comment

 AjiNIMC aka Web Kotler said:
Hi Jill,

Writing at highrankings after a long time. For last 1 month, i have shifted to service industry where i am heading a new web marketing department. these are my plans to keep the clients:

1) educating them, making tougher words simpler.
2) having a service area for them, where they can track the progress even without emails at their own time.
3) meeting them in person, sometimes, in a very casual way.
4) making a business model where you become a part of their business by sharing expenses and income.

thanks for the post.

 Piskie said:
You are spot on in this article. Whoops that slipped out.
I always work with that philosophy "Underpromise and Overdeliver" do what you say when you say you will. There are a whole string of them, but what it all adds up to is honesty, integrity and openness. I live and work in a very long, mainly rural County (Cornwall UK) that is probably 100 miles from tip to top. Now if you cross a local on a friday, the whole County knows by Tuesday. I've always said, the County of Cornwall is a very small village.

Consequently, I don't need to advertise and to some extent, I can say no to the potential Client that gives off bad vibes.
 Jill said:
Thanks, Piskie. I know it was hard for you to agree with me :D

(For others reading, Piskie is a High Rankings forum member, and we often do not see eye-to-eye!)
 Davidinnotts said:
Hi, Jill.

Great idea! The personal touch, off-the-line story is interesting and relevant, and fits your points well. I'll certainly be passing this one on to my friends, some of whom have little interest in SEO, but I want to get more insight - and this is the way to do it. It's a style I'm beginning to adopt in my own blog.

 Orpheus Descending said:
Hi Jill,

You just made my day. Thank you for taking the risk and talking 'off-topic' and not second guessing your instinct to write and publish this article. This is something I struggle with because as a freelancer, I have to set parameters and expectations with my clients, but I am not a 'business'. I don't even have my own website (sacrilege - I know). I've been worried that I am giving too much away, too early and that some will take advantage of my professional generosity. (This very day I am dealing with a potential client who has done so, and I'm a bit raw about these matters.) PLEASE do more articles like this one. I would assume that some of us who read High Rankings freelance or are in business for ourselves, and these business tips are extremely helpful. I am especially grateful for the fact that you believe in setting low expectations and then over delivering. It's something I go back and forth on all the time because promising more can often make clients very willing to engage my services, but I always feel like that is a crunchy road to travel. I much prefer the success scenario when the actual numbers exceed the expectation.

 Jill said:
Thanks for your feedback David and Orpheus!

On the under promising thing, I'm pretty sure I've lost potential clients over it when I tell them we feel we can provide a 10-20% increase in traffic because they're hearing much larger numbers from other companies, or they feel it's not worth their investment.

I do tell them that those are conservative numbers, and it could be much higher, but that's all I'm willing to speculate on at the outset, especially as I don't know how well they'll implement the recommendations, and a zillion other factors that may crop up.
 Ashley said:
I agree with your post. Although personally as a business owner I don't underpromise, although I always over deliver. This is why I am able to retain my clients because they know that what we say we are going to do, we do. Period. I am in the habit of always adding something to the project that I know will benefit my client, but they didn't expect nor are they asked to pay for. (for example, a simple no cost to client add-on)

ProAssets is in a small town and like a previous post above, everyone for the most part knows of my business and my character, as I'm always involved with various community volunteer projects, etc. So...this has been good for business in the long run. Although, I'm fairly confident when I say that I do more "free" work than "paid" work. :-)

I seriously believe that if you are not able to deliver on what you tell the client, then you will lose business in the long run. It just plain makes good business sense (as in your personal life) to be honest about what you will deliver, what you can't and/or what you and the client can attempt. This way, there are no surprises (except for the good ones) and the client is happy, your bank account is happy and you will retain a client for years to come.
 David Croucher (davidinnotts) - deep in Sherwood Forest. said:
Hi, again.
Further to these last comments and your kind reply, Jill, I have to admit that I, too , am in the position of HAVING to underpromise and overdeliver.

One of my businesses sells patented magnetic fuelsavers for a UK company. Whether it's for road vehicles, home furnaces or commercial heating, I know they ALWAYS deliver between five and twenty percent fuel saving. For cars, for example, most people get 10% - 12% saving.

Now, can I promise that? No, because a few only get 8%, especially if they have a modern common rail motor which has magnetic conditioning anyway. But I DO give a year's no-quibble money back, because I've never had a return.

But can I call 8% then? No again, because nobody believes it! This is the problem when your business delivers high performance, but the results are outside common-sense belief. The usual salesman's rule of 'hype it up, then talk it up' is a no-no, because you lose credibility by just stating the truth! So I make modest claims, just like you do, Jill; work out the numbers for them on payback, make the sale, then overdeliver. When they've seen the results, THEN I tell them the real average figures, and let word-of-mouth bring me in sales from their family and friends. I have to establish credibility before I can tell the truth.

It's the same on the commercial side. If I'm quoting for, say, a bakery, I ask them if 2% off their oil bill will be useful. I get them a trial on one bread line and let their engineers see the drop in fuel usage - I don't comment, just help them with the calculations. THEY report to the boss, and - I hope - they overcome their inertia and recommend a full order to the money men. Pity most of them take at least a year to make a decision, with me onto them every month or so in case they forget all about it! Does that sound familiar?

 Sophie Wegat said:
Great article Jill, and I liked how the personal stry tied it all together.
 Jill said:
Thanks, Sophie!
 Lauren Sorensen said:
Here's my two cents on your latest article:

At first read I thought this article was too off-subject and too much like too many other articles out there. But then the "Jill angle" kicked in and I was pleasantly surprised at just how relevant it was to me as a freelance SEO consultant.

Your "Underpromise and Overdeliver" section reminded me of something that happened just last month where I had to go into a client's business and explain to them why they weren't where I wanted them to be. As it turns out, they were thrilled at where we were and, get this, they actually offered to increase my rate for the next couple of months. I really enjoyed the insight you came to and the path taken to get there just goes to show that there are business lessons to be learned *everywhere*.

So, survey says: Keep 'em coming, Jill. We'll follow wherever your mind takes us...
 Jill said:
Awesome, thanks, Lauren! Glad it was helpful. Will have to think of something interesting for next week's newsletter.