How to manage and retain clients in professional services

How to manage and retain clients in professional services

The backbone of profitability in any professional service business is client management and retention. That is the relationship you have with potential, current, and even former clients.

That’s because you want to build repeat business. Unlike transactional-based businesses that are likely to tolerate more one-off customers, professional services need ongoing business with clients to keep a cash flow going.

In this section of the guide, we’ll look at why good client management is important, what good client management and retention look like, and tips for doing it better.

Why is strong client management important?

First of all, making sure your client management is good seems obvious, right? But it’s good to know exactly why your client management needs to be great. That way, you have goals and reference points for all the hard work you do.

So let’s dive into some of those benefits of strong client management.

  • Better client satisfaction. The most obvious benefit is better client satisfaction. Your customer success solutions bring the client big improvements when your client management skills are also top-notch. That’s because even if your proposed solutions are good ideas if your management skills aren’t up to par you’ll likely fall on execution.

  • Loyalty and retention. The next benefit is also to do with the direct relationship between you and the client. If you’ve got great management skills, clients are more likely to stick with you for the long run. They save time on looking for new services, and you get repeat business. It’s a win-win.\
  • Word of mouth marketing. When a company starts selling a high-quality product that serves its customers, it “gets around” and more people start buying it. That same word-of-mouth marketing happens when businesses offer great services. In fact, according to RR Donnelly, 28% of customers say word-of-mouth is their preferred method of learning about new services. This word-of-mouth can get you new clients.
  • Referrals. In a similar vein to WoM above, getting direct referrals through your existing clients is also a benefit of great management skills. Your clients can be your biggest advocates when they know you can do the job, and do it well.

These benefits are generally the result of great client management skills and processes. However, what does the how look like? The next section looks at key building blocks of what good client management and retention look like in practice.


What do good client management and retention look like?

When your client management is great, that typically leads to a good retention rate—i.e., happy clients will keep coming back. But what are some of those specific behaviors or principles that help build a strong client management strategy?

  • Transparency. Project visibility isn’t the only area where being transparent helps support a good client management strategy. It’s also in the overall client experience. Transparency at all stages of onboarding and reporting are also key elements of client management.

  • Communication. Professional services that lack communication with their clients is set for disaster. Great client relationships are built with regular, clear communication. Also as demonstrated in the challenges section, internal communication is also important for making sure that crucial information reaches the right place at the right time.

  • Setting expectations. Similar to having clear communication, setting expectations early on is a key component to smooth client management. There’s not much worse than taking on a client under what you think is a mutual understanding, only to be scope-creeped later on. Setting expectations can be as easy as having an introductory document that explains your processes and the project scope.

  • Measuring success. Another key aspect of good client management and retention is measuring (and reporting) success metrics. When it’s unclear whether or not your service is giving a return on investment, chances are they’re going to wonder if they should keep paying you.

  • Learning your client’s industry language and environment. The last behavior to adopt is making sure you understand the industry language and environment of your clients. Not only does this help your clients feel understood, it also helps them build trust and rapport with you—leading to long-term retainers.

Professional service businesses that uphold all of these behaviors are more able to develop deep, long-lasting client relationships.

Tips for better client management and retention

Now that you’re aware of what good management should involve, let’s take a look at the top three tips that help your business practice those behaviors.

  1. Make sure you keep your promises.

One of the biggest complaints of professional service business clients is unreliability. That is according to Bethan Vincent, owner of Open Velocity:

“The best piece of advice I was ever given on client retention is to make sure you keep your promises. If you agree to send over a document on Friday, it has to go to the client on Friday. 

When speaking to clients about their previous provider, unreliability comes out as a top reason why they ditched them and sought out a new consultancy firm. 

This is why I always aim to underpromise and overdeliver.”

Making sure your services are reliable is a basic element of good client management and retention. Without it, your clients become frustrated and look elsewhere.

  1. Learn from your mistakes.

Another tip for better client retention is to make sure you’re learning from your mistakes. No business is perfect. Somewhere along the way you (or an employee) will make a mistake that negatively affects your client(s).

According to Rafał Młodzki, CEO of Passport Photo Online, responding to negative experiences is crucial:

“What retains clients is well-working customer service. You can’t avoid mistakes; what matters is how you fix them. According to Harvard Business Review, responding to negative reviews can turn angry customers into loyal ones. 

Indeed, when customers receive help, they feel treated with respect, so they value the service even when the company makes a mistake. So customer service plays a crucial role in positively impacting customers.”

Turning bad experiences into good ones also helps to spread more positive word-of-mouth and can result in more business for you in the end.

  1. Automate repetitive tasks.

Another practical tip for better client management is automating basic and repetitive tasks. We’ll be going further into detail about automation strategies later in the guide. But for now, the minimum that James Taylor, owner of his own SEO consultancy service, recommends is automating reports:

“You can automate the reporting process which is often the part that can take the longest when trying to do it manually. That way, you only need to spend the time running-through reports with clients, and not actually creating them. 

I find that automating reporting leads to greater client retention as you’re then giving clients regular updates, you’re being transparent with the data and you can automate the reports to go to them directly (so you don’t have to talk to them each time unless that’s what you agree).”

As James mentioned, automating helps you save time — which is time now available to work on more intensive tasks for your clients.

Taking the above tips and advice will help you attract and manage clients in a professional service with confidence. However, there are processes you need to be aware of during your client projects. The rest of the guide will cover more specific processes and areas of professional service businesses and how to bring automation to them.

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