SI Review: December 2010

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Connect with Your Clients, Si Review December 2010

The Importance of Staying in Touch with Your Clients 

By Julie McCoy

Never want your clients to think you've forgotten about them or put them on the back burner. But that could very well happen if you don't make an effort to stay in touch with them. While there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach – what works for staying in touch with one of your clients might not work for another client – one thing is certain: Finding effective ways to stay in touch with all of your clients and making a regular effort to do so is critical. If you don't stay in touch with your clients, you run the risk of losing them.

Chances are your staffing company has lost clients recently due to increased competition and the economic downturn. One thing that can help you retain your clients is to regularly stay in touch with them. Not only will it will make them feel valued and appreciated, but also they will be more loyal to your company and therefore less likely to jump ship.

"The reason you stay in touch is to retain," says Dave Sanford, executive VP of business development for Waltham MA-based Winter, Wyman Companies. "That is the biggest reason."

If you don't stay in touch with your clients, "You lose all the hard work you put in on the front end," Sanford points out. He emphasizes that the relationship you have with your clients is "like a living organism. You have to care for it and nurture it. It's like a potted plant."

Face-to-Face Meetings

In today's technology-driven world, it's easy to stay in touch with your company's clients via voicemail, email or text messages. But you, your salespeople, your account managers and your recruiters also need to make an effort to regularly meet with them in person, to get some face-to-face interaction.

Tom Gimbel, CEO of Chicago-based LaSalle Network, personally goes out with staff and meets with five to seven
clients a week. He allocates no less than 10 hours a week for meeting with clients, he says. Gimbel also personally reaches out to his company's top 100 clients via phone and email.
 
Larry Kidd, president and CEO of Jackson OH-based Reliable Staffing Services, says: "On a regular basis, one of our consultants will stop by, say hello, check to see how things are going. Sometimes we will bring food, sometimes we don't. I [as the president] like to try to meet with the owner or HR person on a monthly or quarterly basis."
 
At Atlanta-based MATRIX Resources, face-to-face meetings with clients aren't only expected, they're required, according to Don Palmer, VP. "Every one of our account managers across the country has to do at least seven a week," he says. "If we're really building relationships, we believe you have to have a face-to-face relationship going there." Sometimes clients come to MATRIX for the face-to-face meetings, while other times MATRIX staff visit clients on-site.

Free Seminars

MATRIX also holds free seminars two or three times a month for clients. Sometimes the seminars address technical topics while other times they are centered around soft skills topics, Palmer says. "We pack out just about every one of them," he says, noting that clients have told him over the years they appreciate it, and it has been a huge success and differentiator.

Lunch-n-Learn

Additionally, MATRIX holds Lunch-n-Learn events for clients. Facilitated by experts on the company's professional services delivery team, these technical-oriented sessions cover such topics as agile development, business intelligence, testing and virtualization. The Lunch-n-Learn sessions are held at branch locations or on-site at a client facility.

Springfield MO-based Penmac Staffing also holds Lunch-n-Learn events for its clients, according to founder and owner Patti Penny. The company invites someone from the Department of State Labor to speak on a variety of topics; for example, how you can save money on your unemployment claims. For just $10, Penmac clients receive a buffet lunch and then get to hear the speaker. "They like it," Penny says, noting that usually up to 50 people attend. "That's been a popular thing."

Penny also gets involved in associations that her company's clients are involved with. For example, Penmac has a lot of clients who are involved with the Southwest Area Manufacturers Association, and Penny attends the organization's quarterly meetings just like her clients do. 

Professional Development Seminars

Accountants International invites clients to attend professional development seminars for which they can receive credit, according to president Steve McMahan. Accountants International also has a salary survey and compensation guide, and clients find that tool useful, McMahan says.

Widget Keeps Clients Informed
Akraya, an information technology staffing and solutions firm based in Sunnyvale CA, has an internal tool known as a client widget that keeps clients informed and up to date as to the progress Akraya is making on their job orders, according to CEO Amar Panchal.

Using a link on their computer, clients are able to obtain access to Akraya's internal system and see "these are the reqs were working on and the status of candidates," Panchal says. "They can see we're actually working on their requirements. It's a great way for our clients to have a connection to Akraya."

Akraya also encourages its clients to visit its company profile on Facebook and LinkedIn, according to Panchal.

Also, any time Akraya is mentioned in the press, or receives an award, the company sends an email to clients, Panchal says. "We strive to be in front of the
customer without being too pushy," he explains. "You have to be careful about the amount of email you send to customers."

Putting Clients in Touch with One Another
Atlanta-based Hire Dynamics puts clients in touch with other clients to see if they can work together and share best practices, according to CEO Dan Campbell. "We definitely believe in trying to find our customers business in their own right," he says.

Quarterly Business Reviews
Hire Dynamics also holds quarterly business reviews with clients, Campbell says. The reviews discuss "everything from the quality of hires we've placed to how many folks did we have that went full-time to turnover rates," says Campbell. It's all about "understanding where their business is going and where we can improve," he explains.

SFN Group also holds quarterly business reviews with large clients, according to CEO Roy Krause. One of the company's senior executives – whether it's Krause, Bill Grubbs, executive VP and COO; Mark Smith, executive VP and CFO; or John Heins, chief human resource officer – typically attends the meetings.

The meetings also typically involve one of the company's divisional presidents, whether it's Loretta Penn of Spherion Staffing, Michael Winwood of Technisource, Rebecca Callahan of SourceRight Solutions or Brendan Courtney of The Mergis Group. "We make sure in these quarterly business reviews we are there," Krause says. "It really helps stay connected. It also helps us get a better attendance at some of the QBRs." For smaller clients, SFN Group holds a similar meeting with a local
manager, Krause explains.

SFN Group also conducts a survey that provides insight as to the changing attitudes of workers that it shares with clients. The Emerging Workforce Study survey is the overall survey, and the company also conducts a monthly study with Harris Interactive that measures employee confidence levels. "With the economy improving, retaining great talent should be a major effort for every employer," Krause stresses.

Weekly, Monthly Newsletters
Every Friday San Diego-based SkillStorm sends out a weekly newsletter to clients that features fun trivia and local events over the weekend, according to Paul Cozza, VP of sales and business development. The goal is to make it "lighthearted, kind of fresh, humorous, fun," Cozza explains.

SkillStorm also issues a monthly newsletter that has a more serious tone and is more business and industry specific. It features announcements pertaining to the company, awards the company has received and hiring trends, according to Cozza.
  
Quarterly Newsletters, TickleR Files, LinkedIn and Blogs
Each quarter, Winter, Wyman sends a newsletter to all of its clients and candidates, Sanford explains. "We try to make that as timely and interesting and non-salesy as we can," he says, adding that: "It's very little news and events of our company. We have a piece from our CEO [Bob Boudreau] talking about the job market and what we are seeing, then three for four articles."

The educational and informational articles discuss such things as how to use social media and how to get your college senior ready for the job market. They also provide tips on employee retention and how to survive in a down job market. 

Recruiters also have "tickler files" that pop up on their computer and remind them to call clients they haven't been in touch with in awhile, Sanford explains. "You need tools to be able to remind you who you haven't talked to in awhile," he says.

Additionally, Winter, Wyman uses LinkedIn as a tool to connect with clients. "If there is one tool that has been the most important tool for our company the last three to five years it's LinkedIn," says Sanford, noting his company taught one of its clients how to use the professional networking site. Clients also are able to connect with the company via blogs and Twitter.

Blog a Mixture of Business and Personal
Gary Nelson, chairman of The Nelson Family of Companies, personally writes a blog that is sent to clients and internal staff, he says. The blog addresses such things as how business is going for the company and the staffing industry overall, trends in the industry and at WorkforceLogic, one of the company's divisions, and changes in the company's staff. He'll even share more personal things, such as books he's read or his predictions about sporting events. "People seem to love it," he says.

Also, when the Nelson Family of Companies lands a major new client, Nelson personally sits down with the client over an informal lunch so they can get to know one another better and get started on the right foot.

Tweeting Away
Compliance Inc. has a Twitter account and "tweets" things that are going on to clients, according to Robb Caruso, director of business development at the company's Los Angeles office. For example, early this year the company did an upgrade in bandwidth for Internet connectivity and clients could follow news about it on Twitter, Caruso explains.
 
Sending Articles of Interest
Caruso also sends clients articles that might be of interest to them. He's giving them valuable information they wouldn't otherwise have, he points out, noting his clients are busy and don't have the time to sift through articles themselves. "We always want to be of value and share good information with people," he says.

Every Friday, Caruso also emails quotes to clients and prospects. "It's an inspirational quote. Something positive. Something from a world leader or philosopher," says Caruso, who has been sending the quotes for more than a year and works from a list of more than 300 people. "I have quoted educators. I have quoted a lot of different people." His clients love and look forward to the quotes, Caruso says. In fact, someone actually let him know one time that, "I haven't gotten my Friday quote yet."

Client Appreciation Events
QPS Employment Group holds client appreciation events throughout the year, according to marketing manager Katie Lindbloom. For example, the company takes clients to sporting events, Lindbloom says. QPS also has a safety team that works with clients to make sure their environment is as safe as it can be, Lindbloom stresses. "A lot of it is visiting clients
on-site," she says.

Meet-Ups
This summer, Chicago-based Instant Technology began keeping in touch with clients by offering free networking/educational events known as "meet-ups," according to senior account executive Annie Whetstine. The monthly events focus on different technology-related topics. For example, one event this year focused on JAVA, while another focused on project management. The meet-ups have been well received, and the plan is to continue them next year, Whetstine says.

Golf Outing, Fishing Tournament a Great Way to "Hook Up"
Each fall, Norm Doty – a partner in four Express franchises, two in Rochester and Winona MN and two in Menomonie and Eau Claire WI – holds a golf outing for his clients. They don't have to pay for anything – the carts, green fees and lunch are all taken care of. Doty hires a local barbecue place that provides ribs and chicken. "It's part fun and part business," he explains. "A lot of business gets done on the golf course."

In the spring, Doty also holds a fishing tournament with clients. They enjoy a morning of fishing on Lake Pepin, right by the Mississippi River. Someone from Express and a professional fishing guide are aboard each boat. Whoever catches the smallest fish wins a goofy prize (like a Barbie fishing pole) and whoever catches the biggest fish wins something nice (like a nice fishing pole), Doty says. The fishing tournament is a fun way to "hook up" with clients.

The golf and fishing events are a great way to not only connect with clients but also thank them for their business, Doty points out. "You almost can't help but become friends," he says. "People begin to like and trust you, whether you're on the golf course or in a boat."

You should always make your clients a top priority. After all, they're your bread and butter. Without them, you wouldn't have a business. By making an effort to regularly keep in touch with your clients, you and other people at your company are helping to build better, stronger and longer-lasting relationships with them.

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