SHOP - image for article by Greg Alder

If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it.

You’ve no doubt been offered that bit of advice many times in your life, starting when you were a kid. As you discovered as a kid, asking for it is no guarantee you’ll get it.

Do you ever give your clients things that they didn’t ask for? I’m not talking about things like invoices or advice. I’m talking about unsolicited gifts that the receiver will actually be glad to get.

You have seen how presents bring smiles on birthdays.

If you need a reminder, here’s an illustration of how gifts work:

It’s your loved one’s birthday. You’re busy, too busy to spend hours wandering aimlessly around boutiques or department stores for a present. So you ask what your loved one would like. She (it makes it easier to tell the story if I select a gender) says that she’d like some earrings. Great. Off you go in your lunch break. You find something that appeals to you – dangly art nouveau-ish things. You get them gift-wrapped. You buy a card. You give them to her. She unwraps the box excitedly. She opens the lid. You can’t help but notice that the “Oh they’re lovely” doesn’t sound quite as genuine as you know she sounds when she genuinely loves something.

Why is that? Well, you were doomed even before you started. The moment she told you she’d like some earrings, she had a clear idea of the type of earrings she’d like. Maybe something she’d seen in a magazine, on a starlet, in a window. And the earrings she had in mind and the ones she now holds in her hand are about as far apart stylistically as it’s possible for two sets of earrings to be.

Okay, now let’s change the scenario a little.

Imagine you just happened to be caught in a loving mood and on the spur of the moment you decide to surprise your loved one with a present. No special occasion. You just feel like doing it.

You go into a shop, see some earrings that appeal to you – dangly art nouveau-ish things. That night, you hand her your present. You catch her by complete surprise. She unwraps the box excitedly. She opens the lid. She gazes lovingly at the earrings inside. She squeals with delight and says, “They’re beautiful” over and over again.

Why the difference in her reaction? Well, one gift was expected whilst the other one wasn’t. One didn’t meet her expectations. The other had no expectations to meet.

So it goes with clients.

Give a client the occasional gift and he or she will be eternally grateful – well, maybe not eternally, but at least until the next invoice or bungle. It almost doesn’t matter what your gift is. A research report? An idea for a new product? A way to cut manufacturing costs? They all have the same impact. What the unsolicited gift shows is that you’re thinking of your client and his or her business.

Stephen Julian, the smartest banker I have met, used to be his bank’s star manager early in his career. He would regularly sell more home loans than anyone else in the bank. Naturally, others in the bank wanted to know the secret.

Here’s what he would do:

Because people generally move as soon as settlement has taken place, Stephen would pretty much know when a family was moving in to their new house. He would wait a couple of weeks after that date. Then he’d send a huge bunch of flowers. The new homeowners were always surprised and delighted. They imagined they’d be forgotten by now – and yet here was this spectacular floral arrangement from the bank. Why 2 weeks after settlement? Because everything’s unpacked and the house is ready to show off to friends. The friends come around. They see the flowers.

Oh, what beautiful flowers.

You won’t believe who sent them to us. The bank manager!

Stephen not only had the original family as clients for life, but also their family and their friends.

The gift of not giving

Those of you who’ve already tried this know the dangers inherent in giving unexpected gifts. With time, the recipient comes to expect them. And that defeats the purpose and the impact of the gift in the first place. Give a dog a treat one day and he waits for it on the second.

Many business owners choose not to give gifts because to do so makes it look like they’re trying too hard to please, to be liked. They believe that they’re too good at what they do to have to buy their client’s devotion.

Really, it’s much safer to only give your clients what they ask for. 99.9% of people in business do just that. These are the same business owners who won’t fritter away valuable time and resources trying to develop something original for every client. They can’t be expected to magically create extra hours in their day for “What if?” sessions. They are charging as much for each precious hour (or quarter hour, if attorneys) of their time as they feel their clients can afford. The last thing they want to be doing is waste this finite commodity on touchy feely sessions that seldom generate income.

Why customers leave - chart

Clients are 68 times more likely to leave because of poor service than death.

They live by a simple code:

  • Give your clients the basic service. Nothing more.
  • Make a client come to you.
  • Make a client ask for what he or she wants.
  • Make it clear that doing whatever it is he or she wants is going to be difficult. Don’t offer it.
  • Don’t make suggestions. Suggestions lead to more work. You don’t have time for more work. Do you?

Are there any circumstances in which it’s okay to give a client more than he or she has asked for? Is it okay to put in a bit of extra effort? To not exactly go out of your way, but make a minor detour?

Well yes.

First of all, an unsolicited gift is a great door opener. In a disarmed post-gift state, it becomes a whole lot easier to get your client to accept bad news or a new proposal or to agree to your fee increase.

It’s also acceptable when a client is worth a LOT of money to you, when the loss of that client would cause an uncomfortable amount of belt-tightening, when your lifestyle would become seriously compromised.

If that’s the case and you really feel you ought to make a bit of an effort for this particular client, don’t feel guilty. Don’t dwell on it. Just get it over with as quickly as possible. Lots of businesses pamper their best clients. For example, banks provide personal bankers for their high value clients. High value clients get bank fees waived. High value clients get a level of service average clients don’t. Banks do nice things like this for high value clients because they’re making bucket loads of money from them.

There are three sensible options as far as client pampering goes:

The first is to manage expectations. Banks and utilities are masters at managing their clients’ service expectation. They teach us through experience not to get our hopes up. It’s hard to be disappointed when you expect the worst. Teach your clients to expect very little from you and then any scrap you throw their way will be cherished.

The second approach is to show a modest amount of interest in your best clients. (For best, read biggest spenders.) Just don’t go overboard. Be warned though: Treat them too well and you’ll NEVER be rid of them.

Thirdly, you could simply tease your clients with promises of future goodies. Goodies you never deliver.

Give unsolicited gifts and you are in critical danger of not only holding on to existing clients, but attracting new ones. Heaven forbid!

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