Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Ed Jerdonek, @ejerdonek, CEO of Luckett & Farley, the oldest architectural firm in the nation. This innovative, award-winning company is based in Louisville, KY. Luckett & Farley is responsible for some of the world’s most iconic buildings, including Churchill Downs where the Kentucky Derby takes place. Apart from the firm’s success, Ed has become a sought-after keynote speaker at numerous small business conferences. Ed speaks on topics all small business owners can benefit from – like creating office culture, recruiting rock star employees & retaining clients in innovative ways. For more information visit http://www.luckett-farley.com/
SmallBizLady: How important is it to build a culture that focuses on good client service?
Ed Jerdonek: When you’re leading a professional services firm, outstanding client service is just the ticket for admission. It’s mission-critical. As a business leader, it’s impossible for me to “touch” every single client every single day, so it’s vitally important that delivering great service is consistently baked into our culture. I’m not always the point-person interacting with our clients on a daily basis. Our employees are the first and often times the only impression of our company. That’s why our receptionist’s title is Director of First Impressions – it underscores the critical role she plays! It’s imperative to build an employee culture that recognizes the significance of their contribution to client service.
SmallBizLady: How can small business owners create a culture that values returning business?
Ed Jerdonek: Everybody can understand how they can contribute to repeat business – do your absolute best work each and every day. In any business, but especially a small business, repeat business becomes the lifeblood of your income statement! This is all part of an in-house retention program that consistently reminds, motivates and rewards employees. We get the whole company involved by posting mission-driven messages, reminders at monthly staff meetings and sharing feedback we receive from our clients with the entire firm. When an employee receives praise from a client, we celebrate company-wide. We seek-out creative ways to frequently and consistently reinforce the behavior we wish to see in our employees.
SmallBizLady: What’s the biggest myth about client interaction?
Ed Jerdonek: That you can’t fire a client! Not true. While we don’t make a practice of firing our clients, sometimes it’s simply the healthiest thing a business leader can do for the company and its employees. If a client is toxic, doesn’t share your organization’s values, is unreasonable all the time, or unprofitable, “firing” that client may be the hardest, but best, decision a leader can make. We’ve done it on very rare occasions over the years and it’s absolutely liberating! We usually get a huge employee morale bounce, too.
SmallBizLady: How do you decide which clients are worth investing in? Are all clients worth investing in?
Ed Jerdonek: I love all of our clients, I just love some more than others! A client worth investing in is a client that pays well and pays on time. Everyone wants the best value for their money, so clients that recognize that outstanding service and value-adding technical solutions are worth paying for are our most coveted relationships. Our folks will walk over hot coals and crawl over broken glass for these clients! We nurture and invest in those relationships we believe are beneficial and drop the ones that drain our resources. We’ve got to be paid for our work, but we won’t nickel & dime our clients at every turn – I tell them to not let the dime obscure the ten dollar bill sitting behind it! In the end, just act as if our client’s money is our own and be good stewards of that trust.
SmallBizLady: Is there a difference between focusing on service & being client driven?
Ed Jerdonek: It’s infinitely less expensive to keep the clients you’ve already got than to lose them and be forced to replace and backfill. One of the best ways to grow your business is to significantly eliminate the amount of customers who leave. I constantly remind everybody that we’re really in the customer service business! If your organization is client driven, that inevitably means that you are focusing on delivering high quality service and value, so I view client service as a necessary part of being client driven.
SmallBizLady: How have you been able to retain clients given the economic situation in recent years?
Ed Jerdonek: We’re in the growth business! As Architects, Engineers and Interior Designers, we ultimately help our clients grow. When the economy slowed, we felt the pinch, too. It’s imperative for us to not take any client for granted. We supplemented our core services to meet specific needs, delivered our service on time every time and show that we honestly care about the client at every stage. We also refused to cut corners to deliver the value our clients have come to expect.
SmallBizLady: What is your mantra when it comes to client retention?
Ed Jerdonek: We say, “Good work gets more good work”. Performing good work for our clients not only gets rewarded by repeat business, but can also create opportunities for new business through positive word-of-mouth referrals. Our Employer of Choice Continuum says that by creating the best environment, culture and reward structure, we’ll attract and retain “rock star” employees. Rock star employees deliver the best service, creative solutions and technical excellence. This in turn, will attract and retain the best clients. The best clients have the best projects, pay well and pay fast! This allows us to make the greatest profits, which we re-invest in our people. The cycle never ends, we just rinse and repeat!
SmallBizLady: How do you leave a client wanting more of your services?
Ed Jerdonek: We all must recognize every “moment of truth” opportunity that comes our way. Around here, we characterize a “moment of truth” to be any time one of our employees is dealing with a client or potential client. I say, “Every moment of truth encounter must leave our client or potential client wanting more Luckett & Farley, not less.” Whether we’re interacting face-to-face, by telephone, email or text – leave that person wanting more of us! This is simple language that everyone can easily understand and practice daily.
SmallBizLady: What are three ways to communicate with clients on a positive basis?
Ed Jerdonek: Call me weird, but I like handwritten thank you or follow-up notes. I encourage our employees to stay away from email or phone calls anytime they can – it’s much more personal and sincere to go “old school” sometimes.
- Start conversations with a sincere question about how your clients are doing. If you infuse more authenticity in your interactions, your client is more apt to forgive those (hopefully) rare “ball drops” – we’re all human, after all.
- Conclude cordially. Even if business got messy, it was still just business and they’re now responsible in part for your reputation. Still send a thank you or ask to go for coffee to clear up any misunderstandings. I tell people, there’s never a better time to solve a problem than as soon as you find out about it. Little problems grow into big problems if not quickly addressed – and they sure won’t go away if ignored!
SmallBizLady: What’s the best way to save the relationship so you have still left a sweet taste in their mouths?
Ed Jerdonek: It’s all about service recovery! Be honest and accept responsibility for the issue even if you or your organization isn’t entirely at fault. Act as if your future depends on your personal ability to pull every string you have to in order to fix even the smallest of problems (because sometimes it does). When a client sees you working day and night in a service recovery, you’ll win their loyalty and respect. In most instances, it’s not the problem that hurts an organization; it’s the lousy way they choose to respond to it. Take responsibility, accept accountability and use whatever resources you can to fix the problem as fast as you can, then apologize again – that’s service recovery!
SmallBizLady: You’re known for saying: “recognize and own each moment of truth opportunity that comes your way.” What exactly does that mean?
Ed Jerdonek: Simple. Our employees have a moment of truth opportunity every single time they interact with a client or potential client (BTW, if you’re not dealing with a client then you’re dealing with a potential client!) our employees must leave that person wanting more not less. It’s a simple concept to understand and perform if the organizational culture is hard-wired to recognize this when it occurs. That’s why I repeat things over and over and over. This concept is the lifeblood of customer service and business development.
SmallBizLady: What’s the number one method you can use to stay connected with a client?
Ed Jerdonek: We serve several different markets that include Federal DoD, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Higher Education and Media & Entertainment, so each market requires a slightly different strategy to keep in touch. In general, our marketing directors are all knowledge leaders in their respective markets and we’ve organized our firm around our clients and their markets. As knowledge leaders, our directors create content that addresses the stuff that keeps their clients awake at night. Understanding our client’s business and its unique challenges then helping to respond to them using email blasts, blogs, media interviews and workshops helps keep our organization positioned as a resource to assist our client when we’re most needed. We’re always on the lookout for anything we can use to demonstrate to our clients that their problems are our problems, too.
SmallBizLady: How do you keep clients in the loop of what your company has been up to without coming off as “spam” or impersonal?
Ed Jerdonek: We have a robust social media program that leverages lots of different platforms to help deliver our messages. Email blasts are also a good way to keep our clients up-to-speed on our firm, but they need to be relevant and not too frequent. Our marketing directors are great at keeping their client pipeline informed and we also have general company news to share, too. If it’s relevant or interesting to them, our clients will appreciate it. Most importantly, we don’t bombard them in our enthusiasm to build a relationship, that ultimately just turns them off. In other words, don’t let yourself become a digital stalker!
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