Interpreting the "F-Word" – A Litmus Test for Loyalty

Interpreting the "F-Word" – A Litmus Test for Loyalty

Interpreting the "F-Word" – A Litmus Test for Loyalty

Tom Cates

Tom Cates

Tom Cates is founder, chief client officer and chief storyteller of salesEQUITY, a client engagement platform that empowers B2B client teams to measure, analyze and act on gaps in client perception to drive organic growth.

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Has the loss of a big client ever surprised you? Likely so.

It's true, most clients won't complain before they move on – leaving account teams no chance to save the relationship. Through research, I've found that there is one word that quite often signals client defection – but most service providers don’t realize they could be in trouble when they hear it.

The next time a client uses the "F-word," understand that it could be a signal of required action to keep that client from walking out the door.

Deciphering hidden meaning

When a client says everything is "fine," it can often be translated to: "Everything is not fine, but this relationship has run its course, and I don't want to invest any more time in trying to save it."

One international healthcare provider, for example, found that 72 percent of clients lost the previous year were either "satisfied" or "very satisfied" according to the latest customer satisfaction survey. Simply stated, it is not enough to satisfy clients – you must make them loyal.

Loyalty's direct benefits and substantial value-adds

As one might expect, the benefits of loyal relationships translate directly into profit. Research indicates that compared to those clients who typically default to using the "F word" in describing business relationships, loyal clients:

  • Produce three times the book of business
  • Require 41 percent less work
  • Stay engaged in the relationship four times longer

These benefits translate into larger profits and a stronger bottom line.

The Value of Sticking Around

The value of retaining a client over time can be hugely profitable, as expenses associated with the client decrease and opportunities for cross-selling, up-selling and referrals increase. Essentially, the longer you keep a client, the more profitable they become – and the harder it is for them to break away.

But there are other benefits to be reaped from the client's candor that stems from relationships of loyalty. When asked about their satisfaction levels, truly loyal clients are likely to say much more than merely that the relationship is "fine." They seek your advice, give you benefit of the doubt, put you in touch with colleagues and share information to help you.

A litmus test for loyalty

For well over a decade, my company has studied what motivates people to continue business relationships and what makes them loyal. We've found six dimensions that define a loyal, Trusted Advisor relationship.

The first two dimensions are the "Satisfiers," which are considered the "ticket to the game." These are absolutely crucial, but service providers get no extra points for doing these well – and they provide no edge on the competition:

  1. Integrity: Are you reliable and trustworthy?
  2. Competency: Do you have the skills and capabilities to deliver on your promise?

Again, it is not enough to satisfy clients. One must demonstrate more than just integrity and competency in order to take a client relationship to a higher level. The remaining dimensions are "Motivators," which compel clients to develop more powerful relationships:

  1. Recognition: Do I feel valued or am I just another relationship?
  2. Proactivity: Do you look out for me and protect me from surprises?
  3. Savvy: Do you understand my world and help me to be successful?
  4. Chemistry: Do I like working with you?

Developing loyal relationships is a matter of assessing where you stand with each individual client on these critical dimensions. This assessment then becomes the foundation for key account plans. If a client feels neglected in certain dimensions, it is imperative to make that client feel that their success is truly the top priority.

So, in short: If a client says the "F-word," treat it as an opportunity. Dig deeper to glean their true thoughts, needs and wants. Then take immediate action to save your relationship by avoiding client defection.

The statements and opinions of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of TSYS.

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Tom Cates

Tom Cates is founder, chief client officer and chief storyteller of salesEQUITY, a client engagement platform that empowers B2B client teams to measure, analyze and act on gaps in client perception to drive organic growth. Tom has more than 15 years of experience leading consulting engagements focused on the client-facing elements of sales, marketing and client service functions in a wide variety of industries. Follow him @salesEQUITY and on LinkedIn.

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