How can professional services PR firms build client loyalty?

As a professional services public relations firm, client satisfaction is something we think about on a daily basis.  We want to be sure we’re providing quality client service and that, as a result, our clients are “happy.”  However, in his book “If Disney Ran Your Hospital,” Fred Lee raises an important point: it is customer loyalty, not mere satisfaction that binds clients to an organization and protects it against serious competition.

Lee cites an article from the Harvard Business Review on customer loyalty in which the authors presented research showing that satisfied customers are not necessarily loyal.  Writes Lee: “on a scale of one to five [one being very unsatisfied and five  being very satisfied], a customer who marks a four is six times more likely to defect than a customer who marks a five.  In other words, there is a six-fold increase in customer loyalty between fours and fives.”  While Lee is examining patient/employee satisfaction and loyalty in hospitals, the implication for our industry is clear: loyalty is critical to the security of client-agency relationships – and therefore, it’s essential that we understand the distinction between satisfaction and loyalty.

So, how can professional services PR firms build client loyalty?

  1. Deliver quality work:  If your clients are not satisfied, they’re definitely not going to feel loyal to your organization.  Therefore, client satisfaction is a logical precursor to client loyalty.  While it might sound like common sense, it’s critical that you’re responsive to your clients and consistently provide quality work in a timely manner.
  2. Anticipate your clients’ needs:  If you’re successfully delivering quality work, your clients are likely satisfied, but are they yet loyal?  Anticipating clients’ needs is an important step in moving from a four to a five on the client satisfaction scale – and making you an invaluable marketing partner.  According to Lee, “loyalty is generated by memorable things that happen that we didn’t expect.”  So, ask yourself: are you maintaining the status quo, or are you creating memorable moments by going “above and beyond;” consistently staying one step ahead of your clients and anticipating their needs, so they don’t have to.
  3. Know your clients’ business:  In order to successfully anticipate your clients’ needs, you have to know their business, inside and out.  In a recent discussion with Dallas Kersey, former director of marketing at Towers Perrin and Edward Jones, he said the number one thing PR professionals can do to make themselves invaluable to their clients is to think of themselves as business professionals first, PR professionals second.  That is, “know your clients’ business.”  As Lee notes in his book, “doing everything to perfection…meeting all [of your clients’] standards of performance and courtesy” is not enough to build client loyalty.  As PR professionals, in order to build client loyalty, we must understand how everything we do fits into our clients’ overall marketing strategy and ultimately, how that’s tied to the company’s bottom line.  Without that understanding, you cannot cross the line from “outside agency” to true marketing partner.


These are just a few of the ways that you can work toward building loyalty.  What else would you add to this list?

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