Get Clients to Tell Stories…

“I’ve been at this for five years,” James, a financial advisor with a small solo practice, told me last week.  “How do I get people to proactively send me referrals?”

“Deserve them,” I told him.

“But all my clients are already satisfied with my service,” he protested.

“Satisfying your clients isn’t enough to turn them into passionate, loyal referral advocates,” I told him.  “It’s the minimum you need to do to keep a client and maybe pick up a referral or two.  If you want more, you need to get them to tell stories about you.”

I then shared two stories with James:

A while ago, I dropped into a well-known department store near my home to buy a new shirt.  There was a good selection of shirts in my size and the shelves were neatly arranged.  The sales assistant was friendly and professional, and the shirt I bought was on sale.  The entire experience was satisfactory.

I was completely satisfied…but I had never actually told anyone this story before.  I hadn’t even told anyone I saw later that day about the satisfactory experience I’d just had.  It had left my mind as soon as I left the store.  So, why didn’t my experience render me a passionate, loyal, referring customer?  The lesson is the same for a retailer as it is for an entrepreneur or a professional: There was no story to tell.  The salespeople had just done what they were supposed to do.

Contrast that story with this one:

Once upon a time (a long time ago now), my wife Hannah and my daughter Stefanie went shopping for a prom dress.  They found the perfect blue gown at Nordstrom.  But when they opened the bag and looked at it that night, there was a ballpoint ink stain on the skirt of the dress.  It was Thursday night, and the prom was on Saturday night.

First thing Friday morning, Hannah called the store frantically from work in the hope that they would have another blue gown she could pick up at the end of the day.  The department manager informed her that there were no more blue gowns in my daughter’s size, but offered to call around to other Nordstrom stores to see if she could find one.

worried mom

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Hannah hung up the phone and fretted over what she was going to tell my daughter and what they were going to do with only one evening left to find another gown.  But, half an hour later, the department manager called her back with news that she had located the identical gown at another location.

Then, she gave Hannah a story to tell.  She offered to leave her store at the end of the work day, drive the twenty miles to the store where she had located the new gown, and drive another 20 miles back in the opposite direction to Hannah’s business to make the exchange.  By evening, my daughter had her gown, and Nordstrom had another loyal customer, willing to tell this story over and over again—even over a decade later.

To make your clients loyal and willing to refer you, you need to take every opportunity to give them stories to tell.  Doing a satisfactory job for them isn’t enough.  Create a Client Service Plan that distinguishes you from your competitors.  Serve coffee and pastries on a silver platter when they visit your office.  Find out where they’re celebrating their anniversary and have champagne or dessert delivered to them at their table.

If you astound them—exceeding their expectations so far that they want to tell everyone your story—you’ll have more referrals than you can handle.  In the meantime, keep REACHING…

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