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I am about to form a small consulting company and with a few friends and I am curious about how/what you do to amaze and create happy long lasting clients? This is of course besides the standard points like delivering on time, charge fair amount, deliver quality, and deliver what they really want.

What other techniques do you use to amaze and create long lasting clients? (and to stand out compare to the competition)

For example:

  • Gifts?
  • Happening and events?
  • Night out at the pub?
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Gifts, events, and nights out feel like a salesperson trying to bribe a buyer into doing something that's not in the best interest of their company. That's not to say they're uncommon. If your clients are into that sort of thing, beware the company that's willing to spend a little more on these professional perks (bribes). It's probably easier to differentiate yourself on execution versus gifts. –  Corbin March Mar 16 '11 at 19:54
    
FWIW, my father-in-law was an executive for a major company. He accepted gifts as long as they were before his purchasing decision. After the decision, they seemed improper. –  David Thornley Mar 16 '11 at 19:57
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If you can actually follow-through on and deliver 'the standard points' you will be an elite, god-tier consultant. Nothing else will be required. –  Adam Crossland Mar 16 '11 at 20:15
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The example you provided work better to get a (long lasting) girlfriend than clients! –  DavRob60 Mar 16 '11 at 20:31
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8 Answers

In my consulting work I follow three simple rules.

  • Effectively manage expectations and have good honest 2 way communication with my clients.
  • Underpromise and Overdeliver
  • Always maintain a professional appearance and demeanor

These alone keep my clients happy and coming back for job after job. Save the gimmicks for wooing potential new clients.

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>>Underpromise and Overdeliver. NO!!!! Deliver what you promise! And nothing more! DO NOT GET YOUR CLIENTS USED TO "FREE" ANYTHING!!! BE-WARNED! –  Morons Mar 16 '11 at 20:07
    
+1 for simple wisdom from an obviously veteran consultant. I could not agree more with you. –  Adam Crossland Mar 16 '11 at 20:17
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Sorry, can't agree with "Underpromise and Overdeliver" –  KM. Mar 16 '11 at 20:39
    
To clarify "underpromise and overdeliver" I'm not talking about giving away free services, or "gold plating" something they didn't ask for. Completing a project early and under budget would be a good example. –  iivel Mar 16 '11 at 20:41
    
Hmm... Ok.. I undid my down vote. –  Morons Mar 16 '11 at 20:49
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In my experience the best way to amaze clients is:

  • Finish your projects on-time and on-budget.
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In software development (especially on greenfield complex projects) this is actually quite more like science fiction. Measuring project success should be done by other factors: usability and economy. Whether users find your product helping them while also saving them money. Who cares if it was late and costing a bit more if it actually does things better than a lesser product that would cost less and would be on time. –  Robert Koritnik Mar 16 '11 at 19:38
    
+1 for summing is up with such brevity! –  ukhardy Mar 16 '11 at 20:01
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@Robert - Finishing projects != finishing products. All I'm saying is do what you say you are going to do. Clients expect contractors and consultants to overrun budgets. If they do, then they make more money. In my experience, if I DON'T overrun the budget and actually estimate reasonably to where I finish on-time, they want me back for version 2 and 3. It doesn't matter if Version 1 is 10% better when overruning budget if you never get hired back for version 2/3. –  Ryan Hayes Mar 16 '11 at 20:12
    
+1 If there is one thing, this is it! –  KM. Mar 16 '11 at 20:40
    
+1 - nothing more to say here. –  Vector Oct 11 '11 at 22:05
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I suppose the best you can do is to be honest and friendly. It takes you far when people regard you as friend and trust you. This means that sometimes you may share certain (rather common) personal info to trade something back.

The good part is that not only your client, you will also find your client better.

And don't forget to be open = don't wait too long to inform your client of issues (in terms of functionality, time constraints, price or anything else that may ruin honesty and friendliness).

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Deliver it sooner, for the same price, and do more than they expected. Otherwise, strippers, scotch and t-Bone steaks are also nice.

Edit: Doing more doesn't necessarily mean adding new features. Also, whether or not a feature has been met is not always black and white. Maybe you don't fully optimize something but there are minimal things that can be done to make software run better. How about an unexpected follow-up phone call asking how the application is running a few days after final payment?

Yes, your clients may sign-off and pay you for your work, but if you only managed to accomplish the minimum, don't be surprised when they hire someone else for the next project.

If all you think you need is good code to sell software to the Fortune 500, what are you waiting for?

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NO!!!! Deliver what you promise! And nothing more! DO NOT GET YOUR CLIENTS USED TO "FREE" ANYTHING!!! BE-WARNED! –  Morons Mar 16 '11 at 20:12
    
I have to disagree strongly with deliver more than expected, unless you mean it in a way that I am misinterpreting. Finishing ahead of schedule is fine, but delivering what was agreed upon, with no surprises is the best way. –  Adam Crossland Mar 16 '11 at 20:19
    
I personally would be highly insulted if you sent me strippers, scotch and t-Bone steaks. –  HLGEM Mar 16 '11 at 22:24
    
@HLGEM - unfortunately, many people who make large IT purchasing decisions do. –  JeffO Mar 17 '11 at 14:36
    
@Morons - I'm not talking about adding features. –  JeffO Mar 17 '11 at 14:37
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Gifts? Happening and events? Night out at the pub?

Think of all the contractors you employ right now. What do you want from your contractors? Think auto mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, grocery clerks, etc., etc., etc.

Example. I use a number of contractors to work on my boat.

What do I want from my contractors?

  • Delivery times that make sense. Some parts are hard to locate, and time will be wasted. On the other hand, I don't think I should be sitting around waiting for the mechanic to locate the zinc anode for my propellor repair. "On Time Delivery" doesn't exist in software or boats. But "predictable" delivery does exist.

  • Few surprises (there are never "no surprise" jobs in software or on a boat.) Surprises should be well documented. A lovely picture of the damaged drive shaft is a lot better than a boat-yard bill for unexpected labor and materials.

  • Responsible service. Last week I closed a seacock that should not have been left closed. I can call the yard, and they did (without creating a work-order) send someone down to open the seacock and confirm that it's now open. I didn't want a lot of freebies -- just a mechanic to make a quick look below deck.

  • Explanations that are backed by standards and experience. ABYC standards, for example, dictate how my plumbing change must be done. I can quibble, but they're quoting the standard. If I allow them to work to the standard, they'll stand behind their craftsmanship. If I stop them from meeting the best practices, they don't offer any warranty.

    It's hard with software to hold up implementation standards. There aren't many. There are interface and protocols and the like, but nothing that says "80% code coverage" or "hoses supported every 18 inches".

  • Sensible advice. My engine/electrical grounding was not ABYC compliant. I got a nice picture of the problem. They didn't sell or even offer any services to correct it, since I can do that myself.

    My fuel tanks need cleaning. The owner showed me the equipment they use for that and spent about 30 minutes talking through the process and the options I have. No actual sales pitch. More like free consulting to suggest courses of action. I can get a more formal quote when I'm ready.

Some things I don't want.

  • Overly detailed estimates with a ton of caveats. I prefer a statement of work (or work order) with tasks and materials and some sense of the number of hours. My boatyard estimates in whole days, which is usually longer than most small tasks take. So the best I get is "less than a day" or "a few days". Details don't help because no one knows the real extent of the job until they start into it. My cutless bearing -- it turns out -- was impossible to extract using normal means. I was emailed as soon as the trouble began and I was apprised as the troubles continued (Mack had to bang it out with a sledge hammer, "the worst bearing extraction I've ever done," he told me.)

    My bill was larger than the estimate, but I knew why.

  • High-pressured sales pitches. I got an informal quote for cleaning my heat exchangers. Just an email. "We can do that for $XXX" and a summary of the SoW: "remove, clean, reinstall, replace zinc anodes". An honest, thoughtful piece of advice is more valuable than sales pitches.

It turns out that the marina/boatyard does have a once-per-year crab and beer party that was perfectly delightful. Once per year.

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I agree with the other answers on specifics - taken collectively they are a great set of ideas for building client trust.

There is absolutely nothing you could give me as a freebie that would "amaze" me. Quality work, clear communication, and fair prices and schedules amaze me. Free stuff of any ilk does not. In the end, I know that any free stuff you give me will be paid for by overhead carved from the money I paid by being a client. Unless you have a money-generating machine in your basement, you're not going to make my jaw drop.

The best marketing scheme for me is writing really good newsletters or blog posts. By really good, I mean it has to be insightful, easy to read, highly relevant and not too frequent. For me, monthly is the maximum. Quarterly is just fine. I've stayed in contact with a number of consultants of various types simply because I got useful information from enough of their blog posts that it was worth it to stay subscribed. Then, when I'm thinking about the topic, voila!, there they are with applicable content for my search criteria.

But I can't emphasize enough how important it is that you be able to write something interesting and useful. If you fail at this, you become spam and your recipients will unsubscribe, block you, or simply filter you out, mentally.

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Deliver A Shiny Product

One with bells and whistle features that (first) does what they want right and then goes beyond what they would expect.

Little features IMO like Words AutoComplete, or your system recognizes "Tomorrow" for a date input. These impress clients, because it makes their life easy. Not gifts

Now, also, IMO, you need to weigh in whether you can do these features.

I got a room full of applause for a bunch of extra features I added but it increased our project timeline 3x! (But my clients are so happy that it just works simple and right I hear they will hopefully pay me handsomely for the effort. ;)

Software IS hard, and by making a good product you show automatically amaze them because not many people can do that.

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Honestly I hate it when people I have do work for me attempt to do cutesy stuff to "win me over". I don't care! Just do what I hired you to do and be kind and helpful through the process and don't rip me off! LOL. Really nothing can win me over quicker than showing me that you know what you're doing, you're honest when you deal with me, and you're fairly priced. Though within a small margin the price can be a little higher if you excel at the other two. If you do those things I will be a loyal customer and will recommend you to my friends no matter what. But that's me... I'm sure other people have other things they look for.

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