If you're looking to run a successful business that takes great care of its clients, there are 11 commandments of client service you need to follow. These are values, beliefs, and rules I've picked up in over a decade of running a client-facing organization and they've gone a long way toward building strong, enduring client relationships.
1. Never keep a client waiting. Honestly, if you show up late, don't expect them to stay a client very long. Sure this means spending a lot of time in waiting areas because you got somewhere early. Bring a book. Read a blog. Collect your thoughts. Just do not be late. Ever.
2. The client is always right unless they're wrong. Clients aren't always right. Many times they are, but not always. Ask yourself if it's worth falling on your sword to be right. If not, shut up. But if they're wrong and being wrong is going to be harmful to them, see the next commandment. Don't always tell the client what they want to hear. Tell them what they need to hear.
3. Don't let the client hurt themselves. Sometimes clients want to do stupid things. Sometimes they want to pay you a lot of money to do things for them that will hurt their organization. Say no. Vehemently. Do NOT let your client do stupid stuff even if they want to pay you a lot of money. You'll pay a much bigger price in the end and they'll actually respect you a lot more for not taking their money and helping them avoid problems.
4. Avoid the red-faced moments. There are many opportunities to make a lot of money. Not all of them are in your client's best interests. Sure, what you're doing isn't illegal and in the grand scheme of things, it's not a big deal to sell them a product you know they'll never use. They'll probably never notice. But ask yourself--what if they did notice? What if they asked you "why are you letting us pay you for something you know we're not using?" Awkward. Do not let these situations arise.
5. Turn down work you don't do. If a client asks you to do work that you don't have a competency in, say no. Walk away. It won't work out well for anyone. You'll do the work poorly, take their money, and they won't be happy. That's bad all the way around.
6. Remember they're clients, not customers. A customer is a transaction. A client is a relationship. Personally I try to build long-term close relationships with clients such that people think I'm an employee. My measure of success is I have an ID badge for that client like the rest of their employees do.
7. Never sell. Selling is a "push" activity. Understand your client's needs. Make your clients look brilliant. When you're solving their problems and making them look great in the process, you'll never have to sell. They'll constantly be pulling you in instead.
8. It's like Monopoly--the bank error is always in their favor. Mistakes happen. Always be quick to credit their accounts. If they're the least bit dissatisfied, put a credit on account. If they make contract or payment errors that benefit you, call them out quickly and return that money immediately. First, it's not your money. Second, see the "red faced moments" commandment. Imagine they find the error afterward and you didn't bring it to their attention.
9. Avoid contracts. Yes, you should have contracts. Just avoid referring to them. If you're referring to the contract to resolve a dispute, you're wrong. You've made it adversary. Talk like grown-ups and resolve differences without involving attorneys. It's cheaper and easier.
10. Structure a deal so everyone's excited. You should never take the last dollar off the table in a negotiation. Structure deals that are fair. Set pricing you're happy with. If you look at pricing and feel cheated at the negotiating table, you should walk away from the deal. It's poison. Come to terms that are agreeable to all--including yourself. Don't be afraid to walk away from work you feel is unfair.
11. Don't be afraid to break up with or fire a client. Recognize when the relationship is no longer working and end it. Sticking around with a client longer than they need you or staying in a situation where a client is taking advantage of you is a terrible place to be. If you're in situations where you know you're no longer delivering value, again--walk away. I "fire" coaching clients once we hit the point of diminishing returns on my time investment and their financial investment. It's good for everyone. Go find the next client where you can add value.
So there are the 11 commandments of client service. Follow them and you'll move from having customers to having deep, long-term client relationships.