Following Up with Customers
Bert Morano, a former independent IT consultant turned IT firm owner, has seen each area of his business benefit in more than one way from consistent customer follow-up. His message to those who work independently or within the IT department at a firm is the same: Make customer care a priority.
It was the little things Morano did while following up with customers that helped him shape Solving IT International Inc., the Chicago-based IT company of which he is president that he founded in 1992. In fact, it was during a follow-up session with a former employee that the idea of pursuing his own firm blossomed.
As a consultant, especially an independent one, you’re only as good as your last client, and a lot of that success depends on your follow-up procedure.
Morano said that procedure tells customers much of what they’ll need to know if they’re thinking of rehiring you or recommending you to other people.
“When following up with a customer, you’re saying that you’re open to hearing bad news, which helps build trust and accountability,” Morano said. “The client likes to know you’re right there with them, not to just send them an invoice and forget all about them.
“If something is wrong, I let them know I initially stand by my work, but I’ll come in free of charge and help them resolve what the problem is, just like any guarantee you would want from any service or business.”
As an independent, Morano made sure to follow up with customers over the long term, not just immediately after completing their project. An initial follow-up is always a must a few days after a consultation, if only to check in and make sure everything is working properly.
After hearing (with any luck) good news, Morano always made a habit to pencil in another time on his calendar to do additional follow-up work months down the road.
Such strategy was crucial while Morano was thinking of starting his own firm. Morano left his job at a large insurance company to become an independent IT professional, and it was as an independent he saw the advantages having good relationships with multiple clients, both past and present, could have for his own firm.
For the first few months of the transition, he worked on projects for his former boss at night while working on new clients during the day. It was his productiveness that surprised his former boss, who couldn’t believe so much got done when he was out of the office.
“He would leave at night and come back in the morning and see that his project had made huge leaps of progress, which completely won him over, and I think to this day that situation went a long way in helping me start Solving IT because that insurance company is our biggest customer,” Morano said. “I already had a network of friends and people I worked with and knew and could vouch for so I started to subcontract other independents through my company.”
Morano said one of the main advantages of long-term follow-up is the possibility of business. Before any work is actually done, he and the client compile a wish list of potential projects with the understanding that the top wish will be first priority and those that can wait will be put on the shelf until the main ones are completed.
“Once the initial phase is complete, we always go back to the original client wish list we made and ask if they’ve thought further about the other features they considered,” Morano said. “Often, they’ll inquire about it, and that possibly can lead to the next sale.”
At the end of the day, if you care about your work, espousing good customer follow-up habits will come naturally, Morano said.
“I think it’s an instinctive procedure because when you’re working with a client, they become your friend, you get to know them, and it becomes something you want to naturally do anyway,” he said.