Building a prosperous business is never easy. However, as personal trainers and athletic coaches, we can greatly increase our chances for success if we develop long-term client relationships. This article shows nine simple steps you can take to get and keep clients who will rave about you and the awesome services you provide.
1. Understand Client Expectations
The first step in building long-term client relationships is to clarify expectations. You cannot provide outstanding service if you do not know what a client is truly hoping to receive. Never assume that every client will be satisfied by the same set of services and behaviors. Because each person will have a unique set of circumstances and expectations, begin the coaching process by asking these two questions:
- Why do you want a coach? The goal is to determine potential clients’ motivations—both physical and psychological—for hiring a coach. In addition, make sure you are clear about why clients are interested in your particular set of coaching services. In other words, what makes you unique?
- What does a successful coaching experience look like for you? Work with potential clients to identify the specific outcomes they are seeking from your tutelage. This will allow you to tailor your services to their needs. It will also let you know if they have unrealistic expectations.
2. Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals
SMART goals are performance objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. They are helpful for two reasons. First, they are effective in quantifying success. Second, they address unrealistic expectations. For example, you may coach an athlete who wants to finish a local marathon in less than 3.5 hours. If this is your student’s first marathon, you can discuss why this might be an unrealistic expectation. The key to SMART goals, as they relate to long-term client relationships, is to use both outcome goals, which focus on bottom-line results, and process goals, which address how an athlete will train to achieve those results. For example, “To finish in the top five at the Regional Triathlon Championships” is an outcome goal. The problem is that athletes have less control over outcome goals than they have over process goals. If athletes fail to accomplish their outcome goals, they may question the efficacy of your coaching. Athletes have greater influence over process goals, such as “To run 2,000 miles during the calendar year.” Clients are more likely to accomplish these types of goals, and this reflects positively on your coaching prowess.
3. Be Responsive
One of the most effective ways to gain a competitive advantage is to be responsive. A big complaint I hear from new clients is that previous coaches lacked responsiveness. For instance, clients may contact their coach and not get a response for 24 hours or more. That should never happen. It is imperative to respond to client inquiries as soon as possible. Aim to reply to each client email, text message and phone call within 4 business hours, without exception. Keep in mind that your responses do not have to resolve problems, questions or issues. Use this contact to let clients know that you’ve received their messages and to tell them when you plan to address their concerns.
4. Go Beyond the Call of Duty
Always provide your clients with something of value that goes beyond the contracted package. Nothing increases customer satisfaction more than receiving unexpected benefits. Here are some ways to add value to your clients’ experience:
- Distribute articles and newsletters that provide valuable information. These don’t have to be articles you have written; however, make sure the content is based on client needs and interests.
- Write a book, e-book, manual or booklet, and provide it to your clients free of charge. To attract new clients, promote the document as a part of your coaching package.
- Develop a teleseminar or webinar, and give clients a copy of the recording.
- Invite clients to attend a live clinic or seminar.
- Develop a blog, and encourage clients to follow you so they can receive useful content on a continuous basis.
- Attract new customers by running promotions such as product discounts or bundles, and offer these discounts to your current clients as well.
5. Make a Personal Connection
Build a personal connection that will help each client feel special. Here are a few strategies:
- Know what your clients do when they are not running, riding, swimming, etc.
- Know the names of your clients’ spouses and children—as well as some basic information about these family members, such as their line of work.
- Recognize important dates like birthdays and anniversaries. A simple way to do this is to connect with all of your clients on Facebook and LinkedIn. These platforms will alert you to birthdays and other important anniversaries.
- Say “thank you” on a regular basis—both formally and informally.
- Never send group or bulk emails. Address each email to the individual client.
6. Request Client Feedback
Client feedback is useful for two reasons. First, it helps you identify potential issues before they become problems. Second, it reminds your clients that you are doing a great job. While you can use resources like SurveyMonkey to formally evaluate customer satisfaction, you can also simply ask your individual clients how they feel about being coached by you. Their answers to the following questions will give you a very good idea what you are doing well and where you may need to improve:
- Overall, how would you rate your coaching experience?
- What is the best part of your coaching experience?
- What can I do to improve your experience and exceed your expectations?
7. Ask for Client Referrals
Besides potentially bringing you clients, asking for referrals enhances the loyalty of existing clients. If your clients refer you to friends or coworkers, it means they think highly of your services. Very few people will refer you and then dump you as a coach. In addition to simply asking, consider giving discounts for referrals. For example, I offer a free month of coaching to each client who refers another client to me. It really works. I have clients who actively seek people for me to coach.
8. Boost Self-Esteem
Self-esteem is a global psychological concept that describes an individual’s feelings of self-worth or personal value. It is both a judgment of one’s perceived value and an attitude toward oneself. While the empirical evidence on the relationship between self-esteem and performance is equivocal, helping clients feel better about themselves is likely to boost your chances for long-term coaching relationships:
- Treat your clients with respect. You can do this by listening, responding with empathy and treating your clients as whole persons who have lives outside the athletic arena.
- Challenge your clients, but never threaten them.
- Avoid comparing your clients to one another. Pointing out a client’s inadequacies by comparing that person to another client is a great way to diminish a client’s self-esteem and to diminish the client’s esteem for you.
- Maintain a consistent line of communication.
- Always be there for your clients. For instance, I’ve had conversations with clients who were dealing with divorce. Was I their therapist? No. I was merely a person to talk to in a moment of need.
- Remember the difference between constructive feedback and criticism. Constructive feedback addresses a problematic behavior in a way that is both educational and encouraging. Criticism is aimed at the person more than the behavior, and it tends to discourage rather than encourage.
9. Let Them Go
Author Khalil Gibran once said, “If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. If they don’t, they never were.” This may seem counterintuitive, but there are times when you should take a break from the coaching relationship. This gives you and your clients a chance to recharge the mental and physical batteries. Just set a return date in advance, and know that if you have done a great job as a coach, the clients will come back.