Joseph Ratliff Writer, Researcher, Thinker

Case Study: Moving The Free Line, And Building Lifetime Customer Relationships

A current client of mine, Jeanette Hauser, represents not only an ongoing business success story in development, but also a solid case study in moving the free line and developing lifelong customer relationships from the start.

Aside from a couple of very brief conversations in the fall of 2009 that initiated based on articles I had written on the 5-Star Affiliate Forums…

The story of how our relationship really got started and initially developed to another level is a great examination of where I think most businesses miss the boat in 3 key areas big time:

  • The initial customer experience.
  • Moving the free line.
  • Demonstrating value and building trust from the beginning of a client relationship.

So let’s cover each of these 3 areas in detail, using my experience with Jeanette as an example (I’ve gotten permission from her to use her name and experience for the purposes of this lesson).

You may think some of this is basic, and you might even say “Well duh!” to yourself as you read this, but I guarantee that most businesses do not operate this way 100% of the time (mine is close, but not perfect), so if you claim to, I would love for you to tell me your story via email.

Let’s get started…

The Initial Customer Experience

My initial interaction with Jeanette (after the brief ones mentioned above) came as a result of a forum post on the SSWT internet marketing forum operated by a good friend of mine (and very successful marketer herself) Lynn Terry.

I didn’t realize that Lynn had decided to close the forum and posted some content on one of the sections.

Jeanette read that content, and PM’ed me letting me know that the forum was closing, and  that she missed my additions to that forum (free line technique) in the form of articles and participation…as I hadn’t participated in awhile.

She also asked for any advice/suggestions that I might have had to help her with her online business that she was frustrated with.  Here is where we get into the “meat” of initial customer experience…

I could have ignored her request for what most would consider “free information”, or I might have considered her request an attempt to get some free time from me…but I didn’t.

Trust me, I’ve seen so many examples of so-called consultants, marketers, “gurus”, etc… complaining about these very things, that it makes me sick to my stomach.  To me, business should be more personal than that, no matter how big your company gets (and yes, it’s possible, but that’s for clients only 😉  ).

But I digress…

I didn’t ignore Jeanette’s request, or even put it off, I sent her an email in response (taking the interaction from the forum, and to a more personal environment).

In that email I gave her my Skype ID and office phone number, and asked to chat with her about and letting her know I did have a spare moment if she needed it.  Her reply to that email is the inspiration for this case study…and I don’t understand why more people don’t take time like this to build an initial relationship with at least some of their clients (By the way, don’t say you don’t have the time, that’s complete B.S., if you feel you don’t, then you’re not managing your business or time effectively).

In Jeanette’s response, she indicated that my reply “surprised” her, and that she hadn’t been surprised in quite awhile.  (Quite sad to me actually)

She also indicated that she wanted to “schedule” some time with me, taking advantage of my offer for a “free chat”.  While I could have done what many would have done, I could have “scheduled” that time (and maybe never delivered on it)…I didn’t…and here’s where I took a simple action that “surprised” Jeanette even further (she’ll tell you I’m full of surprises 🙂  )…

I picked up the damn phone and just called her (her phone number was in her email sig file).

Unbelievable eh?  When Jeanette picked up the phone on her end, I said something that was in our email exchange, and she immediately knew it was me.  Needless to say she was pleasantly surprised by initiative, which to me is sad to say, as I figured that would be a “normal” thing for most business owners to do.

Surprises don’t necessarily have to be in the form of a phone call by the way, so I don’t get the email that says “But Joe, I only sell digital stuff, I’m not a marketing teacher!”.

Initiating business this way  isn’t the “norm” unfortunately, hence the inspiration for this post.

Now it’s time to “move the free line”…

Moving The Free Line

Returning to our story…

I just picked up the phone and called Jeanette, and gave her a “blank check”, I believe my words were “Jeanette, unload all of your business frustrations, and let’s get to work!”.

  • Could I have made this a total “teaser” session? Sure.
  • Could I have limited the “scope” of the session? Yeah.  But Jeanette actually did that herself (there’s just too much to cover, and most people respect that).
  • Could I have used this phone call to “sell” a private one-on-one session to her? You bet, but I didn’t, I let this initial phone call do the “selling” for me…and Jeanette actually moved us to the next step herself after I explained what the next step was (at the end of our initial call).

So where did I move the free line?

During the whole experience in this initial call!

I didn’t just focus on only one “thing” to move that free line…by opening that initial session up to an almost unlimited scope of conversation…that very conversation actually moved the free line by itself.  In other words, I just let the conversation with her “do the driving”.

And after a 3.5 hour call, which provided Jeanette with some solid direction and gave her inspiration to continue building her online business (she was very frustrated with her first attempt)…she wanted to proceed to the next step.

And by the way, yes, using 3.5 hours of my time this day did put me “behind” on some other things…but I saw the investment of that time with Jeanette as more important than “some other things”, which is what that stuff you “get behind on” usually amounts to.

But the most important thing, was that next step was natural, almost logical, and I didn’t need to “sell” her at all…as I had already proven myself to her by offering massive value upfront.

At this point, I had earned the trust of a client, but where most business owners make a grave mistake…I didn’t.

Most business owners think this is the point where they can “let loose” and think they have developed a “lifetime relationship” with the person who decided to do business with them.

In other words, they deliver their paid product/service, might do some basic follow up on the purchase/investment…and that’s it.  Epic fail. Because contrary to what most people think, I haven’t built the kind of trust required to separate myself from other coaches out there.

The type of trust that leads to the possibility of a lifetime customer relationship starts to get built when you over deliver on your product…

Demonstrating Value And Building Trust

So Jeanette and I decided on a private session to cover some important areas of her efforts thus far, and take those to the next level (along with her business).

She invested in the session, and we conducted the agreed upon session, where she was more than satisfied with what I delivered according to our agreement.

  • She had new direction…
  • She had discovered a real niche (at first, she was attempting to create an online business that would have required her to adjust her lifestyle goals)…
  • She was ready to get started building a solid lifestyle.

And sadly, this is where most business owners leave it. Client pays, the business owner delivers as promised (sometimes), and said client goes on some buyer’s list to get sold to again and again (not good enough in today’s hyper-competitive business climate I’m afraid).

And I could have left it at that as well, in fact, Jeanette said so (that I delivered as agreed).

But I recognized an opportunity to help her again, as it didn’t seem something was totally clear to me (our session uncovered an important need).  So I offered an “extended session” on another day (no charge) to make sure Jeanette was completely and more than taken-care-of.

The main point here is…I took the initiative to make sure she was taken care of completely and more, she didn’t have to issue a ticket at some “helpless-desk” to ask for that help.

Do you have processes in place to make sure your customers are taken care of, even when they might say they are?  And before I get the email that says “Joe, how am I supposed to know what will take care of my customers?”, while you won’t ever get to perfection (I’m not), most businesses aren’t even 50% of the way there, if at all.

Research, live, and breath your market…it’s why you have to get REALLY good at one thing, instead of focusing on one million things.  Use autoresponders, systems, and people to make sure you take care of the little things, because the “little things” that you don’t think matter…matter the most to your customers.

And here’s where the lifetime relationship starts to get built…

In our extended session, Jeanette and I hemmed and hawed, went back and forth…then something important happened…

Jeanette had what I would call an epiphany.

This epiphany was totally outside of the scope of the coaching that Jeanette paid for, and was the real reason I scheduled this session…because I wanted to make things “click” for her.

And “click” it did.

Now I had built the type of trust where Jeanette likes it when I call. 🙂  It’s the beginning of a lifetime of discussions and interactions between us.

In fact I called her today, surprising her again (which she’s getting used to, and should be, but she said she doesn’t take it for granted)…and she will be building the website for the online business that we discussed by the second week of May.  I will link that site to this blog post when it’s complete.

So, the big lesson here is, yes…it takes “going the extra mile” to develop profitable relationships with clients.  But if you’re not currently going the extra mile right now…aren’t your clients worth it?

You don’t want to join the Great Online Filtering do you?

0 Thoughts on “Case Study: Moving The Free Line, And Building Lifetime Customer Relationships

  1. No I don't approach every single person asking for free info the same exact way initially (i.e. with an open-check session lasting 3.5 hours), couldn't do that and sustain business (as I mentioned in the post, I don't have a perfect system yet). But I do try to make sure I have available time to do this as much as possible (move the free line, build trust etc…)…because it's MUCH easier to build a profitable relationship with clients this way. And the “stuff” this session put me behind on was really only “stuff”, not as important as building business relationships with my clients.My main point in the post was most business owners online don't even seem to be trying to offer an upfront, value and trust building marketing effort at all…let alone something more than free, re-hashed junk. On top of that, there aren't many online business processes that I've seen where owners take the initiative (keyword: initiative) to put systems in place to “go the extra mile” and really ensure their customers are taken care of.Too much “I've got your money, I've delivered your product/service, so I'll be leaving now”. I favor the approach of over delivering whenever possible, looking for the opportunities to do just that.And sure, some potential clients do take the free info from our initial session and leave, and some don't qualify for my private coaching sessions or other services right out either (I establish that distinction upfront in different ways depending on the situation).In terms of your quote “in this case it paid off”…it actually pays off in a number of cases, because once you establish value and trust in this manner, many of the “I couldn't afford that” objections (and many others for that matter) go away…as that wasn't the REAL reason someone was saying “I couldn't afford that” anyhow. In fact, most of the time, when someone says “I can't afford it” (or offers other objections), whether you're selling a service OR a product, they are really saying “You haven't demonstrated a value specific to me that exceeds your price point”. ;)But I know I'm preaching to the choir with you specifically Nathan. Sorry, just trying to answer your question fully.Most of this can be applied to product sales as well, in fact, Frank Kern tends to follow this same pattern really well (to the tune of millions) with his Mass Control line of products.I can't say that I pioneered this concept either, it's been around for awhile, and Eben Pagen made the term “Move the Free Line” popular recently.

  2. Nathan Hangen on April 23, 2010 at 3:16 am said:

    Bold move, but it looks like in this case it paid off. Was it something in her that you saw that told you to do it or is that how you approach every situation?

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