Knowing your clients and finding out how you can solve their problems is key to building long-lasting, profitable relationships.
About 14 years ago, my family and I moved to Northwest Arkansas and purchased a home. The home had no refrigerator, which we thought could become inconvenient, so we set out to find one. We looked at quite a few and ended up buying one at one of those big box home improvement stores (hint, it was the blue one). Frankly, I’ve never found these stores to be all that different, except for the color. They are both uncomfortably huge, have much the same merchandise, and similar levels of service, so I usually just end up going to the one closest to my house.
The next day, our new refrigerator was delivered and installed as promised by two very nice fellows. They were in and out in about 15 minutes. I thanked them and thought that was that. About two hours later, I received a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I usually don’t answer those, but something told me I should pick this one up. To my surprise, it was the gentleman who sold us the refrigerator! He wanted to know how our experience was with the installation and delivery and if we had any questions or concerns. I said that everything went well, the thing was refrigerating nicely, and that the entire experience was actually almost pleasant. The next day, I received a survey in my email, which was short and to the point, and I gladly completed it. I was impressed to say the least. This huge company was taking the time to contact a customer to find out about the details of their experience. Suffice to say, since then, I’ve been a regular patron of the blue store and rarely, if ever, go to their competitor, the orange one – they never called me.
Business is all about relationships, probably even more so in professional service businesses. Assessing the customer/client experience, and those relationships, should be something that all businesses – big or small, no matter the industry – should strive to do on a regular basis. You see this more and more, as companies of every kind are looking to find out what their customers think about them. Surveys are printed out on receipts, done by phone, sent by email or text message, etc. Social media has created forums where client feedback can literally make or break a business. The fact is, if the client experience wasn’t important to companies, they would not spend the time and certainly not the money it takes to find out what their customers think and how they feel about them. The reason they do it? It can give them a competitive edge, build loyalty, highlight areas for improvement, head off potential problems, and, ultimately, help make them more money.
Keeping tabs on your clients’ experiences with your firm will not only help you build loyalty and retain valued (and valuable) clients, it will also make it more likely that those clients will refer your firm to colleagues and friends. There are few things more powerful than quality personal referrals. One of the best ways of deepening and expanding those client relationships is to make them feel that they are always top of mind, that you truly value them, and that you want to be their trusted partner and resource. Your clients are people, and people feel valued when they are asked their opinion about something and believe it will be listened to and acted upon. A great way to do this is to regularly solicit feedback from your clients. It’s the only way you can really find out what they need, how they feel, what they expect from you, how your firm is perceived externally, what makes your firm different, and which areas your firm can improve upon to better serve your clients in a highly competitive environment. You may think you know where you stand with your clients, and sometimes they’ll tell you based on the type of relationship they have with certain people in your firm. However, many will not tell you until they are asked, and they may have a lot to say. Very often respondents to our client surveys (our clients’ clients) will tell us that they commend our client for going through the process, as it indicates that our client is constantly trying to improve, and they feel that their feedback is valued, strengthening that relationship.
Client feedback can be very revealing and can also raise eyebrows from time to time. Occasionally, in our experience, we will see significant differences in terms of what our clients see as internal strengths, and how their clients perceive those “strengths.” For example, some firms may feel that they are very responsive and communicate well, but their clients may see things differently. This type of information should definitely raise at least a “yellow flag.”
At Zweig Group, our Client Perception Studies are an integral component of our overall strategic planning process. Our strategy clients appreciate and value the feedback they receive, positive or negative, and that feedback plays a big part in determining the future goals and direction of their firms. Zweig Group now offers our Client Perception Studies and analysis as a stand-alone service. We will work with you to customize a questionnaire, solicit the information you want by asking the right questions in the right way, conduct the survey as you see fit, and analyze and curate the findings for you in a usable format. The information you receive may validate what you already know, or it may alert you to issues that you weren’t aware of, so you can address them before they become big problems, and the process itself will help to reinforce your all-important client relationships and enhance the client experience.
Some firms conduct their own client surveys or have other ways of soliciting client feedback. But sometimes, and I speak from experience, people are more likely to open up and speak a little more freely to a third party, especially if their feedback isn’t all that positive (which is some of the most valuable feedback you can get). I’ve had some very long and detailed (and enjoyable) conversations with our clients’ clients which have revealed issues that the survey questions alone did not. Also, client surveys can be quite time consuming for a company and take staff away from more pressing matters, such as working on projects and growing the business. A third-party survey may also add some validity to the process. Plus, once you have the data, what do you do with it? We can help you curate and analyze the data so you can actually do something with it and use it as part of your strategic plan.
Knowing your client and finding out how you can solve their problems is key to building long lasting, profitable relationships. We can help you get to know them better.
Bill Fox is a strategic planning advisor with Zweig Group. Contact him at email@example.com.
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