Really Tuning in to Your Clients

Jul 21, 2003

Conventional wisdom and a course in marketing will tell you that any business— especially a professional service business— must have close relationships with clients IF the firm wants to keep those clients and get as much business as possible from them. A/E and environmental firms have a long way to go in this area. We can learn from other businesses outside of our industry about how they do this. Here are a few ideas to consider: Ask the clients WHY they are doing business with you. Many firms debrief clients when they aren’t successful winning the job. But what about when you ARE successful? Why did the client hire you and your firm? What are their expectations? What would make them feel like it was a good decision to hire your firm? What would make them feel it was a bad decision to hire your firm? What could you do that would kill the relationship from their perspective? This is some good information to know and everyone who will be involved in serving this client should have it to make sure that they are doing the right thing. Really probe into the client’s experience in working with other firms in this business and find out what worked out for them and what didn’t. Tell the client you don’t want to be another statistic. Let them know that it is important for you to know this information so you don’t disappoint. And then, once you get this information and perhaps most importantly, make sure everyone working on the project is fully aware of what you learned. This last step is all too often forgotten and the lessons are not passed down to those the client is working with on a daily basis. Show every little courtesy. I was reading Norm Brodsky’s article in the July issue of Inc. magazine on a plane the other day. He makes a good point about going to visit King Hussein of Jordan as a part of a group a few years back and was impressed that the King knew he was a businessman from New York. Then, when they were done with their meeting, the King walked them to their cars. That experience got Brodsky doing the same thing ever since. But whether it’s a walk to the car, a “happy birthday call,” or congratulations for seeing the client’s daughter in the paper, the point is the same. The little courtesies can really make you stand out as being more caring than those who don’t offer them, and this can be the key to client satisfaction. Surveys are fine but personal contact is always better. The bigger your company is and the longer you have been around, the greater the benefit you’ll get from having the president, CEO, or founder make calls on clients to see how happy they are. It makes the client feel like your firm actually cares about them… a feeling they don’t necessarily get from other service providers. And if you do surveys, what about a follow up call from the boss to everyone who returns one? It would be easy to do and could very well turn into more work. Give a little something extra. It’s a shame when a big relationship is lost over something small. In the same July Inc. magazine article, Brodsky talks about having a great meal at a restaurant but being turned off when he was charged a dollar for ice with his drink and not being able to get a reasonable response to his inquiry on why. These kinds of things happen with A/E and environmental firms daily. Sometimes the nickel gets so big it hides the dime sitting behind it. If something small gets questioned or is obviously causing the client heartburn, don’t get stuck on it! Even if you lose a client, don’t give up! Clients can come back. More WILL come back if they think you really cared that they left you. Let any client who hires another firm for something you went after with them know that you are concerned and won’t let it go. Let them know you want their business back and will go the extra mile to win it again. Then do it. There are many ideas on how to give clients that extra “wow” that keeps them clients. If you have one that you’d like to share with our readers, send it on. We’d love to hear from you. Originally published 07/21/2003

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.