What Do Your Clients Really Think About You?

You can't slap a "How’s my driving?" sticker on your company's bumper—so you need to find better ways to gauge where you stand with clients.

Every business leader knows that success is built upon excellent client relationships. So why do so many businesses devote far more resources to winning new business than to nurturing the clients they’ve already won? Leading companies are just now embracing the considerable upsell and cross-sell opportunities within their existing client base. Needless to say, it’s about time.

IBM recently published its most recent C-level research study, based on interviews with more than 1,700 chief executive officers and leaders across the globe. This study indicated that over 70 percent of CEOs seek a better understanding of individual customer needs. Two of their biggest challenges are learning how to engage with clients as individuals and gaining the insight to be able to do so.

CEOs are putting big money toward better understanding their clients in order to gain profitability. Knowing the strength of each individual client relationship is critical. In fact, our research has shown that account owners tend to dramatically overestimate the quality of their weakest relationships and underestimate the quality of their best ones.

Put simply, companies aren’t asking enough from their best clients, and their weakest clients could be at risk of defecting. Both situations lead to lost revenue.

Growing companies can gain a huge competitive advantage simply by getting a more accurate view of their current clients. Here are four tips to do just that.

Make an effort to ask.

The old-fashioned "How are we doing?" at the bottom of a receipt or "How’s my driving?" painted on the rear of a semi are perhaps the most visible examples of businesses soliciting feedback. It’s just as important at the B2B level.

If you’re serious about improving your business, then implementing surveys or a regular feedback system is a surefire way to stay in close contact with your clients’ wants and needs, which are likely to change over time. That means ditching the annual form survey and replacing it with something more individualized.

Assess what they’re saying.

You and your significant other quarrel over a small, recurring issue. Thirty minutes later, you ask how he/she is doing and you’re met with the word: "Fine." Experience tells you that things are anything but "fine." In fact, you know that the word "fine" is code for "Everything is not fine, but I really don’t want to talk about it."

The same goes for business. If your clients are shutting you down by insisting everything is "fine," without offering context or explanation, it probably means there’s an issue, but they simply don’t want to fight that battle today. Letting an issue fester isn’t the right solution in the long term.

Instead, work to get to know your clients on an individual level so you can anticipate future challenges. Be prepared to drop everything when they need your help, and better yet, offer your services before they ask.

Determine their level of engagement.

Is your client actively invested in the relationship? Are they involved in generating new ideas with your team? Relationships are a two-way street, and if the client isn’t engaged, find ways for them to invest in the relationship.

Give your client their preferred degree of ownership in new projects or initiatives, and recognize them when the team is successful.

Get the first call.

Suppose one of your clients is pursuing a new line of business. Are you the first person they call? If so, you have the ability to add value from the beginning, instead of being looped in later to simply execute.

Receiving the first call is an indicator that your client sees you and your team as the sole, valued partner and most important resource, putting you one step closer to keeping and growing their business. The next time your client needs something, you can bet they’ll remember when you went above and beyond.

Tom Cates is president of The Brookeside Group, a Boston-based consulting agency focused on helping companies build profitable business relationships. Reach Tom at info@Brookeside.com.

[Image: Flickr user Miuenski Miuenski]

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  • Ara ohanian

    As the CEO of a successful global technology company I use two ways to understand what our clients think about us: one quantitative, the other qualitative.  In the software game, numbers make quant answers easy – for example, renewal rates.  And I’m delighted to say that we have a renewal rate well above the industry standard – we lose almost no customers year on year. Qualitative is more difficult and takes effort but provides a depth of understanding that cannot be replicated in any other way. I talk to my customers, As a CEO, I have two main tasks. One is to understand my employees and give them the tools to flourish, the other is to do the same for my customers.  No evaluation form or telephone survey can replace the deep understanding of customers needs that you get when you talk to them. Which is why I consider my weekly conversations with my customers totally sacrosanct.