Engage Your Clients In A Winning Way
In the 25 years I've been working with companies as a business performance improvement expert I've discovered a highly successful formula that can help any business succeed. Companies that provide a great experience to their customers shine. Companies that carefully engineer that experience make money. To do this, it comes down to three steps. If you follow these steps you can engineer a great experience for your clients, and they will love you for it. These principles apply to any company that engages clients with a service, whether your company is a consulting firm or a mechanical repair service company, regardless of whether you work Business-to-Business (B2B) or Business to Consumer (B2C). Here is the simple formula that makes it work:
- Set Expectations
- Go Do it
- Confirm You Met Their Expectations
Before your service person or consultant arrives, the customer has a predetermined expectation. It’s your job to find out what that expectation is. Often, expectations need to be adjusted. Occasionally this is a large task, however, most of the time, you can easily adjust the customer’s expectations to match something you can deliver. In almost all cases, adjusting expectations is needed. Aligning the customer’s expectations to your deliverables creates synergy and sets you up for a successful interaction. Not doing so leaves you open to miscommunication and potential catastrophe.
Begin by discussing why you are there and what you are asked to do. During this conversation, you’ll need to ask them a simple, but important question; "How involved would you like to be?" The answer is critical for you to understand how the customer wants you to work with him or her. It allows you to understand what kind of person the customer is so you can provide them with the best possible experience.
If the customer wants to be very involved, this means your customer is a detail-oriented person. This is your clue to give them answers to their question with more details. You don’t necessarily need to give them the entire repair manual or complete task list, but you may need to outline the key steps in your process. It's also good to give them an idea of the time or resources needed and an estimated finish time.
If your client doesn't wish to be very involved, that indicates they are not looking for a high level of explanation. Keep your answers and information brief. For example, share the expected finish time but not necessarily every single task step. The customer who doesn’t want to be bothered by details will not want volumes of information, so skip the details. Just be brief and let them ask more questions if they want more.
If a non-detail oriented customer asks for more information, be specific and explain, in a few high level steps, what you are going to do. Feel free to share the cautions you may give or precautions you may take, but let them determine how much nitty gritty detail they really want. Since every customer is different, the key is to determine, up front, how much detail the customer wants to hear. Then use your best judgment of the level of detail. Do this at the beginning of the conversation, and then adjust your behavior to give them only the right amount details they are interested in. It will save time and irritation as you move through the project.
Be sure to invite their questions of concern about what you are about to do. Once you feel the customer has a good understanding, with the level of detail you think is right for them, you’ll need to confirm that they really do understand with some simple questions.
The most important points to confirm are precautions, tasks, and the finish time. Simply asking questions like “Is this okay with you”” or “Do you have any concerns?” as you discuss the project should give you a good idea if they are truly understanding what you're going to do or not. At times it is useful to be very specific such as “is this finish time okay with you?” or “Are you comfortable with these precautions?” These questions are important to ask because some customers may have a concern, but don’t want to bring them up. You need to prevent that situation from happening by asking them directly, but professionally to confirm they understand what you are going to do.
This enables you to build a personal synergy with the customer. In the course of building this synergy, you are also exhibiting good professional leadership, respect, trust and care for the customer.
Go Do It
Once you set solid expectations the service person or consultant should deliver well on the negotiated expectations. It's important to be done on time as promised. It also means meeting the quality of work standards promised to the customer and set by the company. The goal is to meet or exceed the customer’s expectations, not just so enough to get by.
Standards may vary depending on your industry, your management’s commitment to the customer and your company values. Your company should have standards in place for your service staff to meet. If you don’t have such standards, then you should think about creating them right away. A standard could be something like leaving a clean work site upon departure, or being done in a predetermined amount of time. Completing a task so a second visit is not required is another good standard to implement. Quality standards are useful too. You may strive to complete work so customers are delighted, or to provide work free of defects for a predetermined period of time. Even something as simple as ensuring the customer is in a state of complete working order when you leave is a standard to strive for.
Your goal is to meet or exceed your customer's expectation. The best way to do that is to first set an expectation you can meet. Then work hard to go beyond that by focusing on the standards you set as goals. When you exceed the customer’s expectations your customer will be pleased and they will come back.
As you improve your processes and get better at executing them, also consider revising your existing company standards to reflect your capabilities. This helps you keep your return customers pleasantly pleased on your next visit.
CONFIRM YOU MET THEIR EXPECTATIONS
Once you are done with the work you want to check in with the customer to make sure you really did meet or exceed those expectations. Have your service person or consultant review the completed work and confirm the customer agrees it is satisfactory. Just because you think you've completed the work to their satisfaction doesn't always mean you have. So double check to make sure there are no loose ends that could cause buyer's remorse later.
If you’ve met their expectations, then great! You are doing things well and are on track for a great customer experience.
If you haven’t met their expectations, then you want to know right then, before you leave and think you're finished. Doing this gives you an opportunity to catch problems but it also provides you with three pieces of important information. First, it tells you if your team needs to get better at setting expectations. Second, it can show you areas where you may to need adjust your policies and procedures so you can set and meet higher expectations with regularity. Third, it tells you that you may need to spend some time adjusting the customer's expectations after not meeting them. This can be difficult but needs to be done. The alternative is to have the customer complain to others or leave you bad reviews. This is a bit like a football team fumbling the ball during a drive. Suddenly, you have to switch to defense to get the ball back. But you always want to try and get the ball back. If you don't you may lose the customer's confidence. If that happens you may lose the customer completely. Learning from your mistakes and correcting them as best and as quickly as you can actually lead to a stronger customer in the long run.
For a small company, a brief exit interview with the customer is often enough to give you the information you need. You may want to have a prepared checklist to review with the customer to review specific points together and have them sign off on the work. It's always good to get comments from the customer so you are clear about their opinions and experience. This information can be gold in your quest to find new ways to satisfy their needs.
For a medium to large company, this exit interview process may be done differently. While a service person or consultant could perform the same exit interview within a smaller company, sometimes it’s better to call the customer a short time after the work is completed. If you have someone in the company who can follow up with a telephone exit interview you can gather important insights into what the customer's experience was and whether they would be likely to use your company again.
Online reviews are also a low cost, high value way to get feedback from the customer. All companies regardless of size can easily and inexpensively take advantage of this technology. Be warned, studies show response rates may go down if reviews are done without personal assistance so it is probably a good idea for someone to proactively reach out after an appointment or project. Your analysis of these responses is of great value. They should be tracked and reviewed regularly. The more specific your questions are, the more valuable your answers will be.
Customers may tell you about an issue without prompting, but many customers do not. The customers who choose to be silent here are often harboring negative feelings unnecessarily. This could prompt a bad online review or a negative word of mouth referral. That can be costly. Negative opinions often spread faster than positive ones. To ensure you're protecting your reputation, and your future business, it’s important to have that simple exit conversation with your customer as an ounce of prevention.
Eric Byrd, a business partner of Prize Performance LLC, works with our clients to identify and implement this type of formula to increase profitability from existing clients.
“Why spend more marketing dollars on acquiring new customers when you can easily get more profitable sales from the customers you already have?” – Eric Byrd, Sales Expert, Prize Performance LLC
- Talk about what you are there to do
- Find out the level of detail the customer wants
- Judge and give the appropriate details
- Negotiate expectations
- Confirm with engaging questions
Go Do it
- Deliver on the expectations you set
- Meet or exceed your customer’s expectations
- Meet your company quality standards
- Set company quality standards if you don’t have any
Confirm You Met Their Expectations
- On completion of service, or later, confirm expectations were met
- Do this in person or with an online survey
- Record and analyze all responses
- Make corrections to expectations or standards as needed
I invite you to contact me if you have questions!
Rodger Stephens, CPA, CGMA
Prize Performance LLC is a consulting firm specializing in accelerating business performance for small to medium sized businesses. Contact Prize Performance LLC today to take your business to new places!