By Andrew Sobel, Big4 Guest Blogger
Many executives tell me, “Of course we listen to our clients—we see them every week!” But those day-to-day interactions, while important, do not yield the kinds of in-depth information and feedback you need about your clients’ evolving needs and their perceptions of your relationship.
Here are eight ways you can start listening more systematically and deeply to your clients:
- Listening posts. Every single interaction that a client has with you and your organization is an opportunity to capture important information about them. Listening doesn’t just take place during your own meetings with clients but also when they interact with your personal assistant, your reception desk, your most junior associates, and so on. Are you taking advantage of these interactions to create a great client experience and learn more about clients’ needs and interests?
- Account reviews. Hold an annual or semi-annual client account review with the client to gain feedback on the relationship and their experience in working with your organization.
- Independent reviews. Have an independent executive from your company, or a neutral third-party, speak with your client to get their candid views on your performance.
- Leadership summits. Have a member of your organization’s senior leadership meet with the client’s CEO, or other appropriate senior-level executive, to discuss their overall strategy and goals and how you can support them in achieving their aspirations.
- Market research. Periodically, use market research to gain a snapshot of the client’s needs, perspectives, and views of both you and the competition. This kind of survey–which may solicit client perceptions of your service levels, innovation, quality, etc–doesn’t need to be done every year.
- The ultimate question. Consider asking clients the “ultimate question”—that is, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how enthusiastically would you recommend us to a friend or colleague?” (This was developed by Fred Reichheld at Bain & Company). Remember, only ratings of 9 and 10 truly count—only these clients will spread positive word of mouth about you and your company (ratings of 1-6 will indicate “detractors” and 7s and 8s are “neutral”—they will neither talk positively nor negatively about you).
- Frequent communications. Make it easy for clients to tell you how they feel about your relationship by seeing them often and always reacting positively when they have a concern or frustration. A vocal complaint is a gift. The alternative is that a client simply votes with their feet and leaves without every telling you the real reason why they are dissatisfied.
- Good questions. Hold more informal conversations with your client to access their latent needs and frustrations. Gain insights into how you can add more value through questions about their business, not by asking “How can we add more value?” (a question clients can rarely answer). For example:
- “What is developing into a critical issue for you in the future?”
- “What part of this initiative is moving along the slowest or frustrating you the most?”
- “What issues are consuming more of your time than you had anticipated?”
- “What do you wish you could do better or faster for your own customers?”
- “When and if you move to a new role, what would you like your legacy to be for this business?”
Client listening, in short, should be multi-level, systematic, and involve everyone in your organization.
What has been helpful to you in getting meaningful client feedback? Leave a comment, below.
Anyone who buys a copy of my new book, Power Relationships, can download the free 90-page Planning Guide I’ve prepared at Power Relationships Planning Guide
I help companies and individuals develop winning marketplace strategies and build clients for life. My bestselling books include Power Relationships, Power Questions, All for One, and Clients for Life. I spent 14 years at Gemini Consulting, where I was a Senior Vice President and the Chief Executive of Gemini’s Italian subsidiary. For the last 17 years I’ve headed my own consulting firm, Andrew Sobel Advisors.
I’d like to hear from you. Contact me at www.andrewsobel.com.