Ah, yes! It would be much easier if we could read the minds of our small business clients. Short of a crystal ball, small business owners need to develop other methods to understand the needs of their clients in order to deliver what clients want…and expect.
Client needs, like the marketplace, are continually evolving. Identifying client needs and understanding them is not always easy. When clients needs and expectations are not being heard, understood, and met, the resulting client dissatisfaction is never pretty.
Meeting Client Needs is Never an Accident
There are numerous survey tools available to help you take the pulse of your clients. However, the best technique for understanding your client’s needs is to go directly to the client.
Speaking directly and frequently to your client, particularly at the start of the relationship, goes a long way. It creates transparency and builds trust. When an unmet need occurs, your client is more likely to come to you rather than go to 10 colleagues.
1. Listen. Listening is not the same as hearing. In fact, many people who think they are great listeners are really just waiting for their turn to talk.
The ability to be an active listener is also why multitasking, such as checking email while on the phone with a client is never good. With attention divided, subtle clues into the clients unspoken needs are missed.
In order to truly meet your client’s business expectations and personal expectations, listen to what they are saying and for what they are not saying.
Do you think you’re a good listener? Download the Self-Test for Your Listening Potential by Dr. Lee Smith.
2. Ask questions. Never assume you know what the client is thinking. Direct questions help you understand the expectations of your clients, as well as their perceptions of your delivery.
Consider these options:
- What is your vision of the outcome?
- What are you expectations related to the project?
- What are your expectations of our company?
If the client has expectations that your company is unable or incapable of meeting, this is a good time to communicate what your company can promise. You can come to a mutual agreement to avoid client dissatisfaction from inaccurate perceptions.
- How does our work together further your business goals?
Although this question may sound a bit bold, as a strategic service provider, your understanding of the bigger picture allows you to better meet the needs of your clients. Plus, if your client doesn’t want you to know, trust me…they won’t tell you.
As the work with your client continues, don’t assume the needs at the start of the project are the same as their needs mid-way through the assignment. Check in periodically to make sure you’re on the same page.
- When our work began, you mentioned X was your desired outcome. What, if anything, has changed?
- What adjustments in our fill-in-the-blank (e.g., pace, timelines, communication, feedback system, etc.) would ensure your needs are met?
Don’t be afraid of the questions – or the answers. It’s not just about improving your client’s experience; it’s about the perception your client has of whether or not you are meeting their needs.
3. Be consistent. Whatever you establish as your client service experience standards, delivery them unwaveringly. With so many choices available in today’s marketing, ensuring first-time client needs are met safeguards their loyalty. Loyal clients become life-long clients. Life-long clients are the ideal source of referrals.
It’s really the perfect win-win.