What I love most about my job is the interactions I have with clients. Working within a wide range of industries, I have the opportunity to interact with business owners who have very diverse backgrounds and experiences, and it always sharpens and challenges me. Maintaining our relationships with clients is one of the most important aspects of our work and if that’s not the case for you, I’d encourage you to reconsider. Your clients have a unique perspective about your business and their insight can positively impact your business.
Today we will consider four ways to better understand your clients, which should in turn produce a higher level of customer service, improve retention rates, and grow your business. Though these concepts primarily focus on service industries, many of them will still apply to retail industries.
#1: Understand your company before you try to understand your clients
Before you can begin to try and understand your clients you must first have a deep understanding of your own business. The tried and true secret shopper model is a great place to start – it will offer a new perspective on the various aspects of your business and allow you to identify and evaluate every touch your team has with clients. Experiencing your business as a client does will quickly reveal both strengths and weaknesses.
When going through this simulation it’s best to start from the very beginning – a Google search for your services and a phone call into your office. On your search, evaluate where your company ranks on key searches and which of your competitors rank ahead of you. This is a good opportunity to evaluate your competition’s online presence as well – check their ranking, the appearance and functionality of their website, and their content. This is a valuable exercise because it’s one that your potential client is certainly doing.
Most business owners believe that if they can just secure an appointment with a potential client, their team and services will present well and they will have a great shot at the account, so evaluate yourself on that first barrier – getting them in the door.
Then walk through every step of the process with your team. It will be tempting to skip steps, but include everything – follow-up process on leads, client intake paperwork, communication with team members, processes and procedures for completing projects, client updates, and wrap-up steps. You can also have a colleague discreetly walk through the steps and provide you with an evaluation.
This can take time, especially if you have multiple services, but it is well worth the work. Understanding yourself provides you a glimpse into what a lead and client experiences when they interact and do business with you. Once you get in the habit of thinking like your clients do, you’re ready to better identify who your actual clients are.
#2: Use data to identify who your clients are and what they do
If you have been in business for even a year or two, you have valuable information that can help you better understand your clients. The first place to start is your client list – print this out, grab a pen and highlighter, lock yourself in a room, and start studying! There is a wealth of information here. As you begin to dig into the list, you’ll start to identify trends and consistent attributes of your clients such as industries, spending habits, and geographical markets. If you are tracking information on client acquisition, you’ll also start noting some common referral streams.
I can’t begin to tell you how valuable this information is as you prepare to both better understand your current clients and identify new leads. You will likely find that there are a few industries that most of your clients are grouped into and you can begin to cater particular products, services, and packages to these industries and start directing your marketing efforts and budgets toward them.
Once you have studied your data and formed notes, you can begin working on a Target Market Evaluation, which will dive deeper into the psychographics and demographics of your primary markets. This information should be one of the primary data points for your marketing and advertising efforts.
#3: Gather as much information as you can from your clients
Your clients experience your business in a unique way and though we encourage you to replicate it as closely as possible (see #1), it will never provide as much insight as actually speaking with your clients about their experience with your services and your team. Though business owners often receive feedback from clients, both positive and negative, it’s less common that we actually record that information and use it to improve our services.
A couple great ways to use client feedback to improve your services is by creating a post-project worksheet for your team to complete and a post-project survey for your client to complete. A post-project worksheet allows your team to evaluate a completed a project by discussing the highlights, aspects that slowed or sped up the project, comments from the client, and what was learned from the project that can improve future projects of a similar scope. This is a short, 5-minute evaluation that can be saved in a file.
A post-project survey is a simple web form that you email to clients after a service has been completed. The survey should include general questions about customer service and expectations, questions about the service you performed, and provide an area to submit general feedback and leave a testimonial (which can be used for marketing purposes).
Once you have gathered a collection of worksheets and surveys, you’ll have a valuable resource that has been generated by your client. You will also be able to group your feedback by industry, which can offer insight into how your different subsets of clients perceive and experience your company.
#4: Speak with your team
Last, and definitely not least, communicate with your team regularly. As companies grow and business owners begin to delegate, much of the feedback that will help you better understand your clients resides with your team, so it’s important to regularly discuss your clients together as a team – our team meets weekly.
If your team is trained to both seek and value client feedback, they will have great insight into what can be done to improve the customer experience. Your team will also begin to identify industries that you work well in and new industries you should explore.
To effectively gather information from your team, you must create a trusting environment that makes them feel comfortable sharing client feedback, even if it speaks to their personal performance.
Understanding your clients allows you to better serve your clients, improve your business operations, and grow your business. The great thing is you already have most of the information available – you just have to commit to studying it. Your clients are your absolute best source of information, and with a little prodding, they will be more than willing to let you know how you’re doing.