Question: We have been struggling on the big accounts — not understanding their needs well enough, not profitable enough, not on time and coming in over budget sometimes. Big clients aren’t especially happy with us these days. How do I prevent this from seriously damaging our business?
Thoughts of the day: Correctly diagnosing the situation is crucial. Symptoms often show up internally as the producing company notices problems before the recipient buyer sees them. There are real dollars attached to ensuring customers are satisfied.
Make sure to follow these rules for diagnosing the situation. When clients speak, hear them out, as you listen in order to understand, not to rebut. Restate what you heard in order to verify understanding. Ask clients who don’t say much to give you feedback and reassure them that negative feedback is as welcome as positive feedback. Get to work on permanent solutions.
Sometimes the most obvious question is the one that delivers the most actionable information. Ask clients what it would take to make them happy. Just because clients ask for something, that doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea for your company. Set aside time to figure out if you can deliver what they’re asking for or not. Vend out or refer out things that you’re asked to do that don’t make sense for your company.
When your staff tells you there’s a problem with a client, pay attention. Often your people will know that something is wrong long before the client identifies an issue. Look for themes and one-offs: Is the current issue similar to other situations you’ve encountered, or is it unique? Prioritize fixing the repetitive issues. Occasionally look at the unique issues for opportunity to take the business in a new direction.
Always question the source of the problem. Did the issue crop up because of who was buying, how it was sold or the way the solution was delivered? Think through whether this client should have bought from you or whether the solution was oversold. Or, was there a problem delivering something your company produces regularly and should have done a better job of delivering this time.
When looking to expand, remember to sell new products to existing customers. You can trade on a long-standing positive relationship. Existing customers who know and respect the work of your company are more likely to cut you a break if things don’t go well. On the other hand, existing customers may get tired of the same old product and look for new innovations. Keep the relationship fresh with additional offers that will help to keep that client coming back for more.
Use existing products to lure in new groups of clients. Figure out who else might want what your company has to offer. Start off new clients with a strong relationship because you’re offering a product or service that’s well tested and proven.
One researcher, looking at a Fortune 100 company, equated a 1 percent increase in satisfaction to $13 million in increased service contracts. That’s powerful. While your numbers might be smaller, it’s important that everyone in your company understands the link between satisfied clients and continued revenue flow to pay the bills, including everyone’s salary and benefits.
When looking to ensure customer satisfaction, look for consistent holes. Decide if it’s due to a lack of management and oversight, lack of proper planning as to how work will be handled or lack of production skill, quality materials and deliverability. Tackle the problems now, rather than avoiding them, by forming a team of people to work on diagnosing and solving the problems at hand. Make satisfying customers everyone’s job.
Keep in mind that the bigger the client, the bigger the opportunity and the bigger the risk if things don’t go well. Big clients can help your company grow as long as their needs and yours are well-aligned. Make sure the clients you’re struggling with aren’t predators looking to pick apart your company for all it’s worth before moving on to do it to someone else. Instead, look for big clients you can partner and align with to help you and them succeed because of mutual interest and goodwill.
Looking for a good book? Try “Managing Customer Relationships: A Strategic Framework” by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers.
Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., strategyleaders.com, a business-consulting firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurial firms grow. She can be reached by phone at 877-238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi? Send it via email to AskAndi@strategyleaders. Visit AskAndi.com for an entire library of Ask Andi articles.