Your first reaction to “enhancing your client relationships” may be that it’s cliché or trite; everyone is writing (or speaking) about ways to maximize your client relationships. But when we say “enhancing your client relationships,” we mean deepening them and increasing the intimacy and value that most of us haven’t quite achieved — at least not to the degree that’s possible.
This article explores how you can strengthen your client relationships by getting to know your clients more intimately. In light of our current economy, softening backlogs and the need to build pipelines, there has never been a better time to learn about your clients in a broader, and deeper, capacity.
Deepening your client relationships and gaining intimacy first requires that you are genuinely interested in what is happening in your clients’ businesses and lives — beyond the specific area in which you’re currently providing services. Since many of us have been blessed with too much business and not enough capacity in the past several years (which is no longer the issue), you may have allowed your client interplay to become surface and focused only on the transactions or services at hand.
Consider implementing a schedule of regular “check-in meetings” with your clients and become even more related to them. Take advantage of these slower summer months and schedule client lunches or other meetings where you can demonstrate a true interest in really getting to know them. In these meetings, you want to uncover their latest business goals, explore their dreams professionally and identify any new challenges they may be facing to see where you may be able to provide assistance.
To maximize your client check-in meetings, consider the following tips:
- Determine with which clients to meet. Should you meet with those who bring in the most revenue for your firm or those you like the best? Are there clients with issues or concerns or who are affected by the economy or a new regulation that you should meet with? Whichever criteria you choose, identify a few clients to start with and then develop a plan that allows you to meet with at least some of your key clients on a regular basis.
- Involve others. Conduct the first client check-in meetings yourself and then share the results with your other partners or owner to enroll them in meeting with their clients, too. Mentor your managers to do the same with clients where they are the primary contact or client owner.
- Identify someone to schedule and track your client-check in meetings. Determine who on your team can schedule the client meetings and ensure that they are happening, even when you’re busiest.
- Ask the tough questions. You want to know the truth about how you’re doing with your clients, and you may be surprised about what you can learn from your client’s open, candid feedback. But the only way to obtain this information is to ask. Consider direct questions such as: How are we doing in meeting your expectations? What are the areas where we can improve our service? What more can we do for you that we’re not already delivering?
- Prepare your questions ahead of time. Use open-ended questions as often as possible. Create a list of four or five questions that will get your client talking about their business. Open-ended questions begin with “Who, What, When, Where, Why and How” and require the client to elaborate beyond a simple “yes” or “no.” Be sure to ask broad questions about their business, not just about the services you are providing. Ask your clients about their plans for this year and next and what challenges they are currently experiencing or anticipating. One of our favorite questions for clients is, “What worries you most or keeps you up at night?”
- Follow up. Issues or problems may come up during your meeting. Don’t try to solve the problem in the meeting if it doesn’t seem prudent to do so. Instead, write down the issue and commit to following up with a clear by-when date. You may not have all the facts and don’t want to over-commit to a solution. It is critical to the success of your client meetings (and client relationships!) to follow up with any information or to resolve any identified problems by the time you specified. If you cannot do so, call your client and determine a new timeframe in which you can provide the appropriate follow-up.
- Update your partners and other client-owners. Be sure to communicate the results of your client meetings with your partners and other key client-owners. Determine what follow-up can be delegated and how issues that were identified can be resolved. Update any new client data in your appropriate databases and have your client check-in coordinator schedule the next meeting.
Deepen — and truly enhance — your client relationships by holding regular client check-in meetings. When you sincerely make the effort to get to know your clients, you will be better able to identify additional service offerings for them and ultimately make more of a difference in their lives. Schedule your client check-in appointments today!
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Jennifer Wilson is co-founder and partner of ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that specializes in helping CPA and IT firms achieve success.