“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”
– Kofi Annan
Political regimes change, markets shift, technology advances, customers grow older – the only thing you know for sure is that your business has to adapt, easily and often, if you want to remain profitable. The well publicized stories of Kodak and Blackberry illustrate that even the mighty can fall – and that small business is not immune. Your favorite neighbourhood bookseller, video store, or coffee shop may have succumbed to the same fate. The difference, however, is that small businesses do not need a huge market share to survive. Many booksellers and video stores are still thriving today. Why? They have a deep understanding of what their customers value and a nimbleness that enables them to change to meet client demands.
Your clients may be happy today, but what systems and processes can you install to ensure you keep them happy in the future? Assuming you haven’t created and filled a “Mind Reader” position on your organization chart yet, you must ask your clients what they want, ask them again, and then ask them in a different way. Do it routinely, frequently and systematically, and the time investment easily pays for itself. In case you are concerned about wasting the client’s time, remember that clients (like all human beings) generally appreciate being listened to. Those who don’t will opt not to participate, which identifies exactly how important you are to them – and tells you there’s an issue that needs immediate attention.
Regular performance evaluations with your clients are a great way to find out what they think of you. Depending on your industry and the scope of work, one cleverly arranged phone call a year between your sales rep and your client may be enough to secure the business today and in the future. For larger contracts and more complex offerings, develop a deeper strategy that targets a cross-section of individuals in an organization, from senior leadership to line workers. To learn more about the do-it-yourself approach to client review meetings, see “The Account Review Meeting”.
Have Someone Else Ask Them
A third-party, unbiased client survey is a low cost way to systematize your client feedback process. Because it is outsourced, no one is ever “too busy on other work” to complete the exercise. Clients are heard and leads are generated. A good survey company will synthesize that feedback, interpret what they have learned, and provide recommendations that you can act on to improve your offerings for your customers.
But knowledge is just table stakes. Once you know, it’s time for action.
This week a client said, “It would be so depressing to learn all of this information and not have the time or the money to do anything about it.” A survey that doesn’t provide leads (which generate the cash flow to pay for improvement) or generate valuable recommendations (because of internal company constraints) would be a waste of time and money. At Bellrock, we make sure the recommendations are actionable, which we define as “within that company’s ability to take action”. We go even further with our clients, helping them implement the recommendations to ensure they extract every drop of value from their client surveys.
If you’re still wondering whether client surveys are good for your business, here’s an analogy: You are driving at night in a terrible storm. The roads are treacherous and there is no safe place to pull over. Do you stop the car where it is and hope to wait it out or do you turn on your headlights to help navigate the situation, maybe even find a safe place to regroup?
“When you know better you do better.”
– Maya Angelou