Voice of the Client - Client Relationship Management

By: Hans Muessig

No question about it: the economy stinks! As your clients’ spending declines you’ve likely cut back on training, sales, and marketing efforts; maybe even laid off staff as other firms have. But do you have a plan to retain your clients’ business or go after new clients?

This economic downturn is bringing lasting impacts on business-to-business (and consumer) buying relationships. What worked in the past to stay on top of a client relationship will not work as effectively in the future. As the economy recovers, firms risks losing clients as those clients consider taking their business to other partners they view as more capable of meeting their expectations.

And many clients tell me they are hearing from their clients more frequently. They say their clients are more demanding, more critical, and take more effort to support. The balance between price, service, and support is strained and challenging!

At Wolf we feel that law firms need to transform how they work with their clients and take advantage of the downturn to retain your client’s loyalty and increase business. Central to changing your “game” is to have a proactive plan with at least two steps:

  • First, pay closer attention to your clients, listen to them, and make sure you have their continued loyalty. Equally important, make sure that you understand their priorities and expectations and are responding appropriately and effectively; and,

  • Second, take the time now to build tighter, more robust, strategic relationships with your clients so you can collaboratively plan for the future.
These two crucial steps – and others appropriate to your client’s industry – will ensure that as their business turns around that they will continue to count on you and will return their business to you. Indeed, strengthening a relationship now during these challenging times will secure that relationship for the long-term.

(And remember, these two steps also work for gaining new clients and business!)

The single quickest way to ensure you have your client’s loyalty and continued business is to listen to them and together work on solutions, processes, etc. that are a WIN-WIN. And if the relationship is strained or threatened taking the time to work out the points of friction can start you on a path to improvement.

How do you reach out to a client – existing or new – in a meaningful, effective way; one that a client will appreciate? How do you make sure you both hear and understand one another? And how do you ensure that you are working together toward mutual success? Remember: clients not want only to be heard but also see action.

In the past businesses have used surveys (“voice of the customer”) and executive meetings to ensure that the relationship is on track. While these are constructive and important they seldom involve all the stakeholders in a relationship or cover all the priorities and expectations. At best you get pieces and small fixes, at worst you miss the big picture and have no long-term plan.

What would happen if your team sat down with the appropriate stakeholders from each of your clients to discuss the relationship, what is working, what isn’t, and where you both want to go? A couple of things:

  • First, your clients will be impressed that you are committed and willing to take the time to work with them. Remember, they want and need competent, capable, trusted advisors and partners that will help them succeed. Nothing is more important to them!

  • Second, you will learn more about each of your clients than you’ve ever known before: their priorities, their expectations of you, their long-term goals, and the projects critical to getting them there.

  • Third, together you will agree on a concrete plan to carry the relationship forward, to enable you to help inform and shape your client’s business, and to ensure you are successful too!
This is the essence of the Shared Expectations process and a service that Wolf Management offers to its clients. Think of a Shared Expectations session as a facilitated planning session where you can truly hear the “voice of the client:” both their expectations AND their agreement (and yours) to work together to exceed those expectations.

Benefits: a mutual commitment to a more secure, proactive, collaborative relationship, one where both of you are working toward the right priorities; measuring success not problems. This quickly translates into higher client loyalty, improved client satisfaction, a more profitable relationship, and increased business.

Take the next step: Take control of your client relationships in a way you've never done before and enjoy the success and appreciation of your clients! Contact us with questions or to discuss one or more potential sessions with your clients. Follow these links to learn more about Shared Expectations and to read an earlier article on Transforming Relationships; Exceeding Client Expectations.

This is the first in a regular column devoted to the challenges of managing client relationships and how a collaborative approach can change the game and lead to greater success and client satisfaction. We’re open to questions and will answer them in future columns. You can email Hans Muessig at hans@wolfmotivation.com.

Feel free to forward this to colleagues.

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