The sign on the side door of my doctor’s office says Private Entrance. You have seen this, I’m sure. It is the door for your physician to come and go in a clandestine manner. Is the doctor the only one allowed through that door? Not usually. Employees, family and special guests are allowed through the door marked Private Entrance.
What would happen if your clients felt like they had a private entrance door to you, their contractor of choice? Of what value to your business would it be if every client you had felt like you were his or her partner? The notion of creating customer partnerships may be way out of the normal way of thinking. But just imagine for a moment if your physician allowed ‘anytime access’ through his private entrance door for you.
Seeing clients as partners rather than just customers or buyers of your service is an invaluable way of doing business. It is more economically rewarding. Mistakes or challenges in the partnership are more forgiving and the long-term relationship stays in tact. How do you create and maintain customer partnerships?
A Matter of Attitude
The first step is to adopt the right attitude. Totally giving of yourself, your time, your energy and your assets is the foundation for creating a client partnership. Your emphasis will be on fairness rather than equality. Compare it to a close friendship or well-adjusted marriage. There is plenty of give and more give before there is much taking. The “Private Entrance” door means total access to you and to your talent is required. And of course, egos are left out in the hallway. Now, I know the reality is you cannot be everywhere at once. Nor can you be everything to all of your clients. However, if they perceive that you are really trying to be available to them, the psychological impact is tremendous. Use all of the modern tools available to be accessible to your client partners. Voice mail messages can be updated daily. Give a brief overview of your daily schedule on the voice mail message, noting what times you may be available or at what time you will return calls. Return your calls at that time. Send an e-mail note acknowledging conversations with your client partners. Allow them to have your cell phone number, your pager number, your e-mail address or any other way to have access to you. Designate a person in your office to handle these calls if you need to. Let your client partner know exactly how to get in contact with you.
Now, some of you are saying, “They will never leave me alone to get anything done.” Not necessarily so. As in any respectful partnership, certain rules are put into place early on. Pre-determine when you will return calls and when you will have meetings with your client partner. Forthright conversations concerning these issues will set the partnership on the right course. I have known clients to greatly appreciate when I return their call just to say that I will talk to them later when I have more time to devote exclusively to them. They seem to appreciate the candor. This sort of courtesy pays big dividends. It is all a matter of attitude.
Establish Mutual Goals
Knowing the ultimate outcome of the partnership is essential to building a rewarding partnership. When two people have a shared vision, the details of how to attain that vision seem to fall into place. In the very early stages of the partnership, learn exactly what the client wants. What is his or her ultimate goal in the project? Is it more space for the family? Must the project fit into an exact budget or is there a little latitude for upgrades? Are there time constraints? The finished product will satisfy some emotion for your client partner. Learn your customer’s aims and goals. Do not hesitate to ask specifically what they have in mind?
Now it is your turn. You also have goals. Obviously, there is a certain profit margin to be met. Stating out front what is included in your scope of work and what would be considered extra costs will reduce future tension. You also want to make your visions clear about what you consider to be a successful project. Convey to them the importance of time and budget for you as well. Today’s client is very sophisticated. They understand costs and scheduling constraints more than we give them credit for sometimes.
After these discussions, determine the commonalties. Create a concise and memorable statement that reflects your mutual goals. The ultimate benefit of shared goals is that misunderstandings are reduced and each of you feels like the other’s partner.
See Complaints as Gifts
A complaint can be turned into the gift of a learning opportunity. Challenges can be converted into an occasion to offer creative solutions. I believe, in reality, clients do not expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to care enough to improve and to manage their concerns properly. Address the issue immediately, identify the challenge, understand the circumstances and know all of the parties involved. This process alone can reduce the stress of your client. They learn that you are genuinely interested and it is the foundation for setting up a solution.
Next, create a plan, or several plans, for the remedy. In all cases, get joint agreement on the solution and continue to communicate as it progresses. By all means, follow up with your client partner by making sure that the solution is satisfactory and it meets the desired project outcomes for both of you. There is one more thing. If you have a quite client, consider that a dangerous thing. A quiet client is either not being candid or not being contacted. He or she may be stewing about something. Some people may not complain to you, for a variety of reasons. However, they will tell their friends and associates at the drop of a hat. Do whatever it takes to get honest communication out of your client partner.
The bottom line is client fulfillment is a total commitment. The above format will give you a huge edge with your business. Oh, and about my doctor’s Private Entrance door, I suppose some day I will be allowed access through the private entrance. Until then, I will just be another patient, another customer.
Until we have the honor to meet in person, remember…”Success is YOUR choice, choose well.