How to Deliver Exceptional Client Service
What is a Client?
A “Client” is…
- a partner
- someone with whom I have an intimate relationship
- in it with me for the long haul
- someone with whom I co-invent the future
- a person in whose outcomes I have a big personal stake
- someone with whom I have an emotional bond
- someone with whom I can’t work with if trust is not paramount
- a fellow professional, like me, who wrestles with intractable problems
- the source of my reputation (for better or for worse)
- my #1 word of mouth marketer
- someone who grows with me
- someone who loses when I lose
- someone who wins when I win
Start now. Use the word Client [yes, that's intentionally with a capital "C"]. Period and forevermore. Words matter.
The Client pays the bills.
The Client says you’re reliable, trustworthy. (Or…not.)
(The above is taken from The Professional Service Firm50 by Tom Peters.)
Does that make you uncomfortable? Good! Get used to being uncomfortable. The process of identifying and finding the best ways to work with Clients can be an uncomfortable, but critical, process.
At Quicken Loans we have an ISM (or saying): “Every Client, Every Time, No Exceptions, No Excuses.”
- Clients are the reason we exist.
- Clients pay the bills.
- Clients push us to be better (and vice-versa).
- We are only as good as the Clients that push us the hardest.
- And Clients are the way we grow.
Make a Client List!
- Make a list (paper, Google doc, whatever!) of every person you are accountable to, every person who can direct the work that you do, and every person who reviews your work.
- It’s better to have more people on this list than fewer.
Examples may include your immediate “boss”, business unit leaders, executives at your company, the Clients of your company, etc.
Once complete, take a few minutes to review your list. Remember, as Tom Peters says…YOU ARE YOUR CLIENTS!
3 Reasons You Should Make a Client List
- To know who your Clients are. If you know who your Clients are, you can get down to the business of getting to know them better. More on that below…
- To think about who you really serve. Often we don’t clearly outline who it is we serve. By not doing this, we tend to get overwhelmed by all of the requests coming at us. However, once we know who our Clients are, we can then prioritize tasks and projects using the following priority order: #1: My Crew (those people who help you get things done), #2 My Clients (we know who they are by now), and #3 My Company (those people who are neither Crew, nor Clients, who ask you to do things)
- To commit to a select group of people (and ignore the rest). Ok, that might sound harsh. But if you have to decide between helping a Client solve a problem, or completing a survey for an internal team, you know what to do! It’s important to know you are already committed to your Client, and should prioritize her needs first.
Get to Know Your Clients Really Well
You are your Clients. Remember: you are as good (or as bad) as your Client list. So, for the next 7 days, put other things on the back-burner, and visit your Clients! You want to cut through the surface-level conversations you have had in the past and go DEEP with them to understand their real needs. Here’s how:
Create a Client Information System (CIS)
Your CIS could be as simple as a piece of paper about each Client in a file. Or you could use shared contacts in Outlook, or tools like Salesforce or Highrise. Whatever you decide, the key is to start collecting information about each Client!
21 Things to Record in Your Client Information System
Here are some ideas to get you started with your new CIS:
- What do you know about your Client professionally? Personally?
- What your Client’s family life like?
- Does your Client have kids? If so, what are their names and ages?
- What are some important milestones in your Client’s life?
- When does your Client get in to work? When do they leave?
- Where has your Client worked previously?
- What are your Client’s priorities at work?
- Why do they have those priorities?
- Who does your Client report to?
- How can you help make your Client look better to that person?
- How does your Client like to communicate? Email, voice mail, IM, etc.?
- Who can your Client put you in touch with that you couldn’t otherwise talk to?
- What other companies does your Client work with?
- How do they feel about those companies?
- What does your Client like to do for fun?
- How can you make your Client do their job easier?
- How can you make it more difficult for your Client (be sure to avoid that!)?
- What does your Client do really well?
- What does your Client need from you to perform?
- What are your Client’s limitations?
- How does your Client like to be kept informed?
Visit With Every Client this Week
To initiate a deep, ongoing, conversation with your Clients, you have to visit them. If you can’t visit them all physically this week, that’s fine. But, try to visit as many as you can. If that’s physically impossible, have a serious phone conversation with each one.
3 Client Conversation Templates to Use
Client Conversation Template #1 - The “Humble Servant” Approach
- How are we doing?
- Are the current projects we’re doing with you “OK” or “WOW”?
- Or, are we doing a half-ass job?
- Are we listening to your concerns?
- Do you love us, like us, or heaven forbid, dislike us?
Client Conversation Template #2 - The “No-Holds Barred” Approach
- I’m here to serve you. Period.
- I am here to do life-altering work. Period
- So…how am I doing?
Client Conversation Template #3 - The “Trusted Adviser” Approach
- How are we doing?
- Rate us…mercilessly!
- Are we pushing you?
- Are we dazzling you?
- Are we disappointing you?
13 Client Service Tips
When I first started at Quicken Loans, I found something in my inbox from Art Steiber, Director, Marketing Communications. It was a copied article called “How To Be a Near Perfect Account Exec.” Art put a note on it saying that the article was a bit dated, and focused on advertising agency account folks, but the 13 principles in it are timeless. I agree.
Here are the 13 ideas that and my perspective on how to update them for today’s business environment.
1. Take nothing for granted
Never assume that your Clients read your email, listened to your voice mail, or remembered your presentation. Treat every interaction with them as an opportunity to teach, coach, and lead them. Another tip: if someone commits to do something for you (and your Clients) by a certain date, add that to your calendar so you can ensure it happens.
2. Return Client calls within the hour
Your Clients typically feel possessive of you and your time. This is a good thing, something you can use to your advantage. Why? Clients are not trying to make your life more difficult, they are directing you toward new virtues. Leverage your voice mail system’s features, tools like Google Voice, and the Dot Connector Voicemail Tips article to use the phone to your advantage!
3. Put it in writing
Every Client meeting should be documented in writing within 24 hours. Let me say that again: EVERY Client meeting. Now, I know what you are thinking: “NO WAY! I have ZERO time for that.” Make the time. It shows the Client how much you care about the meeting, and it’s a great reference later on. You really only have to recap decisions made and next steps, not the actual conversation. It can be as easy as sending an email with a bullet list in it. Just do it!
4. Make no promises you can’t keep
Don’t agree to things before you know your ability to deliver. Be humble, and tell your Clients when you don’t know the answer or aren’t sure about how long something will take. That way, you won’t set you and your project team up for failure. In your Clients’ eyes, be sure you only commit yourself to things you can do. And remember, every interaction with your Client is a personal branding opportunity.
5. Keep the promises you do make
If you commit to do something, do it. If you commit to a deadline, hit it (and hit it earlier than expected whenever possible!). Your Clients are keeping a scoreboard of your performance (even if only subconsciously), so be sure you are always racking up more points by keeping your promises, no matter how big or small.
6. Check mechanicals
I once delivered an inaccurate P&L statement to one of my Clients. He called me to his office, sat me down, looked me straight in the eye, and said: “don’t EVER bring me an inaccurate report again.” A small, simple moment? For sure. But, it stuck with me for good. No matter how tight your deadline, make sure what you deliver (sales report, presentation, website, etc.) is accurate.
7. Double-check invoices
There are few things that command more attention from Clients than invoices or bills. Be sure before they ever go to a Client that they: 1) Are accurate, 2) Outline the work performed in the Client’s language, and 3) thank the Client for their business. Ensuring you can explain every charge is critical too.
8. Proofread your email
You are judged by the communications you deliver. Beyond simple spell-checking, re-read your emails before sending them. If you have a very important email, try to put it aside after a first draft to ensure you speak to the Client correctly within it. Also, be sure to check out the Dot Connector Top 3 Business Email Tips.
9. Trust your true opinions
Develop your gut instincts and trust them. Clients will ask for your opinions. Don’t sound weak by being diplomatic. Give your honest opinions with implied conviction. Don’t steamroll or bulldog your Clients, but be firm whenever you give your opinions. Don’t let a fear of being wrong hold you back. Risk normalcy.
10. Be prepared
Become offensive (vs. defensive) in your Client interactions. Stay ahead of your Clients by anticipating their needs and acting before they do. Think and plan ahead. Before a Client meeting, write a 20 list of things you might discuss or questions you might ask (See Tip #14 here). Even if you aren’t expected to present at a Client meeting, bring a 3-slide presentation anyway. Offer to share ideas, competitor strategies, and other things that will help your Clients.
11. Be prepared (again)
If you’ve created your Client Information System, then you have something to review before you meet or talk with a Client. Be sure to review recent emails, notes, projects, reports, etc. so you are well-prepared for your conversation. If your Client asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, say “let me check and get back to you shortly.” Then, “WOW” your Client with your response time.
12. Take the initiative
If you only react to your Clients, you are nothing but a glorified assistant. See point #10 above and practice being proactive. Make a determined effort to anticipate your Clients’ needs. It will help you lead them to success.
13. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
It’s critical that with your Clients and your project teams that you ask for help. Asking for help is a great way to build relationships, practice humility, and encourage others (including your Clients) to reach out to you for help too.