The hard truths

October 22, 2011

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How do you get clients to tell you the tough truth?

One of the things I loved about playing chauffeur to my daughter when she was younger were the conversations we’d have in the car.  There’s something to be said about the implied “safety” of not looking the other person in the eyes when dealing with a difficult topic.

I think many couples will attest to how sometimes lying in bed in the dark can inspire one of them to raise an issue that for some reason felt more uncomfortable on the couch or over dinner.

The truth is… the truth is hard.  Even if you candy coat it, sometimes what you have to say is going to upset the other person.  And so you have to decide if you’re going to speak it anyway.

That’s not just true in our personal relationships.  It’s true in business as well. Our customers probably have some hard truths to tell us.  But unless they really love us — they’re not likely to muster up the courage to tell us to our face.

While that sounds great on the surface — after all who really wants to hear the bad stuff? But here’s the rub.

just like in our personal relationships — the longer something festers, the bigger a deal it becomes.  And sooner or later, it can poison a relationship.

So how do you create the “riding in the car” feel with a client?

Hire a confidante: Clients want you to know and they want to tell you.  But they don’t want to hurt your feelings and they don’t want to have an awkward conversation.  But, they will, especially if you ask them to, talk about you to someone else.

We do this sort of thing for clients all the time and never in my 25+ year career has it failed to result in some significant changes and insights.

Conduct an anonymous survey: If you allow them to vent without attaching their name to the document, they  may be more candid.  I think our clients want us to be successful and they want us to be the best

Brave it: Make a point of taking your best clients out to lunch/drinks/dinner a few times a year.  Point blank ask them — how could we be better?  You can ask it in a variety of ways — “if you could wave a magic wand and change something about us, what would you change?”

It’s our job to make it possible for our clients to tell us the hard truths.  It sure beats them telling us goodbye.


Photo courtesy of BigStock Photos


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Customer surveys: Tell them what you heard

May 20, 2011

…Close the loop on customer surveys

Last month, I wrote a post which suggested that you stop guessing what your customers were thinking and instead (dramatic pause for novel thought) you just asked them.   I offered up several different ways you could “survey” your customers from traditional surveys to secret shopping and advisory boards.

But… what I forgot to mention was this:

When you ask your customers (or employees, or vendors) for their opinion or assessments – be sure you close the loop by telling what you learned.  Let them share in the insights you gained AND tell them what you are going to do with this new knowledge.

Let’s say that one of the key pieces of feedback you got was that when your customers couldn’t get a hold of their normal account rep, they didn’t know who else they could talk to if there was a problem.

One way to handle that would be to create a contact sheet (headshot, name, title, phone number, cell phone number, e-mail, etc.) of the entire team that works on the client.  Write a letter, explaining that this was something you learned during the survey, so you’re sharing this contact sheet with them in case they were one of the people who wasn’t sure who to reach out to if there was trouble.

It doesn’t have to be fancy or formal.  A letter from your CEO with these elements would also work just great.

  • Thank you for participating in our survey if you did
  • Here were the things you loved the most (share the good news too!)
  • Here are the top 3 things we learned we could improve upon
  • Here is how we’re going to address those items
  • Again, thank you.  If you have more feedback, please feel free to call me.

You could also write a story for your newsletter or put it on your blog, website or Facebook fan page.  No matter what method — be sure you close the loop and let them know that you appreciated their time and that they were heard.

P.S.  The other plus of closing the loop is that it reinforces the message that you care about their opinion, you listen when they offer feedback and you are always trying to get even better.

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