6 Reasons Why I Really Value Smart Customers
My friend nodded knowingly and summed it up by stating "The problem is you know too much. I like clients who don't know anything."
And there you have it.
By now it's no surprise that our clients come to us more informed than they were just a few years ago.
-- They have a higher expectation for their overall customer experience with us.
-- Our relationship with a client will often begin long before we ever have a real transaction with her and continue long after a single transaction is complete.
-- Loyalty to our brand is continually earned gradually through each interaction and contributes to the overall brand experience.
With ready access to a steady stream of information ---granted, some more reliable than others--- our clients set their expectations about our product, services and overall commitment to their day-to-day relationship with us. Meeting client expectations is no longer just an empty marketing phrase that we can casually toss around. Today we have to consistently deliver on that promise.
What Do Our Smart Informed Clients Expect From Us?
1) Smart clients expect to be treated as equal contributors throughout the relationship.
They do not want to be viewed as merely a revenue source for us. They quickly catch on to anything that sends that vibe.
It goes without saying that a genuine mutual respect is the cornerstone of any successful relationship. Beyond this basic need is the expectation of a more balanced relationship. Clients want to question and understand what they are hearing, reading and being digitally fed. We need to listen and respond with patience.
Our role is to continually educate and inform. In this new informed client dynamic, we're no longer in the role of information hoarder. By freely sharing with clear, understandable communication, we contribute to the mutual trust account that is so vital.
2) They expect us to understand their business thoroughly.
It seems only logical that informed clients expect service providers who share their long-term success mindset. Our clients are no longer satisfied with reactive services and canned solutions. We have to be continuously anticipating their needs and deliver before they ask.
How can we build this mutually valuable relationship? We can begin by listening and learning about each client's business as if his company was our own. This business knowledge goes far beyond the actual areas that we service. We need to understand their culture, vision and what drives them.
How many times have you met with a potential service provider, and he never asked the most basic "tell me about your company" question? That's a telltale indication that you're headed for a one-sided, how-much-can-we-sell-you relationship. This simple open-ended question not only begins building real trust, but it provides us with meaningful insights into the potential customer-value opportunities in front of us.
We have to be committed learners. The solution that works today is likely going to be upgraded, replaced or become obsolete in a relatively short timeframe. "We've always done it this way" is an outdated mindset that we need to leave behind. Because we have taken the deep and wide approach to understanding our clients, we can see unexpected opportunities with the ongoing knowledge we're always acquiring.
Just yesterday I was reading an email newsletter from an organization. It reminded me of a recent conversation with a client who is searching for new ways to build awareness of their niche services. While the two organizations' services are unrelated, there was an underlying thread between them that led me to a "what if" idea. Sharing this idea with our client resulted in their seeing a solution they hadn't considered before. It was such a simple way to contribute to customer loyalty with no expectation of an immediate reward for us. It's just what you do when you have a valued relationship.
3) Clients expect our employees to be continuously learning too.
Regardless of what we are delivering to our clients, it's a safe assumption that change is just around the corner. We need to create a culture of continuous learning within our own organization. Employees who are curious learners are inspired to share what they learn with the customers they engage with every day.
Learners are more likely to listen for opportunities to apply their newly-acquired knowledge in some practical way.
4) We need to be a trusted partner at the vendor table.
No matter how informed our clients become, we still have the benefit of experience and depth that they don't have.
How often have you heard a client share his frustration about the vendor who only wants to sell her product or service? Often our client isn't sure if the solution meets his needs, and he doesn't know the questions to ask. When we build the trusted relationship with our clients, they will invite us to be their advocate.
A client mentioned that she was planning to meet with a vendor to discuss some software changes her company wanted. Knowing where this was likely to wind up, I suggested that my being there might be helpful. Not only was my not so subtle self-invitation accepted, but the client took complete ownership of the suggestion. After the meeting she said "This is why you needed to be here. I didn't know to ask that question."
There is nothing more rewarding than to sit beside a client at the vendor table to ensure their interests are being met. Creating learning moments for them in the process is just an added bonus.
5) Clients want us to remain vendor neutral.
This is easier said than done when you're a channel partner for a solution being considered. When you place your client's best interests at the top of the list, the return for recommending the best possible solution wins every time.
We only recommend solutions that we actively use in our company. These vendors have to continually earn our trust not only to retain our business but also for us to represent them. This approach allows us to maintain our seat at the vendor table with our clients and creates a shared customer-first mindset.
6) We need to show our clients they made the right decision to partner with us.
Making the commitment to buy our product or service is a leap of faith. No matter how carefully researched and vetted, there is still that lingering doubt. "Am I absolutely sure this is the right decision?"
I recently was presented with a 3-year agreement and an impossibly complicated termination clause. My response was very simple. As a service provider we earn our clients' business every day. We expect the same from our business partners. We were very fortunate to have our first startup client for 22 years. That's a long time for any relationship to survive! What makes this even more significant is that we never entered into a formal agreement. For more than two decades we earned our client's trust and continued loyalty by consistently delivering more than they asked for. Think about that.
What better way to build trust than to show in every action with your client that his decision was the right one. Trust is not easy to earn but will disappear like a puff of smoke on a breezy day. Once lost, trust is seldom regained.
As I shared at the beginning of this post, I quickly came to question my decision with this service provider. Needless to say, we didn't enter into a 3 year agreement, but we did commit to working together. What quickly compounded my unease was a complete lack of response to a very clear email. "I'm concerned about this project and don't have confidence in your team's ability to deliver." What an opportunity to step up and reassure me.
Sadly, the response I received was an even bigger disappointment than expected.
I received nothing. Think about that.
Had the trust been lost? Absolutely
Do I believe I made the right decision? Absolutely not
Will I end the relationship? Already done
Why Do I Value Smart Customers?
With such a high bar for delivering the value our clients have come to demand, why do I say that I really value smart, informed clients who know too much?
For these reasons ---
1) Informed clients let me share what I know with them. What's the point in learning if it can't be freely passed along?
2) They will challenge me continuously to learn, listen, anticipate and find creative opportunities to deliver customer value.
3) Smart clients think of me as a source of neverending information and ideas. They ask me questions. Many times I don't know the answers, but I find them.
4) They remind me that my commitment to creating and encouraging a team of curious learners is what our company is built on.
5) Together we can create a relationship based on collaboration that fosters mutual value and growth.
6) Hearing "Aha, now I get it!" is a beautiful sound.