In the seemingly endless rush of running a business, it is sometimes unnervingly easy to forget the most crucial element to the success of your business: the client. Major rebrandings or renovations, looming bills, staying ahead of the competition, that one light switch that just won’t work in the bathroom–who has time to think about the client in this onslaught of responsibilities?? Though it might sound impossibly scary, it pays big to take a break and think about the people behind the revenue you bring in every year. Who are they? What do they want? Are they happy? What do they thinkof you?
Consider this: like it or not, clients are less trusting and more skeptical than they used to be. The internet and social media make it laughably easy for a potential customer to make up their mind about a business before they even walk through the door. Ease of research also makes clients less loyal—search engines will dangle tempting alternatives in front of a client’s nose if they search for a service just once online. At the same time, consumers have more power than ever before. Public opinion drives consumers toward or away from businesses en masse, so a great experience had by one person can result in a thousand new customers for a single business (as well as the unfortunate opposite).
Does all this make you want to rush to your nearest device and post a dozen status updates about why clients should choose your business? Hold the phone–information overload can turn a client off quicker than that busted light switch. What you first need to do is listen.
Pretend you are one of your clients. What does your business look like from the outside? To a newcomer? Why would or wouldn’t this client recommend your business to a friend or family member? What would make them choose a competitor over you, and vice versa? Would youpatronize your business? Why or why not? Be honest. If you get stuck on this exercise, ask an employee or someone close to your business to put in their two cents.
With their knowledge and permission, follow a client through their entire experience with your business. As the big cheese, you may feel far removed from the minutia of the user experience. Watch right alongside them (either remotely or in person) as they access your website, use your contact forms, schedule appointments, talk to your staff, wait to be served, and offer their impressions (some of these steps may not apply to your business, but feel free to amend the process). You cannot hope to best serve your clients if you do not understand what they experience in using your services.
Follow up after even the most standard of client experiences. Did they find what they were looking for when they stopped in the other day? Did they feel you or your staff knew the business well enough to answer all their questions? Do they think you could improve anywhere? Some clients find these follow-up surveys tedious or invasive, but the clients who have something to communicate to you will make sure you hear them.
Create online communities where clients can talk to each other. Social media pages work great for this, as platforms where participants can communicate directly with marketing managers and each other (and sometimes the head honcho themselves!). You may not always like what they have to say, but what are customer complaints if not valuable growth opportunities? Just remember to be polite and open to ideas when responding, especially on public platforms.
When in doubt, ASK. There’s no shame in asking clients directly what they want to see from you–in fact, clients have great respect for and confidence in businesses that reveal the real people behind the production.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a business owner who has all the answers, and more than a few who have thrown up their hands in bewilderment and cried, “But what do they want???” Remember that understanding your clients is all about putting yourself in their shoes. Listen and look not only for the things you want to hear and see, but for the things that might be uncomfortable to acknowledge. Talk withclients, not at them, and make yourself available for a conversation. And keep your eyes and ears open–insight can come from places you least expect.