Category Archives: Client feedback

How to handle online complaints in this social media age

Last week a contact of mine, Guy Alvarez, shared a link to an article about a British Airways passenger who had paid over $1,000 on a promoted tweet telling people not to fly the airline because it lost his luggage.

How to handle online complaints in this social media age

BA’s customer service team didn’t handle the situation well so the passenger paid to get his message heard and made sure it appeared in the twitter feeds of followers of BA.

Ouch. Continue reading

LinkedIn: A powerful market research tool

by Kirsten Hodgson

Much has been written about LinkedIn as a lead identification and lead generation tool, and rightly so.

But it’s so much more than that.

It’s also a powerful research tool for those looking to develop new products or services or who wish to enter new markets.

One of my contacts, Zivana Anderson, found LinkedIn to be hugely beneficial when researching the market need for a new product for one of her clients.

After finding out the target market for the product, she used LinkedIn’s Advanced Search feature to identify those she wanted to talk to. She then sent an ‘expertise request’ to the people she wished to meet. They were all senior Heads of Department at major national and global corporations. 70% of those asked accepted her request.

They were all very generous and helpful with their time and spent much longer with her than she’d envisaged. As a result of her work, her client was able to establish the market need and had a clear line of communication with would be buyers.

Zivana’s advice to others seeking meetings with busy, senior professionals via LinkedIn:

1. Ensure your profile is complete and positions you well. It needs to lend credibility to your request and show that you are a professional.

2. When contacting the other person be really clear about what you’re doing and why, how long you want to meet for and the things you wish to find out. Be polite.

3. Don’t suggest a specific time. Say ‘at a time convenient to you’ so that you can get the person’s approval in principle.

4. Join a group that the other person belongs to so that you have the ability to email them using the free LinkedIn account.

This could be a great way to use LinkedIn if you’re looking to build profile in a particular industry sector or want to penetrate a new market. By emulating Zivana’s approach, you too could get in front of senior, hard to reach, decision makers.

Have you used LinkedIn as a research tool? How’s it helped you?

 

Does your LinkedIn profile position you to win new business?

by Kirsten Hodgson

Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan @ Freedigitalphotos.net

It's all very well having a complete LinkedIn profile BUT does it position you to win new business?

Using your LinkedIn profile to DEMONSTRATE why you are the right person for the job is critical if you are to position yourself for new business before someone has even met you.

It needs to reflect the key things that clients say they look for when selecting a lawyer or other professional services adviser. Based on interviews I have conducted with over 200 clients of professional services firms since 2009 these are:

Someone with the necessary technical competence/expertise as defined by:

  • their past experience working on similar projects/matters/cases
  • their reputation, including their ability to influence decision makers
  • their knowledge of their subject area
  • their level of professionalism.

Someone who is the right fit: 

  • at both a personal and a team level (including the wider team of consultants and other experts).

Someone who understands, or shows they are willing to learn about, the client's business: 

  • an adviser who will anticipate needs and protect the client's interests.

If this is what they look for, then think about how you can showcase this in your LinkedIn profile:

For example:

  • Including results and past work in your summary section as well as in job descriptions helps to showcase your expertise.
  • Including a short paragraph about your working style and approach helps people begin to understand how well you will fit with them and their team as do recommendations (if you are allowed to get these in your market).
  • Adding additional apps to your profile such as Projects, Google presentation, Slideshare presentation or Box.net allows you to display presentations, videos, case studies or other information relevant to your prospects (again this will help to demonstrate your expertise and/or your understanding of an industry sector).
  • Adding the Blog link app means you can display your latest blog posts within your profile, which is another great way to showcase your knowledge.
  • Including some personal information about your hobbies and interests enables people with similar interests to connect with you.
  • Regularly sharing valuable information via your network updates helps to position you and demonstrate your knowledge of your subject area and your client's industry. The latest posts appear on your profile.
  • A good headline can inform people, at a quick glance, whether you have the expertise and industry sector understanding they need and can encourage them to read further. For example, imagine a construction company that has a dispute with another company on an international project. They need an arbitrator and see an arbitrator's headline which reads 'International Arbitrator specialising in the Construction and Infrastructure sectors'. They're likely to investigate further and that person will almost certainly stand out from someone else who merely has the headline 'arbitrator and mediator'.

If you want to increase the likelihood of prospective clients requesting a meeting with you and winning new business, make sure your LinkedIn profile positions you in the best possible light. Doing so could mean the difference between a prospect contacting you to find out more and moving on to the next person.

Take a look at your LinkedIn profile. How well does it position you? 

Look out for my forthcoming book 'Lawyers: LinkedIn made easy. Learn how to grow your business using LinkedIn'. It's packed with information like this and is a step-by-step guide to leveraging LinkedIn to achieve your business development and marketing goals. It will be available by June 2012.

What other ways could professionals enhance their LinkedIn profiles to better demonstrate the key things that clients say are important to them? 

8 sure-fire ways for professionals to lose clients: Part 2

by Kirsten Hodgson

This is the second in my three-part series about the 8 most common client service mistakes lawyers, accountants, engineers and other professionals make and how to avoid these.

Last week's post dealt with the first two. This week we look at another three typical, and costly, mistakes. 

Number 3.     Hiding behind written communications

It’s often tempting to draft a news-alert or letter to clients about issues that might affect their business but by doing this you may well be missing out on great opportunities. How much more valuable would it be to your clients if you called them about the issue, briefly set out what it might mean for them, and organised to come in and talk to them about it in more detail? You could then follow up with your written summary.

I talk to clients of professional services firms time and time again who tell me that their advisers missed out on an opportunity because they sent a generic written summary about an issue that could potentially affect the client’s business AFTER their competitors had done so. Because a number of firms are adopting the same approach, it literally comes down to who can get the summary out quickest. The clients say that, had they received a phone call and a more personalized approach, the adviser would have secured the work arising from this.

Number 4.     Focusing on yourself rather than on the client

When times are quiet, attention does turn to business development. However, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to focus on your needs rather than those of your clients. The best way to ensure success is to find out about your clients’ businesses, ask them about their upcoming opportunities and challenges, find out what their current frustrations are and think about whether there are any opportunities for you and your colleagues arising from this.

Once you've done so you can offer a workshop, give some free advice (that then leads to paid work) or send your client something (such as a checklist, article or referral) that could help them. You may want to think about who else in your network your client might like to meet and provide an introduction either in person, or via LinkedIn.

Number 5.     Lack of meeting preparation / outcome identification

Given that the majority of people don’t want to fail, it’s amazing how many treat meetings with existing clients as something they can ‘wing’. Before any client meeting you need to identify the purpose and what you want to achieve as a result.

I’d recommend preparing at least three questions you would like to ask the client during the meeting and that you define your target post-meeting ‘next action step’ (e.g. set up a follow up meeting by X date, or introduce them to your colleague by X date).

The key thing is to leave each meeting with a concrete action step that’s time-bound.

I'll post the final part next week.

What's your view? 

What other common mistakes do you see professionals making when dealing with their existing clients? 

 

8 sure-fire ways for professionals to lose clients: Part 1

by Kirsten Hodgson

This is the first in a three-part series of posts looking at how lawyers, accountants, engineers and other professionals can protect and strengthen their existing client relationships by avoiding 8 common mistakes.  This post deals with the first two. 

Number 1. Lack of client interaction beyond the day-to-day

The only way you can possibly understand what’s important to your clients, how you’re performing for them, and what they’d like to see from you going forwards is to ask them. Yet many organisations either assume they know or are apprehensive about what their clients might say if asked.

One of the most valuable things you can do, in the current environment, is to conduct regular face to face relationship reviews with your clients and business partners. These should be conducted at least annually with your major clients and should then be supported by end-of-matter reviews and semi-regular catch-ups to discuss potential opportunities.

 If you’re not doing this, you can be sure that your competitors are: and they’ll be the ones who’ll benefit as they will be able to focus their efforts and their money on those things that will make the biggest difference to your clients.  This could lead to you losing work to your competitors in the medium to long term.

 There is no downside to conducting reviews, provided you have the capacity to act on the feedback and that you do so (and let your clients know what you have done). All our clients experience a greater understanding of their relationships by engaging in this process, and some of our clients reap huge rewards. By conducting relationship reviews for one of our clients, we identified six concrete opportunities that our client didn’t know about, helped them to save one major relationship, and to generate $250K in new business from a further two clients alone.

Number 2.     Over-servicing/under-servicing

One of the most common complaints we hear from our clients’ customers is that they are either being over- or under-serviced. Either they are being bombarded with information, phone calls and personal visits or they’re not hearing from their advisers/suppliers enough. The problem is compounded by the fact that what one client sees as over-servicing, another will see as under-servicing.

The only way to ensure you provide your clients with the right level of service is to understand their expectations and how they like to be communicated with and then to tailor your approach to each client accordingly. For example, some clients will want to receive email updates, while others would rather you picked up the phone or posted these on Twitter or LinkedIn; some will want you to keep in contact between work, others won't unless you are contacting them about something that might impact them/their business. Even when you're doing work for clients they will have different expectations about what they want from you, how they expect you to communicate with them and the frequency. You need to know what these are, otherwise you're setting yourself up for a fall. 

I'll post the next two mistakes professionals make next week. 

What's your view? 

What are the biggest mistakes you see professionals making with regard to their existing client relationships? 

 

 

 

 

 

Client feedback/listening exercises – tips for overcoming the 6 most common objections

 

One of the hardest things about initiating a client feedback/listening process within a professional services firm is getting buy-in from the lawyers, accountants or engineers themselves. 

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the following objections, I’d be a rich woman. Seeking client feedback about your performance is scary (and I know because I’ve done it in my business) and it’s only natural to object. However, over the past 8 years conducting literally thousands of reviews, only five people have said they don’t want to participate (that’s less than 1% of those asked). The fact is clients want to be heard. Reviews are about uncovering the good stuff as well as the not so good in order to leverage the positives and deal with the weaknesses.

I thought it would be good to set out 6 of the more common objections I've heard and some tips to overcome these: 

“We already know what our clients think about us” – the real objection is usually “I’m petrified about what they might say about me”. Mark Maraia suggests a great way to overcome this in his ‘Rainmaking made Simple’ book: Firstly find out whether the person does know what his/her clients think by asking them for the supporting evidence. If their statement turns out to be speculation and their real objection is fear then ask whether that partner’s clients are seeking customer feedback and whether they find that feedback useful. Get the partner to call one of his/her clients to ask and then follow up to find out what the client said to him/her. Use this information to build your case.

“I don’t want you to do this with my clients” – interview other clients of the firm first and then show the person how this feedback has helped other people in the firm. They soon come round especially when others tell them how useful the process is.

“My client is too busy. I don’t want to bother him/her/them” – ask when they are likely to be less busy and encourage the person to call their contact(s) to see if they would be happy to be interviewed in principle and, if so, when a good time might be.

“We don’t need to seek feedback as we’ve always had this client’s work and we’ll keep getting it” – explain that the review process in this instance is about understanding why this relationship is so strong, so that the firm can apply the learnings to other client relationships.

“This client relationship is too new” – explain that now is a good time to set the scene. If you seek feedback early then you can ensure you are servicing the client effectively right from the outset.

“This client only wants to deal with me” – explain that this process is about supporting the person in their role. Encourage them to ask the client if they would be happy to participate in the process with the understanding that if they say ‘no’, that’s fine.

A good technique to overcome typical objections is to tell war-stories. For example, I once conducted a client review for a law firm who thought their relationship with a particular client was great. When I spoke to the client they were in the process of moving their business elsewhere because they felt the firm I was working for wasn’t responsive enough, wasn’t putting their best team on the account, and didn’t care about them. The firm I was working for had no idea! By asking the right questions and going back to the client within a week of the review with a programme of what we had done and were in the process of putting in place to rectify the situation, we were able to save the client and over $2 million in fees. 

What other objections do you regularly hear? What are your top tips for overcoming these? 

What has worked well and, conversely, what's worked less well when conducting client listening/feedback initiatives within your firm? 

Eight questions every professional should ask when taking new work instructions

When talking to clients of professional services firms, one of the most common issues they raise is that their providers don’t always deliver what it is they are expecting. It’s very easy to listen to a client’s brief, assume you understand their requirements, and to go off and do the work but I strongly believe that, in order to avoid misunderstandings (and often huge frustrations on both sides) professionals need to ask questions to clarify their client’s needs at the outset.
While you should never ask anything that you could find out from the client’s website or other publicly available information, the questions below will go a long way to avoiding mismatched expectations:
  1. What outcome are you looking to achieve?
  2. How important is this work to you/your organisation?
  3. What’s your deadline for this work?
  4. What are you looking for from us? All the options or our recommendation?
  5. What’s your budget for this work?
  6. Do you need to present the advice to anyone internally?
  7. Will you be our key contact on this matter?
  8. How frequently would you like progress updates and what format would you like us to communicate these in (e.g. face-to-face, phone, email)?
What other questions do you think professionals should ask their clients when taking new instructions? 
Do you have any examples of how doing this has helped your business? 

What assumptions can make out of a firm

Making assumptions is part of doing business. We don’t always have access to the full facts and have to draw conclusions. However, too often the assumptions that are made are incorrect, or only part of the picture, and are never tested. This can be detrimental to relationships between firms and their clients, with firms making decisions, or giving advice, based on those assumptions. This really can be a case of when making assumptions makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.

The assumptions we make can affect the way we do business, the way we deal with our clients and the results we get for them.

In my experience, the most common assumptions firms make, are:

1. Assuming they know what their client wants to achieve when the client is engaging their services. By this I mean the ultimate goal – what business goal is your involvement going to help them achieve? If you understand what, ultimately, they want from the piece of the puzzle you are providing, the work you do will be focussed on this. Too often we hear that providers aren’t really listening to what clients want:

  • they haven’t asked the right questions
  • they haven’t challenged the client’s assumptions and
  • they end up making it more difficult for the client to achieve his/her/their objective.

2. Assuming the client knows the extra effort they put into a piece of work. All too often firms write off fees without telling the client. They feel noble that they have given the client a ‘good deal’ because they haven’t charged for the additional work… but the client never knows and so never gets the chance to thank the firm, or comment on it. More importantly firms may be setting unrealistic fee expectations for future work.

3. Assuming they know what the client thinks of the relationship with the firm. Often, when we are conducting client reviews, the things firms think are issues, aren’t; and the client’s actual issues are things that the firm hadn’t even considered. There are two main reasons for this:
  • the firm has never asked the client, or
  • an individual within the client organisation has made a single               comment, and it has become ‘fact’ within the firm. I have seen firms  change their strategies around significant clients based on one          partner’s say-so, and end up losing the client because they had all     the assumptions wrong.

4. Assuming clients don’t see what happens inside firms. Your clients are working with your teams and will see what is happening, particularly with regard to team changes, and with advisers who are nearing retirement. Firms have said to us “we knew that, but we didn’t realise the clients did.” Don’t forget you operate in the same market as your clients.

So, how do you know if your assumptions are right?

The only way to know for certain is to test them. Do this by:

  • asking your clients about their business and their goals
  • talking to your clients about team changes and succession planning early
  • letting clients know when you are not charging them and, where possible, the value of the work you are not charging for
  • seeking a range of views from within the client organisation about the relationship.

What other unnecessary assumptions do you think firms make?

What can be the impact of these assumptions?

Do you learn from your wins as well as your losses?

Tom Kane, in his legal marketing blog, published a great post about learning from departing clients as well as from opportunities you miss out on. He provided some good advice about conducting ‘loss reviews’ and keeping channels of communication open with prospects and clients who choose to go elsewhere.

While it’s true that you learn a lot from your ‘losses’, I also believe you can learn a lot from your wins. As well as conducting ‘loss reviews’ I would also recommend professional services firms conduct ‘win reviews’ in order to find out:

  • why the client selected you,
  • what aspects of your approach and style they liked, and
  • what could be improved.

This is particularly important in a competitive tender situation. We had a client who won a major contract through a rigorous RFP process. We interviewed the company following our client’s win and found out some great information our client has been able to apply to future tenders. What was particularly interesting is that the reasons our client believed they had won, were not the reasons at all!

My rule of thumb is ‘don’t assume’. It’s easy to ask new clients (however you win them) why they chose to work with you and to seek their input into how you could improve your new business process. However, a word of caution: don’t take feedback from one win/loss review as gospel – clients have differing likes/dislikes and so you will need to use your judgement about what is likely to resonate with a particular target going forwards – the more you know about your prospective client, coupled with your past feedback, the better you will be able to tailor your approach to each opportunity.

And if you don’t get the work, as Tom said in his post – “losing a client does not have to be a total loss”. Here’s our two cents worth:

  1. If you pitch for a piece of business and miss out, conduct a loss review. Find out what the prospects decision making criteria were, how you performed against these, what they liked about your pitch, what they thought could be improved, what the winning person/team did that made them stand out, and any other suggestions the prospect has for future pitches.
  2. If a client (that you value) leaves you, find out the reasons why and what, if anything, you would need to do to work with them again in the future.
  3. When you lose a piece of work, give the person a call after three months to find out how things are going for him/her. Make sure you send them information of value to them occasionally along with a personal note.
  4. If a bill remains unpaid for longer than 30 days, call the client to find out if they were happy with the work you did. Don’t just follow up the unpaid invoice. Use it as an opportunity to evaluate your service.

I strongly believe that obtaining client/prospect and referrer feedback, wherever possible, is invaluable to building your business and improving your client service.

Learn from your wins and your existing clients so that you minimise the losses. But, when you do lose a client or a piece of work, learn from that too – and never assume it’s a permanent move – you may have to work hard, but you can win them back.

Do you conduct win/loss reviews on a regular basis? If so, how have these helped your business?

What advice would you give to others starting this process for the first time?

Why should we ask our clients what they think of our service?

“We work with them all the time. We already know what they think of us”. This is one of the most common objections we hear from professionals about conducting client feedback exercises. However, when questioned, this perception is often based on assumptions rather than hard evidence.

When you are working regularly with clients, it is easy to believe that you have a good understanding of the relationship, and how the client views the relationship. But unless you ask your clients, you will never know for sure.

I strongly believe independent client feedback exercises are vital if you want to strengthen your relationships with your clients and increase your share of wallet. These should be conducted in addition to CEO/Managing Partner discussions with the client and in addition to fee earner conversations – which are also important discussions to have.

So, why are independent client feedback exercises so important?

Because they give the client the opportunity to speak openly and candidly about what’s important to them, the state of the relationship, their understanding of your business and what they’d like to see from you going forwards. It’s vital that the interviewer is perceived as independent and impartial and that the process is seen by the client as more than simply a ‘marketing exercise’.

Having conducted client reviews/feedback interviews both as an employee of a law firm and independently as a consultant, I’ve found clients have been much more open and honest since I’ve been engaged externally.

So, having established that you need to seek the feedback, you need to have specific goals in mind, in order to ask the right questions. Client reviews not only tell you what’s important to your clients and how you’re performing vis a vis a range of criteria, but they also enable you to benchmark your performance year-on-year and to focus your marketing efforts on those things that will make the biggest difference to your clients.

12 good reasons to conduct client reviews are to uncover:

  1. What is the true state of each of our client relationships?
  2. How well did a particular project/matter go from the client’s perspective?
  3. Why are we only getting a portion of a client’s work?
  4. Why are revenues from this client declining?
  5. How do clients and influencers perceive us? What is our current brand positioning?
  6. How closely are the firm’s brand and one individual’s personal brand linked?
  7. How are our competitors perceived and what does the market say our competitive advantage is?
  8. How can we get into a specific market?
  9. Why are we not winning business in a particular sector?
  10. How can we win work before it goes to tender?
  11. How aware is the market of the range of services we provide?
  12. What are the client’s priorities over the coming year and how can we support them?

Clients, and other stakeholders, like to be asked for feedback. Conducting reviews demonstrates you value your relationship with them.  Provided there is appropriate follow-up, the process will enable you to strengthen your relationships and  build client loyalty.

Do you conduct client (and other stakeholder) feedback exercises? If not, remember others do.

How have client feedback exercises helped your business?

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