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How Are You Communicating with Customers?

Good client relationships demand consistent, intentional communication. These take many forms: Calls, emails, in-person meetings. Half-hour status check-ins or annual, offsite strategy meetings. Despite the wide range of customer communication that takes place over the course of a partnership, there are still questions you can ask yourself almost every time to ensure your efforts are worth it—for you and your client. The key here is that it’s less about how much you communicate with your customers, and more about how much value you add when you do.

There’s no way to overstate the importance of customer communication—it strengthens the relationship, builds engagement, and ensures you’re up to date on their challenges and goals, so you can provide proactive, productive client service. However, the obvious benefits of clear client communication are balanced by the simple truth that time is precious, and nobody wants to be stuck in a pointless meeting or bombarded by unnecessary emails. The questions below help ensure efficient and effective communication, so you and your clients are both getting the most every encounter.

Question 1: Are you providing context?

We’ve all been there: Halfway through a meeting, we catch ourselves wondering, “Why are we here?” When that happens, the best case scenario is we disengage a little bit—look at our phones, check email, or otherwise start “multitasking,” which is to say, not focusing on the task at hand. The worst case scenario is that we are actively frustrated because someone is wasting our time.

Here’s how you prevent that kind of disengagement and/or frustration with clients: Start every meeting with a statement of purpose. Whether it’s a 30-minute call or a 3-day workshop, make it clear from the outset what you’re there to accomplish. Ideally, the agenda or objective goes out ahead of time, so people arrive at the meeting engaged and ready to work towards the goal.

Question #2: Are you overwhelming your client with information?

As the famous French philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” Brevity is challenging. It takes confidence and preparation. And it forces you to think carefully about what’s really important—not to you, but to your customer. (More on that later.)

Confidence is key in client communications. When you’re not 100% sure of the quality of your work, it’s tempting to try to make up for it in quantity. Rest assured, nobody wants this. Time is precious, and people know when you’re wasting theirs. Use your preparation to be confident in your presentation, and use your confidence to be brief. Rather than coming across as “thin,” you’ll come across as efficient. People appreciate this.

It can also be tempting to show your customer how much work went into the presentation, as a way of saying “Look! We’re good at this, and we’re worth every penny!” Resist this temptation. Stick to bottom-line, actionable content that relates directly to the stated objective of the meeting. (Tip: If you’re working in slide format, don’t be afraid to use an Appendix. It’s a great way to capture information that’s not directly relevant to the task at hand, but could be useful down the line.)

Question 3: Are you spending more time talking about you than you are talking about them?

This is a tough question to ask, because the truth is, we’re all guilty of this to some degree. It’s a very human mistake, and one that companies make in their communications all the time, whether it’s nonpersonal (website, marketing) or personal (client communication).

Here’s why it’s understandable: You work hard, day in and day out, to do what you do. Your work matters to you, and it should—caring about your work is how you make your work good. But the cold hard truth is: It doesn’t matter to other people in the same way. Your customers don’t need to hear everything that went into your recommendation. They just need the recommendation. If they have questions about how you got there, they’ll ask.

When you’re preparing a client presentation, ask yourself: Is everything here directly related to their goals? Does it speak to their needs and concerns? Is it interesting to them? If the answer is no, delete or move to an appendix. Frame your communications around what your customers need, not what you need, and you’ll create a situation where they’re always happy to talk to you.

Question #4: Are you clarifying what their goals are?

Of course, it’s not just about how you talk to your customers—it’s also about how you listen. If you’ve done the work up front to make sure you’re keeping your communication efficient and customer-focused, you’ll create opportunities for your clients to share their feedback, input, and goals.

When they do share their goals, take note. And make sure you take the time to really understand what they’re trying to accomplish, so you can make a plan to help. This means asking probing questions that get to the heart of where the goal is coming from: Are they just repeating something they heard from higher up? Or have they really thought through the goal and how they might make it happen?

When you understand your customer’s goals, you have an opportunity to grow the relationship by helping them meet those goals. Take the goal back to your team and work through an Action Plan, breaking the goal into manageable objectives, actions, and tasks. The next time you meet with your customer, you’ll have a plan to present.

And of course, make sure every client communication ends with a summary of next steps. This gives people a clear sense of what you need from them to keep things moving, and opens the door for ongoing engagement and communication.

Keeping Track of Client Contact

The best way to keep a client relationship running smoothly is to ensure consistent, intentional, valuable communication. That means you don’t let your clients go too long without hearing from you, nor do you bombard them with repetitive, unnecessary contact.

When there are lots of you running an account, it can be hard to keep track of who’s reached out to whom, and how recently. Sure, you may be CC’d on emails, but what if you get 300 emails a day? Kapta carefully tracks client contact, and raising the flag when it’s been too long since someone heard from you or your team. Kapta also stores contact reports and key takeaways from client conversations, so your whole team has access to the latest feedback and input from clients—and you don’t reach out twice for information they’ve already sent.

Kapta also stores Voice of Customer information, as well as detailed Action Plans, so it’s easy to keep track of what’s important to your clients, and build your communication accordingly.

To more more about how Kapta helps you create effective, relevant, high-value client communication, click here.

Asking the Right Questions of Your Customers

Getting Your Voice of Customer (VOC) Right

Key Account customers don’t want to fill out periodic VOC or NPS surveys full of the same generic questions. They also don’t want to waste time doing Net Promoter Surveys (NPS). In general, your Key Accounts are probably not motivated or incentivized to give you great information through impersonal surveys that you distribute every few months. So, if you want to get your Voice of Customer (VOC) right, how do you do it?

You need a game plan before you approach Key Accounts to see how they feel about your company. You need to understand your own goals, how you think your customers consider your business currently, what you’re going to ask them to get good information, and what you’ll do to interpret the information they provide. All of these steps are important to getting accurate VOC data to use in improving your business.

 

What Results Do You Want to See?

Ultimately, your goal is to make your customer look like the hero. If you can accomplish this by working together, you can encourage that customer to stick with you for the long-run. To get to this ideal result, you need to make sure your product or service is getting the outcomes your customers want. Keep in mind that outcomes are not the same thing as solutions to problems because those solutions do not always lead your customers to improve their business.

Your job is not to solve your customers’ problems, but to help them achieve their desired goals and outcomes as a business. You can only do this if you truly understand your customers and what makes them tick. If you don’t know what their real goals and motivations are, you won’t be able to work together with those customers to get the best results for both of you. This is the purpose behind the VOC and why it’s so important to get it right!

 

How to Choose the Right Questions

You should absolutely have a pre-prepared list of questions you want to ask your Key Account customers. While I wouldn’t recommend you send it to them in survey form, it’s a good idea to come knowing what you’re going to be asking so you can make sure you’re covering all the important information without leaving anything out.

Here are some of the things to consider to help you choose the right questions:

  1. Don’t Ask Leading Questions

Leading questions are those that point the customer towards a specific answer instead of letting them choose their own words. They may also contain some form of the answer within the question, which leads the customer to an answer they would not have said otherwise. These types of questions usually lead to false or slanted information being gathered, which will ultimately harm both you and the customer.

  1. Uncover Your Customer’s Goals

Be sure to focus heavily on discovering what your customer’s goals are when you’re formulating questions. You can directly ask them what their goals are, ask how your products or services help them reach their business goals, ask about methods for attaining goals, etc. It is vital that you make sure you accurately record Key Account customer goals to ensure you’re providing the right service to help them reach those goals.

  1. Understand What You Need to Know

Your specific industry or business may require you to get some different information than others would need. Look first at your own business to see how customer input would be able to affect how you do business. Once you know how your customers can affect you specifically, you have a better base to develop more individualized questions and follow-ups.

  1. Make it Personal

I already mentioned VOC and NPS surveys. These may be the best option if you have a lot of clients, but they’re a bad idea for Key Account customers. The problem is that Key Accounts are already working closely with so many different contacts and people in your company, and they are expecting a higher level of service.

With this kind of close work and reliance, impersonal questions may not get the thorough and accurate responses you need. If something is even a little bit wrong, you want to know ahead of time. Asking customers to check boxes may not give you the feedback to help you make necessary changes in time for adjusting customer opinions of your company.

  1. Keep Questions Direct

Open-ended and close-ended questions are both fine, as long as they’re all getting straight to the point and not beating around the bush. Direct questions help you get actionable information instead of giving you a mess of unspecific data that you have to try to interpret correctly.

  1. Ask How Your Product or Service is Helping Customers Meet Goals

Remember that helping your customers reach their goals is the purpose of your strategic partnership. So, you need to know if you’re accomplishing that, what you’re doing that’s increasing their success, and how you could do better for your customers.

  1. Confirm or Transform Current Information

You should already have a VOC profile for each Key Account. Compare the answers and results from the new interview to your current VOC to see if you hit the nail right on the head or if you need to update your information to reflect new changes in your relationship with the customer.

  1. Reference Other Sources of Customer Comments

Don’t count solely on the VOC interview for answers if you have other ways of getting more information. Data analytics on previous comments made by customers can help you be sure you’re on the same page as them and that the answers given during the interview were not slanted one way or another.

 

Examples of Great VOC Questions

Some VOC questions are easily adaptable to most industries and companies. Here are a few great example questions that can easily be molded to your specific needs:

  • How does our product (or service) help you meet your business goals? (Ask about specific goals if you know them)
  • What kind of situation would make our product (or service) obsolete to your business?
  • How is your company adapting to [industry change]? Will that change affect your goals or strategies?

Questions like these are direct and useful. They help to keep the customer’s goals and needs at the center of the VOC interview, leading you to better information at the end.

 

It’s vital that you get VOC right as a Key Account Manager. Because your job revolves around creating strong partnerships with your company’s most important customers, you can use the information you get to craft better retention strategies and to become irreplaceable to those Key Account customers. But, you can only do this if you’re asking the right questions in the first place.