You can’t enter in to a strong, long-term partnership with an organisation unless from the very outset you are honest with the client and perhaps more importantly, honest with yourself.
Relationships are tricky things to get right. Think about a long term friendship or partnerships that you have. How do you make that work over a long period of time? There is one word that springs to my mind whenever I consider this; communication. I know, it is a term often used as a fix all for everything, but in this case it is true. If you don’t talk to your husband, wife, partner, brother, sister, friend, the relationship gradually deteriorates. You lose an understanding of what it is that you both need in order to be happy with one another and as time passes, it becomes harder and harder to pick things back up. Business relationships are no different.
Unless you have a good level of dialogue with your clients, your relationship gap will widen and it will become more difficult to span that gap when you suddenly decide that having that long overdue chat would be a good idea because that tender just came out.
However, you can’t just talk! You need to have a clear plan which covers what you are going to talk about and how you are going to respond as the conversation develops. Long-term, win-win partnerships do not happen if all you say is “yes”. Think of all of the things that need to be discussed as you develop an opportunity with a client; vision, strategy, scope, expectations, timelines, resources, rates, delivery, workshops, investment, people, training, support. The list goes on. If you just say yes to everything thrown at you, thinking that this will make the customer happy, things will go very very wrong, very very quickly.
In a past role, I was given a book to read by my boss entitled “Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach To Customer Service” by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. This is written in the parable style of The One Minute Manager and as long as you can read through the cheese, it has a very powerful message to deliver to you. Well, 3 messages in fact. These are those 3 “rules” that have stuck with me ever since and I have kept these in mind as I have engaged with customers across the world.
Number 1: Put a box around what it is that you do
What this means is that it is critical that you know what it is that you can do for a client. You can’t do everything – no-one can, so rather than being a jack of all trades, be master of a few. You need to be honest with yourself if this is going to work. You will also more than likely need to have an internal strategy session if you haven’t done this work already. It is key to being successful as an organisation; knowing what it is that you are good at and sticking to doing that. Hopefully you have already undertaken some analysis to ensure that there is a space in the market for what you are offering and assuming that you have, stick with it. Saying yes to things that you don’t ordinarily do is crippling. You probably won’t do it that well, the customer will be unhappy, your staff won’t like you for it, your support liability will go through the roof and you probably won’t make any money from doing the work at all. Partnerships with other organisations are a good way of dealing with this. You can continue to have the relationship with the customer and you facilitate access to another trusted organisation who does do what the client needs. It is important not to be scared to say no to a client…just have a backup plan in place which shows them that you are saying no for the right reasons and that you continue to have their best interests in mind.
Number 2: Get 1% better each time
This is just simple way of introducing the idea of continuous improvement. You have to learn from your mistakes and omit them from happening again. Everyone makes mistakes – we are only human after all! What you have to ensure is that once the mistake has occurred, you reflect on why it happened and you do whatever you can to mitigate it. That may require a business process to be modified, or for some additional training to take place. Either of these things show a commitment to being better next time and if you discuss what you are doing in that regard with your client, they will feel very happy that you have their interests in mind. This works both ways of course! Forget the old mantra that the customer is always right…they are not and sometimes you need to help them identify areas that they need to improve on too. That is why this is all about partnership and not a client-supplier relationship. If you both continually strive to improve, the relationship will also continually improve and that is great for everyone’s business.
Number 3: Do what you say you are going to do
In the past I have both been subjected to and have articulated the merits of under promising and over delivering. It used to be a fairly standard approach to trying to be seen to doing a great job for the client. You say it will take 6 weeks and then you deliver in 4. Fantastic! Not… This can actually cause all sorts of issues for your customer with regard planning for acceptance, the delivery of training, resource planning, budgeting, etc. It also causes you issues; perceived poor estimation, lack of quality, a rush-job, etc. It is incredibly more positive to say 6 weeks and deliver in 6 weeks. It is not only delivery that this applies to – it is valid for any engagement with the client from “I will get back to on that” to “I will call you next week with an update.” Again, this is also a 2-way thing. If your customers says they are going to do something for you, then you should expect that they will do it. Sometimes leading by example can be a very positive force which causes behavioural changes across the board. Remember, you can’t change other people, you can only change yourself and when you change your own behaviour you do influence others.
This may all sound a bit cheesy and altogether too simple, but the truth is, it works. When I deal with a client I ensure that they know what it is that I can do for them and equally what I can’t do, I apply all of my learning from past similar situations I have been in so that my dealing with that client at that time is the best it can be and if I say I am going to do something, I make sure that I do it.
If you drop all of the psycho-babble and concentrate on these 3 points from the effective communication and establishing a relationship point of view, I really don’t think that you can go far wrong. This is what I expect from organisations I deal with in my personal life from Harvey Norman to Air New Zealand and in that regard, I don’t believe that running a business should be any different.
This is how we will engage with you when you come to Spatial.IQ asking for our helping in building your spatial maturity. I am convinced that it will work for you and I would certainly ask for your feedback once we have had the opportunity to work together.