February 15, 2013 | 6-minute read (1066 words)
The best way to improve your client satisfaction is by providing clients with the exact product or service they want. And how do you do that? By understanding your clients: what do they need and want and, of equal importance, what don’t they need and want.
That may sound obvious in theory, but it is sometimes challenging to execute on. I know this from personal experience.
In our early stages at Early Growth Financial Services, when we started growing our clientele, we didn’t completely understand the needs of our newer clients, who were much smaller than companies we had previously worked with. As a result, we tried to implement solutions for them that were more appropriate for larger customers—not a perfect fit for their needs. Needless to say, we quickly realized that we needed a different approach.
Fortunately we were able to turn this situation around and save these clients. Follow these steps to ensure that you are giving your clients what they need.
1. Assess the situation. We quickly realized that what we were doing wasn’t really working, so we took a step back to evaluate what exactly we were doing and where there was a disconnect between what our clients needed and what we were providing. It’s not always easy to step outside of a situation, but it’s essential to gain a deeper understanding. In our case, we quickly saw that the solutions that we were trying to implement were too large-scale for smaller-sized clients. While they needed clean financial systems and flexibly, easy-to-implement processes, we were giving them a financial infrastructure that was more appropriate for a 100+ person company.
2. Listen to your clients. We are fortunate in that our work gives us ample opportunity to interact with our clients. By providing a professional service, we are in constant contact with our clients. If you don’t have the same opportunities, you need to create your own opportunities to interact with your clients on a frequent basis. You may use surveys or try to elicit comments and feedback on your site. Use customer calls as a information-gathering opportunity, making sure to document all the information so it can be analyzed by your company, not just resolved by an individual customer service representative.
In our case, we spoke with our larger company clients to find out what was working. And we spoke with our newer smaller clients to find out what was and wasn’t working. More precisely, I should say we “listened” to our clients, rather than we “spoke” to them since our main purpose was to elicit their direct response, to hear straight from them. It’s a fact that clients don’t always know what they need, or can’t articulate it. But they can always describe their pain points.
3. Talk with other key players. Since our company provides financial support, we also spoke with investors to find out what information they required of smaller companies so that we could be sure to help these smaller companies pull together the necessary reports and information. Everyone in the early-stage environment is concerned with cash burn—and how long cash will last. We wanted to find out how investors and company executives preferred to see this information displayed, and what other information might be relevant.
Need help with financial reporting? Contact Early Growth Financial Services.
Depending on your business, the outside sources you choose to consult may be different, but try to gather product/service feedback beyond what your client is providing, to provide perspective.
4. Peer analysis. We looked at our clients’ peers to how they dealt with similar issues. This is a form of competitive analysis. We saw what kinds of financial support these other smaller companies were getting to fine-tune the kind of support we could provide. One valuable result of our peer analysis was that we learned a lot about the best and most efficient accounting, payroll, and AP systems to use for our smaller companies.
5. Clarify your understanding. After we had taken in all this information, we used it to clarify our understanding of our clients’ needs. This is where a consultant’s expertise is put into play. We needed to play the role of translator, listening to our clients’ concerns, distilling down and synthesizing the information, and then translating this into some sort of action plan. Our core learning was that our smaller clients required a lighter-touch. We realized that we had to balance out what our clients thought they needed with what their investors and stakeholders wanted, as well as with what we were comfortable not doing within the context of a strong financial infrastructure
6. Refine/Redesign your product/service. Once we realized that our newer smaller clients required a much lighter-touch approach, we adapted our service offerings accordingly. For example, a larger company with greater funding is going to need more CFO assistance and strategic financial support. A smaller company could require the same support, but, alternatively, they might just need day-to-day transactional support on an as-needed basis. Whether it’s ongoing or project-based support, we have a conversation with our clients before getting started to determine their needs. Once we begin providing our professional services, the conversations have only just begun. We continue to keep open lines of communication with our clients to provide customized support at just the level needed by each individual company.
We all know that our clients are our most valuable asset—or at least we should know this. To act on this insight, we need to provide our clients with the services and support they need. This ensures not only customer satisfaction (i.e. retention) but referrals as well. That’s a win-win in my book.
How do you give your clients the service/products they want? Tell us about it in comments below, or contact Early Growth Financial Services for support.
David Ehrenberg is the founder and CEO of Early Growth Financial Services, a financial services firm providing a complete suite of financial and accounting services to companies at every stage of the development process. He's a financial expert and startup mentor, whose passion is helping businesses focus on what they do best. Follow David @EarlyGrowthFS.