The importance of relationships is generally understood in business. Given there is little opposition to the concept it is easy to assume that all will act accordingly and need little guidance. However, we must be consistently intentional about the Relationships that are built and maintained with our Clients and Team Members. I am fortunate to have been brought up in environments where Relationships were at the forefront of how we cared for Clients and our Team Members, therefore it has always been the #1 focus and I would argue that it is what has made our organization special and attractive. In regards to measurable results: Long-tenured team members, high client retention rates, and consistently performing at the highest level in our sector, are all attributed to our intense focus on Relationships, more than anything else.
Not many people in life give more than they receive (I recommend the book “Go Giver” if you have not read it), but that is exactly how great relationships start and how they are maintained. When this happens, the other side gives back in the form of trust which is the centerpiece of any great relationship. The hardest thing is training on this concept and getting people to really understand what it takes, and then to make sure they start doing it rather than just thinking they are. In regards to our clients, we should make sure to continuously train team members (typically sales will have the most responsibility in this area) on all that they should be doing to build great relationships, and we should inspect their efforts along the way and provide feedback/mentoring as needed. In regards to our team members, every Leader and Manager must have the same level of understanding as to what great relationships are and the commitment required to build them with those they lead, which is the only way for the concept to be ingrained in the organization’s culture.
While the concept of relationships being important is easy to understand, it is also the easiest to ignore in the face of other more tangible challenges. As we grow, our organizations will need new systems, additional team members, and we will confront many new issues. While all of these things should and will change, the one constant has to be our commitment to having the best Relationships with our Clients and our Team Members. Great Relationships will not only get us through it all, they will also be the reason that we lead the way.
As a consumer, have you ever thought… “Did they really just tell me to call someone else”, or “Did they really just make me fill out that form when they have my information right in front of them-don’t they want my business?”.
As organizations grow and become more complex, communication and systems are key in regards to retaining the ability to consistently delight clients, and delighting clients is the only way to grow. In my experience, communication is routinely the problem/solution. Yes, systems are key for long-term sustainability, but the human communication element can fix or break any system. Here are some simple examples:
Bad Client Communication:
- “You will need to contact our X Department”
- “We need you to fill out this application”
Good Client Communication:
- “I am going to go ahead and connect you with support by submitting a ticket on your behalf, so stick with me here. Before I hit submit and give our support team a separate heads up, can you confirm for me that I have captured the issue correctly?”
- “I have all of your info right here, so let me fill that out in an effort to save you time. I will then have you verify/complete the form and we can get everything going asap”
This likely seems like common sense to those who innately focus on delighting clients. However, it is easy for growing organizations to make the mistake of assuming every team member (especially newer team members) understand the commitment to delighting customers; it is something that must be ingrained in our culture, which means it has to be very apparent in the behavior of every person and department in the organization.
It is all about leaving the client/prospective client with positive closure every step of the way. And in those times when the answer is not apparent, recognizing that those are the times to shine as a true partner rather than just a vendor; these are the times that we get to dig in and seize the opportunity to show others the extent of our commitment to serve. I routinely reflect on how strong of a characteristic it is to genuinely CARE; it beats just about any strategy.
On a daily basis I have the pleasure of working with a team that is made up of individuals who are fanatical about serving our customers. So much so that it is easy to create high levels of internal pressure at times when our growth rate is at its highest. The proudest moments are when we acknowledge that the internal pressure is coming from the shared commitment we have to serve our customers. Self-awareness, honesty, good relationships (which are required for the first two) and open transparency allow organizations to drive directly towards correcting issues and minimizing drama. The issue can never be about anything else – because everything else is an infection.
With growth comes challenges. The job of our leaders is to overcome those challenges and never let the mission to serve the customer (which means effectively serving one another) become blurred.
I can really screw up the simple act of washing clothes; leave them in the washer too long before moving them to the dryer and I have to start all over; use the wrong amount of detergent and failure happens again; and last/worst – when I try to do something nice for my wife, I ruin their favorite clothes. Yep, I have done all these things and it is the one chore I am not allowed to do any longer.
With the concept of leadership we are focused on practicing proactive communication, planning, and execution. Organizations can exist and will continue (for some period of time) to move forward without these things, however it would not be the leadership way, nor would it be clean (netting the best results). Here are just a few examples in the form of questions:
- If you know the keys to success in your business, are you proactively and consistently measuring them so that you can ensure outcomes are in line with goals?
- Do you come up with new goals and plans routinely and well ahead of the time period in focus, or do you wait until bad things start happening?
- Should you wait to tell your team about health insurance changes, only after they have received their new insurance cards and start having questions?
- When great things happen do you proactively let your team know, or just let them find out from someone else? The same goes for when bad things happen.
- When there is a customer issue are you out ahead of it and communicating with the client, or do you let it sit too long, only for them to become more agitated and start making inquiries?
Leaders have the right answers to the questions above. Not only that, through their actions they have instilled leadership concepts in their organizations; their team would have the same answers.
To be conscious and proactive is a choice. It is all about thinking ahead, understanding the importance of good communication, and genuinely caring about all stakeholders.
I have been looking for a quote that would lead into the concept I felt the need to share. This morning in came to me through my 2-year-old daughter. I had just arrived home from working out and was starting the routine of getting ready for work. She walks in holding her shoes and says “Daddy do it”. I knelt down and put her sandals on for her and then I hopped in the shower. A few minutes later I hear her crying and sitting on the bathroom floor looking at her feet. I asked her what was wrong, but her vocabulary is still not too good. Without putting much time into the situation I used my wisdom and quickly diagnosed the problem as being that I put the shoes on too tight. I called for my wife to have her help with the situation. My wife comes in and starts laughing when she recognizes that I put Caroline’s shoes on the wrong feet. After it was fixed, I was forgiven and Caroline even had me kiss her baby doll goodbye before leaving for the office.
In regards to our professional lives, our customers expect us to recommend the right solutions every time, which means we must have the expertise and also be thorough so that we do not mistakenly recommend the wrong solution or diagnose a problem incorrectly. Customers are not as forgiving as 2 year olds, nor should they be. Therefore we have to make sure we are maintaining our level of expertise throughout the organization, providing adequate support and training to new hires and to those who are in need of continuing education, and that our processes and people behave in a thorough and thoughtful manner. We should never sell something that does not add value to the customer, and we should hold ourselves to the highest standards in supporting them. Additionally, we must maintain a culture where newer employees who may not yet have the experience, feel they can be transparent and open with others that do, so that we avoid recommending the wrong solutions. Equally important is that our most experienced team members who are typically busier than others, take the time to thoroughly assess the more complex situations and provide the right recommendation.
We consistently do our best work when experience/access to experience is present, and when the call for the highest level of experience is met with thorough and consistent people/processes.
We have those customers, co-workers, and people in our lives that instantly tell us when they need help or are frustrated by our actions or inaction. They demand results and demand them right away, and then we comply, learn from it, and everything is good until the next issue (big or small) arises, and we do the dance again. While it is not always the most comfortable experience, we have the benefit of knowing exactly what is on their mind, and the level of urgency it requires.
What about those that are just super nice? We have an easy-going relationship with them, working together is very enjoyable, and even when there is a problem it seems small because they are so nice they don’t want to be one of our problems. Then all of a sudden we are blind-sided by something that has been festering for a long time. It goes something like this:
- Nice person let’s us know of an issue, but they are not upset and they do not make too much of it.
- We catalog the issue if it cannot be resolved immediately.
- The issue slowly sinks to the bottom of the to-do list because the sense of urgency has been muffled by how nice of a person they are.
- They reach out again and let us know there is still an issue, but they may say things like “it is no rush”, or “you are always so helpful”.
- The issue starts sinking to the bottom of the list again, and now it has become one of those never-ending, pending issues, that still does not have a high-level of priority assigned to it.
- They reach out – or worse, their boss or someone else the issue is impacting reaches out and they want to break up with us.
- We go into panic mode and are either lucky enough to save the situation, or we lose the relationship.
How did it all go wrong?
- We did not adjust for their personality; the reality is that they asked us for help, just like someone who may have screamed it, and there is likely someone else that will scream it for them at some point.
- We did not look out for them; it is our responsibility to go the extra mile for them (especially them) in our support. The reality is that they are pressured if they are asking for help, and we are hurting those that are the kindest to us if we do not deal with their issue as seriously or more seriously than we would any other.
- We assumed that their attitude was reflective of the level of the problem;
In summary, we should not let personality types diagnose the severity of a problem, or the urgency needed in finding a solution.
All hard charging and talented individuals get overloaded at times. The worse mistake we can make is to stop or reduce the level of communication we have with customers, team members, and all others that count on us to perform. Communication is the most important aspect of Leadership and during stressful times the need for it is exponentially important.
Our family recently moved into a new house. As part of the move we have had to engage with a few vendors for their services and products. In one example we placed an order over 2 months ago and are still waiting. The only updates we have received have been after I called the individual directly, which was needed after my wife sent multiple text messages. This has happened every other week for the last 2 months with none of the communication coming from the vendor. The answer I have received is that the factory is backlogged and they have not been able to produce product fast enough, and therefore our vendor is waiting on them. We are easy-going customers and to us the message about the inventory issue is fine – as long as we are getting updates and not having to reach out to the vendor multiple times to get answers.
In the example above, two mistakes were made. The first was the vendor not proactively giving us updates which is necessary from a customer service aspect, and especially when there are delays. The second was not returning my wife’s messages when she was making the effort to ask for updates. If he was just keeping us informed we would still be happy customers; hence, the delay is not the issue – it is all about communication.
If you are in a bind for what ever reason(s), I would encourage the following actions:
- Make a list of all the customers/projects/etc. that concern you
- Communicate by giving a regularly scheduled update on each of these
- Communicate with all related parties so that everyone knows what is going on
- Do what you say you are going to do; don’t commit to something you can’t do
- Make near-term and long-term plans so that you can avoid the underlying issues in the future
Communication saves relationships and it provides the time needed to correct issues, improve processes, increase staffing levels, etc. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Many of you know that my wife owns a bridal shop and that I am not allowed to get too involved:). However, she does occasionally run things by me for advice, which she can totally disregard when I am being too much of a “business guy”. Of course I think she is the smartest, prettiest, and most wonderful woman I know, and something I observed her doing in her business gave me the inspiration for this message. It reminded me how important it is to focus on how things fit. So here is the example:
When a woman is searching for her wedding dress there are many things that are important in the process, and Kristen and her team focus on the customer and the experience more than anything else. Her business hit the 5 year mark not too long ago and just last year she realized there was a problem and started working on fixing it. The problem was that she had all of these dresses in the store and typically only had them in one size. Therefore, it was rare that a customer would fit into the style they liked. The problem with is that when a woman is buying her wedding dress, the entire process is expected be perfect and have them feel more beautiful than they ever have before. So how can that happen if the dress cannot zip up, or if the dress is way too large? The short answer is that when it does not fit, the customer does not feel beautiful, and that is what is required for them to buy the dress, rave about their experience, and feel totally confident about themselves and their decision. So what did Kristen and her team do? Against the recommendation of her partners (wedding dress designers) who recommend only one medium size of each dress, she focused on getting more sample inventory in a variety of sizes so that the likely hood of the style and size of a dress fitting the customer was much higher. And the result…… A significant increase in first appointment closings, customer satisfaction, and increased revenue. In short summary, this was an example of making sure there is the right fit (both literally and figuratively in this example) for customers and the positive outcome that is experienced by both the customer and the business when a leadership team is focused on how things fit together.
As leaders, one of our primary (if not THE primary) roles is to ensure that everything fits together. People, teams, roles, products, services, culture, customers, vertical markets, etc. must all fit together. To become highly effective, things simply have to fit together and once we reach that nirvana where everything fits, we must have a realistic awareness that maintaining the fit will then be a continuous effort. The best leaders know and accept this as a core concept for exceptional leadership.
This week I have been attending a conference in Boca Raton, FL, and have been staying at The Boca Resort. Today is check out day, so I cleaned out my room and left my bag with the Bellman. Later this morning I realized that I left my wedding ring in my room.
I called the main number for The Boca Resort and was transferred to Ed in security/lost and found. I told Ed about my issue and he took down my room number, cell phone, etc.. He let me know that he was going to go look for it personally and would call me right back. Five minutes later he called and let me know he had “saved me from a beating” (he found the ring), and that he would leave it with the front desk manager so that I did not have to come to the security office, which was located in another building. At this point he and I were referring to each other as “buddy”, “friend”, etc.. I thanked him and hung up as a satisfied customer.
Ten minutes later Ed calls me back. He wanted to know if he should hop in his car and bring it over to where I was at the exhibit hall, so that I did not have to take time out of my day to come over to the hotel building. I thanked him for the offer, but declined since I had to go back over the hotel to retrieve my bag anyway.
WOW! – I was already satisfied, but Ed took it a step further. He would not have done this unless he genuinely cared and had customer service at the top of his mind.
Just the other day one of our sales people found out that a customer requested a quote from one of our competitors for a similar product that we already provide to them. The person that made the request was one that we did not have a key relationship with, but they did have more power than those we believed to be our key contacts. The quote they received was lower than ours, but did not reflect the same level of products and services. This created a bad comparison and sparked our key contacts to call us. We realized that this new more powerful person was not educated on what they had or needed, and instead of working with us, he went directly to someone else. This screamed of a trust issue and the situation frustrated our sales person to no end because he had tried to build a relationship with this person for years. Why didn’t they give him a chance? There is no way to be certain of their reason, but it was likely because the person did not like/trust those that we had a relationship with, or because we had not focused on the relationship with them as much as we had with our other contacts in the account.
In our continuous quest for growth we focus on building relationships. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to stop growing our existing relationships. This happens often and by the time it is realized it may be too late. It happens when we feel comfortable with our existing relationships and feel that they do not need as much attention as do our efforts to build new ones. To prevent this, we should be reflecting on our existing customers often and asking questions like… How are things going with them? What has changed about how they are using our product/services? Who/what has changed within their organization? Is there the potential for us to serve them in more/other ways? Do we have relationships with the right people? This last question is one of the most important because things change and if we are not in tune with what is going on, we may find that a new and powerful person does not believe we are paying them any attention (or they may not even know about us). When this happens, they seek goods/services elsewhere and it creates a steep hill for us if they feel like we have shown them no attention, or that we are only focused on one area of their business. It can even create a situation where they are determined to work with someone else.
In the example of our sales person discovering a current client was looking to replace us – his response is what inspired this message. It was obvious that he did not have a good relationship with the person and that all his efforts thus far to build one had failed. He knew that a key member of our project management team had a good relationship with a person that worked for the key decision maker. He decided to team up with them and have them secure a meeting with their main contact and the key decision maker, and that he would just attend the meeting as part of the team. This strategy worked. They were able to successfully educate the person on their options, and they listened because it was apparent that the trust door had opened. It also showed them how important we believe they are because the meeting was called with them, rather than them just being asked to attend a meeting we scheduled with our other key contacts in the account. We will now be able to continue building and strengthening our relationships within, while helping them make the most of the products and services we offer, for a very long time.
At critical growth points, cultivation of our existing relationships is even more important than building new ones. We must be proactive in managing our customer relationships – even when we think we have solid relationships with our customers, we should routinely ask the questions that will help us determine when we need to further cultivate our relationships.