It was roughly two years ago when a highly intelligent, and successful prospective CEO client of ours slammed his papers on the boardroom table and pronounced “I cannot lose one more client to the competition”. Imagine our surprise, given the only question we had asked at this early point in a preliminary meeting was very simply this: “What has been critical to your success and growth over the last few years?” Naturally, questions raced through our heads: Were we having two entirely separate conversations? Had we lost him to an unrelated train of thought? It can be a challenging moment for a consultant, when it appears your prospect has left the station, so to speak, without you.
That concern proved entirely unfounded. This well timed question prompted some serious thinking and a response that went straight to the core of the main challenge facing this CEO. How do we strengthen the value we bring to our clients and retain ALL those customers we fought so hard to land in the first place? Our query about success drivers had led the CEO to quickly make the connection between his core values surrounding customer service, his company’s track record in the early years in meeting client needs and delivering beyond expectations, and the company’s more recent experience with service delivery challenges and client loss.
We have had the good fortune of working with this CEO and his team from that day to this, implementing a customer focused, management driven, employee supported strategy with one end goal in mind: customer loyalty. We have worked with every member of the company (from the front desk, to the management team to the warehouse fork lift operators) and it has been a real joy to watch that culture of “service beyond expectations” lead to rapid revenue and profitability growth.
This change does not happen overnight however. In working with their operational managers who deal with the clients every day, we worked extensively on asking questions with one major obstacle to overcome. Questions are harder to deliver than answers. Why? First, because many believe that when we ask questions, we somehow undermine our own “expert” status and we may (even worse) look stupid. Solving that resistance to questions can be worth millions (literally). Ask yourself this question – how many questions do I ask in a conversation with my prospective (and current) clients? Then ask yourself, when I am preparing for a meeting, how much time do I devote to preparing what I am going to say as opposed to questions I might ask? You’ve heard this before – God gave us two ears and one mouth, and they should be used in that proportion. Implementing this pearl of wisdom and strengthening your questions will have a lasting and highly profitable impact on your business!