“My role is simple,” explained one service giver. “It is to help people to succeed. That is what you do in the service business – whether you are a coach, teacher, software designer, sales person or whatever.
"This calls for clarifying the customer’s aspirations and focusing on their specific goals. You can then provide services that help them to succeed.”
Let’s explore how you can take these steps to help your customers to reach their goals.
1) You can clarify the customer’s picture of success.
Some customers know exactly what they want. They aim to buy a specific product, solve a pressing problem or tackle a particular challenge. Some want to know the options before making a decision.
Bearing this in mind, you will ‘open-up’ the discussion to show what is possible. Sometimes, for example, you may ‘educate’ them about new offerings in a particular field.
When appropriate, you will ‘close down’ the conversation, clarifying their specific goals. Whichever route you take, you will settle on the customer’s picture of success.
“That works when selling a ‘hard’ product, but what about a ‘softer’ service?” somebody may ask. “People get fed-up with ‘consultant-type’ suppliers who simply ask ‘what do you want?’ They want to know your track record.”
Different service givers tackle this challenge in different ways, but most focus on credibility, clarity and contracting.
Customers want to know you are up to the job. Some suppliers launch into a sales-pitch that stresses their own qualifications. Others talk a little about their background, but mainly show they understand the world from the customer’s point of view.
You may say something like:
“As far as I understand, the kinds of challenges you may face are: a) To _______ b) To _______ c) To ________.
"Bearing this in mind, the kinds of goals you may want to achieve are: a) To _______ b) To _______ c) To ________.
"Are there any other things you would like to achieve?”
Demonstrating that you understand the customer’s aspirations shows that you are up to the job. Some people establish credibility within minutes – others take a little longer – then comes the next step.
The basic rule applies: ‘The more specific the customer’s goals, the greater the likelihood of success.’
When clarifying the overall aims, also be prepared to say: “This is what I can offer; this is what I can’t offer.”
Providing you communicate this in a professional way, it can also reassure the customer that you are a credible niche supplier.
Double-check the contract by ‘playing back’ the customer’s aims, together with any ‘Dos & Don’ts’ for working together. So you may say something like:
“As far as I understand it, you want: a) To _______ b) To _______ c) To ________.
"The way you want this delivered is: a) To _______ b) To _______ c) To ________.
"Is that okay?”
Then move on to getting some early wins.
Try tackling the exercise on this theme. First, describe a specific customer with whom you are working or want to work. Second, describe the specific things you can do to establish their picture of success. Try completing the following sentences.
2) You can help the customer to achieve success.
Everybody has their own repertoire for helping customers. You may be an expert on computers, carpentry, building, health care, education, problem solving or whatever. You will dig into your resources and do everything possible to satisfy your client.
“That makes sense – but the biggest issue I face is people changing their minds,” somebody may say. “Frequently I return with a proposal, only to find they have changed the brief but forgotten to let me know. This can be extremely exasperating.”
This happens all the time if you are a carpenter, builder, electrician, architect, engineer, consultant or whatever. The world moves on and so does your client’s mind. You pull out all the stops to deliver the goods – only to find that the goal posts have moved.
How to solve the problem? One approach is to keep checking-in with the client – but in a professional way. You may want to say something like:
“At the moment we are on track for delivering x by y. Of course, it’s okay to change within certain parameters, because it is vital to provide what you want. So let me know if there are any changes.”
If a client keeps changing their mind, however, you may say something like:
“Of course, we can do that. It does have certain funding implications, but we would be happy to do it.”
The key is to keep going back to the ‘What’ and doing everything possible to help the client to achieve their picture of success.
Bearing in mind the services you offer, tackle the following exercise. Looking at the customer you named earlier, describe how you can do everything possible to help them to reach their goals. Try completing the following sentence.
3) You can help the customer to achieve ongoing success.
“Teach a man to fish: and you have fed him for a lifetime,” is a maxim that used to be frowned upon by older style businesses. After all, they wanted to keep selling fishing nets. But good service givers want to equip people to shape their own futures.
Paradoxically, this leads to even more business. The customer will return for future products, know-how and support. So good suppliers do several things.
First, they enable the customer to stay in charge and ‘fix things’ themselves.
Second, they keep in touch with the customer: a) To check how things are going; b) To provide ongoing service; c) To, when appropriate, explore the customer’s future aspirations.
This frequently leads to a long-term ‘win-win’ relationship.
“Looking at my portfolio, over 90% of my customers are people I have worked with previously,” said one person.
“Fortunately I am in the knowledge business. You share your knowledge and get paid for it. Afterwards, you still have the knowledge you sold – plus it is enriched by the experience with the customer.
"Nowadays I do more in-depth work. Even though I have passed-on my knowledge – which the customers actually use – they return to explore further challenges. The work is fulfilling for me and, I hope, for the customers.”
Great suppliers have a strong service ethic. They want their customers to achieve ongoing success. So you may equip people to ‘do things themselves’, provide ongoing support, keep in touch with their aspirations or whatever.
Returning to the customer you mentioned earlier, try completing the following sentence.