Every interaction you have with your clients slowly informs and builds your relationship. In order to create the positive experiences needed to be successful in your field, you must provide great service and be a great communicator as well.
We sat down with the MBO Partners Customer Experience team—the team responsible for making sure independents have a positive and cohesive MBO experience from first touch to last—and asked them for some advice. They shared with us a wealth of information, namely, 10 key takeaways that apply their learnings to the world of the independent consultant.
1. Know Your Customer
Foundationally, MBO’s Customer Experience team is dedicated to understanding the customer and using that understanding to create better experiences.
For independent professionals who have multiple clients, consider employing tactics like interviewing to gather information from your client’s perspective. Ultimately, the goal is to understand what your clients, on both an individual and an aggregate level, want, and to work to eliminate pain points and increase moments of delight—those areas that make your clients happy and satisfied.
2. Understand Your Client’s Goals
To succeed, you’ll need to understand your client on both a micro and macro level. On the micro level, you’ll want to understand the goals and objectives for the project at hand. But on the macro level, you’ll want to understand how this project fits into the organization as a whole, as well as any key details about the client’s culture that might help you in your engagement.
3. Speak Your Client’s Language
Successful consultants can adapt to their client’s style, formality, and preferred method of communication, instead of sticking only with the tools where they may feel most comfortable. For example, your client may prefer video meetings or choose to text message instead of email.
As Matthew Small, Customer Experience Specialist, put it, “Every interaction needs to be modified to accommodate that particular person—everyone communicates differently! Some individuals just want facts, while others are more conversational. The key is flexibility: don’t go into a conversation with a pre-determined dialogue, but have a set strategy of what you hope to learn in the interaction.”
Tap into your emotional intelligence by getting a feel for why the customer feels and/or approaches situations in a certain way, and try to tailor your communications and engagement accordingly.
4. Get to “Yes”
Director of Customer Experience Cyndi Zaino uses a negotiation technique called “Getting to Yes,” based on a book of the same name. This technique focuses on what two parties have in common to allow client and consultant to work together to create options that will satisfy both parties.
It’s a particularly useful technique when negotiating, say, a Scope of Work at the beginning of a project. By focusing on points of agreement, rather than contention, it allows consultants to start engagements from a place of positivity.
5. Listen First
As one Customer Experience team member put it, “During my first interaction with a customer, especially if we may not know a lot about them, I try to learn as much as I can, but at their pace. Remaining open, friendly, and inquisitive typically lends the conversation to letting the client do the majority of the talking.”
Getting an early investment from the client in the conversation can lead to a wealth of valuable information. With this knowledge and understanding, the consultant can begin to develop the proper strategy for delivering these desired actions and items.
6. Stay Humble
You were hired for your expertise, but any good consultant knows that the client is the expert on their specific business. Maybe they know the best way to approach a key stakeholder, or have a specific insight into their market positioning that can help you achieve your project’s objectives.
Defer to your client as the expert on their specific company and line of business, remaining humble in your line of inquiry about how to best approach the problem and the solution in a way that will work for their company.
7. Keep an Open Mind
Using past experience to inform future expectations can be a valuable technique, but don’t get so caught up in what you’ve done before that you can’t be flexible in your approach to a new project.
Don’t just say “I did this before and it didn’t work.” Try instead to shift your mindset to apply lessons learned to future projects to help ensure success.
8. Set Realistic Expectations
Customers have an expectation of what they will receive from you, as well as when and how those expectations must be met. It is essential to work with a client in order to meet these expectations, especially if there are complications—time needed to deliver the solution being most prevalent.
Preaching patience can be difficult, and there needs to be a mutual understanding that certain deliverables may take a considerable amount of time.
The art of “surprise and delight” is often seen in the hospitality industry, but many consultants have seen the benefits of going above-and-beyond for clients in innovative ways; consider how you might be able to enhance your deliverable with something unexpected and outside the box.
A good example of this is free advice—often offered on a subject matter where the independent contractor is an expert—that can help a client. Clients love knowing about the “next big thing” in their space and being able to share that insight with colleagues. And, by positioning a client for success, you may be setting yourself up for success too, in the form of a new project!
9. Stay Positive and Polite
It may not always be possible to delight your clients with “wow” moments and big wins. But you can control your attitude. Those soft skills may just be the nudge above the competition to land the next job. After all, just as we’d prefer to eat with someone who has good table manners instead of the person who chews with their mouth open, clients often choose the polite and well-spoken consultant instead of the “mad genius” who can be talented, but difficult to work with.
10. Ask for Feedback
A strong dialogue and relationship with a customer opens the door to direct, candid feedback. Such feedback can help your business, its operations, and its reputation. Always be ready to listen!
Properly identifying and using these customer service tools can only provide benefits to both your business and your clients. A strong understanding of your audience, meeting—and when appropriate, exceeding—demands, and proper communication all play a critical role in being a desirable, dependable independent consultant.