In Vertical Markets, Relationships Last a Long Time
In many of the markets in which Aquila operates, the key to success is the long-term relationships between us and our clients. The reality is that there is no relationship between our company and the client- it is between our staff and the client’s staff. That is where the rubber hits the road.
Our businesses tend to have very long tenured employees- so do our clients. In that environment, you build a reputation as someone who delivers or someone who does not. It is more akin to a large family that has many cousins; you may not interact with them very often, but you remember when one of them does not help when needed.
The success to these longer relationships lies in having mutual respect, communicating expectations, staying on top of your partner’s needs, and remaining vigilant about your partner’s happiness. That is why one of our core values is to “Communicate Expectations Accurately, and then Work Hard to Exceed Them.”
When Your Client is in a Very Critical Position, You Need to Message Very Carefully
While many of our interactions with clients are during routine tasks related to product usage, product updates, and other items that are low-stress events, we will often encounter high stress- or what we call critical event interactions.
While ensuring every interaction with a client must be high quality, we are especially aware that during these high-stress situations, our communication must be our best effort.
When clients are going through these key stress experiences, they are looking for many things. They want the answer and they would love if you could resolve the issue immediately. But, if you cannot immediately provide that, you need to work with them to provide a direction forward. During this period, you need to ensure that you message very, very carefully.
Listen Closely to What the Client is Saying- and Find the Core Problem
Often in these stress-filled situations, the client is sharing all the elements that are concerning them. They are often talking fast and explaining the impact of not resolving it. They will often dangle what I would call “low hanging fruit” type of symptoms, ones that you know you can quickly resolve.
While swiftly resolving these items may make you feel good, you have to hold off trying to solve those “low hanging fruit symptoms” until you understand the totality of the problem. Listen until all points have been shared, explore some of the items that you still have questions about and then restate what you have heard back to the client.
Try to frame what they are saying to you in regards to what needs to be cleaned up, but also in relation to what core elements need to be addressed. If you don’t’ properly understand the problem, you will not communicate well nor solve anything long-term.
If You Say You Are Going to Do Something, You Better Do it
This is the most difficult part of the call; you are better off immediately disappointing your client, rather than inherently raising their expectations to a level that cannot be met.
Be honest. Tell them what you can do and if you need additional time to figure out certain issues, but in all cases immediately share information with them.
It is much better to be straightforward and say no, rather than to begin working through alternatives and hoping for a perfect outcome that has a very low chance of success. You will very likely end up back on a call with the client, this time with much lower credibility.
You Have to Know Your Environment In Order to Be Great at Delivering
The key point here is not just a discussion on messaging (although that is very important), it is what occurs before a call happens.
You must know your product, your team, your schedule, your own abilities, and your time constraints before you are even able to communicate what is possible to a client.
Basically, you must become great at your job to be great in a crisis. You prepare for these moments by learning, improving and testing what can be done, as well as knowing what fails. Keep in mind, this will be different for each culture, technology, and environment in which you operate in.
Ultimately, all relationships are built on experiences and ensuring that these situations are as positive as possible. This requires great communication, more so in a crisis. In order to excel in critical moments, you need to prepare the work beforehand. I have always found that while very hard to accomplish, keeping your standards higher than your clients is the benchmark you should strive for.
I have always found that while very hard to accomplish, keeping your standards higher than your clients is the benchmark you should strive for. This is the bar you should personally run at. Focus your learning towards this goal and hold you and your staff accountable to it- before the client asks for it.