TROY HAZARD asks the question, “Is it enough to emphasise excellent customer service, or can we do more to meet our clients’ needs?”
TWENTY YEARS ago businesses all over the world were using the same catch-cry to their teams: ‘We need to exceed our customers’ expectations in order for us to be the (insert industry or business category) of choice’. And in the main they were right.
Today, that just gives you the skills to run onto the field. If you want to win the game you need to anticipate your clients’ needs and deliver on that anticipation well before they even think they have a need.
Consider this: in 2006 when you were looking for a mobile phone your sole need was for smaller and lighter. And leading your choices to fulfil that need were Motorola and Nokia. You didn’t have a need for the ability to store and sort hundreds of pictures and videos, nor did you need any ‘apps’ – largely because nobody knew what an ‘app’ was. Heck, you were just getting used to mobile email and colour screens.
Then along comes the iPhone. Sure, it wasn’t smaller or lighter than the phone you had, but it was ‘smart’. It did stuff that you thought only your desktop computer could do. Now you could hold that same power in the palm of your hand. And you rushed to it with the reckless abandon of your first high school love. Apple didn’t just exceed your expectations; they anticipated them and delivered on that anticipation well before you even thought you needed it.
When you think about it, that’s the way businesses win business in the modern economy. We often don’t consider, or even understand, that that’s what they are doing. We just label them as trendy, cutting edge or cool.
A car that runs on electricity and can still do 0-100 KPH in less than four seconds. A company that not only delivers books to your home, but now pretty much anything you want to shop for without you leaving the lounge room. A website that allows you to connect with friends all over the world and at the same time follow your favourite things in life.
I don’t have to tell you the brand names, because you know the companies already. Each and every one of them anticipated, and continue to anticipate, a consumer need and delivered on that well before their competitors.
This is what makes these companies distinctive to you and has you buying their products and services when you aren’t even really sure why. Anticipating a client’s expectation does not have to be hard. And it does not always have to be driven by technology, or neuroscience, or the ‘next big thing’.
It’s about understanding our client’s journey and seeking to be one step ahead of them on that journey. Our challenge in relation to that is gathering the data that allows us to make the assumptions, to offer us the opportunity to anticipate what’s next.
One of the key strategies to help us achieve that goal is to focus more on client intent and less on client instruction. Now, I’m sure you are thinking, ‘Isn’t that somewhat counter-intuitive? Isn’t serving our clients’ needs what we are here to do? Isn’t that what you just said we should be doing?’
Think of it this way. Your clients are coming to you seemingly informed about what you can do for them. They’ve Googled you, done some cursory research on the Internet, read some reviews and believe they have a balanced view of how you can solve a need they perceive they have. The challenge we have is that in many instances, while they are gathering information, we’ve not been part of that conversation to help them validate their findings. As a result, with the influence of self-managed information their instructions may be a departure from the reality of their intent.
To remedy this our task is to be the architect of the conversation, so that we can establish what they think they have learnt with what they think they need, all the while steering them to what we know they need relative to their real intent.
Next time you are sitting in front of a client, consider the journey you could take with them, the lifetime value of their business – if only we could truly understand their intent, anticipate their need and not just exceed!