You know the saying as it relates to engineering. Some variation of: “Don’t ask Jack/Jill what time it is. He/she will build you a clock.”
You probably engineer some pretty awesome clocks. But how do you get from the conceptual clock (e.g., what the client wants) to the outcome (e.g., what the client needs)?
It all depends on how simple and how RELEVANT you keep the process, including your explanation of the pathways towards the solution.
Ask yourself these questions:
- When my customers ask me for an answer, I provide one answer encompassing all the possible ramifications of a solution that I can think of. And I may call them back with even more solutions once I really start to think about things.
- When my customers ask me for information on a project, I provide them with the full breadth and depth of data available that support the project.
- When my customers ask me for a timeline, I provide multiple dates related to the multiple possible ramifications of the proposed solutions based on the full breadth and depth of data available that support the project. Whew!
If you answered YES to any one of these questions, let alone more than one, no one will ever accuse you of providing a simple, relevant solution for your client. Ever. In fact, your customers may perceive that working with you is the equivalent of trying to clean out their garage. Too complicated and too overwhelming.
Regardless of whether you are talking to a peer or a decision-maker, keeping things simple – and relevant – is the goal. Who has time anymore to ponder the logic and profound nature of all the glorious information you are providing to them?
I’m not proposing that you dumb-down your responses or omit important information. However, why choke your clients on information overload when you can feed them bite-sized chunks? And probably get your point across a whole lot better since you aren’t cluttering their minds with information perhaps only you feel is important – or relevant.
Question #1: When customers ask you for an answer, provide a simple answer that addresses the issues that are most important to them. Make it easy to work with you. Your customers may be The Company Decision Maker or the Lead Engineer or the Technical Support Person or the Summer Co-op. Determine to whom you are talking and what types of issues are important to them. Find out what’s relevant and what’s not. Give them the answer that addresses the scope of their responsibilities and the context of their query. And then ask one more critical question: is there anyone else you need to be discussing this issue with? In other words, to whom are they handing-off the information you provided them? Because things will get lost in translation.
Question #2: When customers ask you for project information, provide succinct responses. In order for you to be responsive and succinct, you need to determine what the real issues are behind their questions. Establishing the context – and the relevancy – of their question and your response may uncover unaddressed needs, additional project opportunities and gaps in the current scope of the project. But you will never find out this information if you are providing a broad-based doctoral thesis defense type of response to their query for project information. It’s not about you and what you know. It’s about them and what they need. Make it easy to work with you. Make it understandable to work with you. That’s how clients learn and become loyal, repeat customers.
Question #3: When clients ask for a timeline, provide a simple answer with a caveat that covers your – and their – ability to meet the proposed timeline. Having an extensive “if-then” type of timeline is perceived as waffling. If they propose an unrealistic timeline, find out the reasons behind this timeline. “Their” timeline may have nothing to do with the project as much as it has to do with other issues they have to deal with, outside the context of your project. You’re not an order-taker. Arrive at a set of deliverables, collaboratively.
Building a clock and providing your client with straight-forward, succinct, simple, relevant information along the way is a powerful tool for customer retention.
Don’t forget to keep things simple and relevant any and every time you have a chance. It’s a great way to gradually change how you communicate with your peers, colleagues and, most importantly, your customers.
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized businesses and startups. She was named one of the Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers 2013. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? focuses on technical / non-technical collaboration strategies and tools.