In the quest for a sustainable rate of business growth, client engagement is critical.
Without the right clients buying the right products or services at the right price (and a fair proportion of those becoming repeat clients), it isn't easy to grow your business.
But what makes for an engaged client, and how do you know - really know - how clients feel about your business?
Let's start with an important distinction....client engagement is not the same as client satisfaction.
Here's what we mean...
Client satisfaction comes from you doing what you say you're going to do when you say you're going to do it and doing it well. Satisfied clients will tell you things like you're "reliable". Nothing wrong with that of course, but your competitors are also mostly "reliable". Based on that, it's easy to argue that client satisfaction alone won't necessarily make them loyal since it doesn't differentiate you in a meaningful way.
Client engagement, on the other hand, is created when you form a relationship with the client on a more basic, emotional level. When clients are engaged, your business is something more to them than simply an efficient supplier of a product or service. These clients will say things like "I'd never go anywhere else for my widgets". They're also more likely to say to anyone who wants to listen, "you'd be crazy to go anywhere else for your widgets."
Spot the difference?
Are most of your clients satisfied? Engaged? Or both?
How sure are you about that?
How do you really know?
We ask these questions of business owners and leaders all the time, and there's a common theme in a large proportion of their responses. When telling us their clients are engaged, this is what they say:
we talk to our clients all the time;
our front line employees tell us that clients are really happy with us;
we know our clients really well, and they'd never go anywhere else; and (believe it or not),
we know because we don't get client complaints.
In other words, the lines of verbal, face-to-face communications are open, and because there are never (or rarely) complaints, it follows that clients must be engaged.
Let's look a little deeper into what business owners and leaders typically tell us...
1. We talk to our clients all the time
Which really means:
"...we have the occasional conversation with clients, but
rarely do we ask them to open up
about their experiences with us..."
"Talking" to clients is great for business. There's little doubt about that. But unless you make it easy for that conversation to be as open and honest as possible, you're probably missing some critical information.
People don't generally like to volunteer bad news because it can lead to conflict, which is uncomfortable. That's especially true in a face-to-face (or phone or Zoom) conversation so that often, all you end up with is:
But if you give your clients "permission" to provide their complete perspective on your business - warts and all - you'll more likely get the bad with the good. Don't be afraid to ask questions that let clients know it's ok to vent if they need to. And importantly, that you'll act on whatever feedback you get.
It's what your clients aren't encouraged to tell you that counts...
2. Our front-line employees tell us that clients are really happy with us
Which really means:
"...employees tell us clients are happy, so I guess we have to believe that..."
We'd suggest that any employees in your business with face-to-face contact with clients are most likely not incentivised to pass on negative feedback from clients. For one thing, they'd probably think it reflects badly on them, given they're responsible for client service.
For another, it's the conflict issue again. Employees are generally more likely to pass on the good news, keeping the not-so-good to themselves.
If you want your employees to always tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, create a safe environment for that to happen. Why not try a regular meeting to discuss good and bad client feedback? Focus on problem-solving and improving the client experience, taking the opportunity to learn from those closest to the client action.
You'll find that once encouraged to speak up and knowing they're safe to do so, your employees will come up with some of the best ideas you've never had.
3. We know our clients really well, and they'd never go anywhere else
Which really means:
"...we have some clients who keep buying from us. They wouldn't do that if they're not happy..."
These clients might be happy enough to keep buying from you, but unless you give them a reason to stay with you, they most likely won't. These clients are satisfied (for now) but not engaged. And if they're not engaged, they'll probably drop you like someone offering a better price than you or some other incentive that resonates with them.
Remember...you want the right clients buying the right products/services at the right price, the starting point being the right client. Be clear on your ideal client profile by answering these and other questions:
Who are you trying to attract?
Whose needs does your business purpose set out to satisfy?
What are the common characteristics of your very best clients?
Sustainable growth comes from creating a client base that is engaged and loyal to your business. They're the ones who'll support you through thick and thin and become advocates for your business.
That's what underpins sustainable growth.
4. We just know because we don't get complaints
Which really means:
"...there's no specific process for us to collect client feedback, but if someone wasn't happy, of course they'd complain..."
Which leads us back to the conflict issue. People tend not to complain in person because it creates that conflict they'd rather avoid.
But let's not forget...this is the 21st century, and when people complain about your business, they're most likely to do it on social media. They don't need to go through the discomfort of discussing their issue with a real person. They can air their opinion of your business on any one of a number of social media platforms.
And who knows how many eyeballs will see a negative comment written about your business by a disgruntled client?
Most (rational) people complain when nothing they do seems to resolve a problem. At that point, you've probably lost them as a client regardless of what you do. So it's far better to nip things in the bud before a client gets to that point.
To do that, and to help you build a truly engaged client base, there's one thing every business should do...
Ask your clients!
And yes, we did say clients won't necessarily open up if you speak to them. Which is why we recommend a short, sharp and focused client survey. They can be quick and easy to conduct and really are the only way to get the feedback you need. For some tips on how best to do this, you can read this recent Insights post.
Clients are too valuable to ignore, and they'll have some great suggestions about how you can improve the delivery of whatever product or service you offer.
What do you do in your business?
How do you really know how your clients feel about you?
Remember...it's what your clients aren't telling you
(because you're not asking) that really counts.
If this Insight has given you food for thought, you're probably interested in the positive impact engaged clients have on sustainable growth. That's where GrowthCatalyst can help.
We invite you to contact us to arrange a conversation, face-to-face or virtual.
Alternatively, you can book a time for an initial discussion here.
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