Archive for the ‘Client Service’ Category

How to get the most out of strategic planning

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Strategic planning has been a hot topic of conversation lately as companies focus on how to thrive — not just survive — in a challenging economy. Here are my two cents. Strategic planning is all about the questions we ask, the new insights that come into view, and the concrete, smart and actionable outcomes that come about. 

Strategic plans are often several inches thick and packed with data. We absolutely need the data to drive data-informed decisions. And even before we collect the data, we need to know which questions we want the data to help us answer. Ideally the data will lead us in new directions and drive important decisions not just confirm what we already know.

There’s a wonderful story about Albert Einstein proctoring an exam. One of his students was surprised by the test’s questions and said, “Professor Einstein, you accidentally gave us last year’s exam. The questions are the same.” Einstein replied, “The questions may be the same, but the answers are not.”

So whether you’re asking new questions or revisiting important questions you’ve explored in the past, what new answers are you discovering through your strategic planning process?

10 Ways to Be More Confident

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

I’m often asked by clients to help managers stepping up into more visible leadership roles.  They typically say, “He’s very smart and has great ideas…but he needs to be more confident.”

While there is no “confident” switch, there are ways to help us feel more confident. Here are ten suggestions:

  1. Focus on why you have the position, the seat at the table, the opportunity to speak at a conference…Think about your successes and accomplishments — give yourself a silent, in-the-moment pep talk!
  2. Don’t wing it when meeting people for the first time. There is no excuse today not to be prepared with insights about a prospective client (both the company and individual).  It’s easy to do a quick Google search or check someone’s profile on LinkedIn, yet it always impresses the other person, which boosts your confidence!
  3. Use that preparation to help you shape your point of view and then own it! Deliver your point of view eyeball to eyeball!
  4. Banish tentative language. “I think…” “We might…” “I’m pretty confident.” If you don’t sound like you believe in what you’re saying, why should anyone else care?
  5. Don’t fidget. No nail biting or cuticle picking or hair twirling or pen clicking or coin-rattling in your pocket.
  6. Stand tall. Excellent posture exudes confidence. If seated, lean into the conversation vs. retreating into the back of your chair.
  7. Smile. Remind yourself that you’re happy to be there, in that situation, at that event, at that moment.
  8. Anticipate conversation starters and questions that will demonstrate sincere interest in others. 
  9. Look confident. Dress the part.
  10. Beware of the “wet fish” handshake. When you enter a conference room or restaurant, put your hand out to confidently shake the other person’s hand. Have a firm (but still friendly) handshake and make eye contact.


The next time someone says to you, “you just need to be more confident,” remember these ten suggestions.

3 Tips to Avoid “Vending Machine” Client Service

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Whether you are a lawyer, public relations professional or financial advisor, you need to make sure that your clients don’t equate your service with purchasing a cola or snack in a vending machine.  “Vending machine” relationships are transaction-based. You get exactly what you want — nothing more. Perhaps momentarily satisfying (like that bag of potato chips in the vending machine) but not healthy long-term.


There are three tips to avoid “vending machine client service:

  1. Be curious. Rather than rush to respond, allow (or train) your brain to wonder about the larger situation that prompted your client to call with their request. Ask questions to learn more about the problem and context. You may discover that the solution the client is asking for is, in fact, not the best solution to their real problem.
  2. Don’t limit your thinking to the typical range of solutions. In real life, your client doesn’t need to pick “E3” or “C5” in the vending machine.  Given your unique expertise and background — and as an advisor to your client — you are likely to recommend a less-generic solution.
  3. Add meaningful value: Focus on the ways in which you can solve the client’s particular problem of the moment and — with that solution — contribute to the client’s larger success. 


Of course, there are some problems that really do just need that simple, straight forward solution. But the really good advisors consider the possibilities. Do you have healthy, growing client relationships or have you lapsed into the role of a client service “vending machine” selling pre-packaged, generic solutions?

What are your “Four Questions?”

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

In the spirit of Passover, the Jewish holiday celebrated around the world this week, I’m dedicating this blog to the practice of asking questions — so important for families and also business leaders, managers and client service professionals.

In Jewish tradition, the youngest children at the Passover seder (the holiday dinner) ask four questions about the holiday’s traditions. We ask the same four questions every year (and have for more than three thousand years) and yet everyone gets excited to ask and answer the four questions. I grew up asking the questions in yiddish, hebrew and english. Today at our family’s seder table children and adults ask the questions because we recognize that all of us are still learning. We ask the questions in yiddish, hebrew, english and have added french, spanish and, this year, mandarin. Everyone actively participates — including my eight-five year old aunt and my six-year old cousin.

Why bother asking the same four questions each year? In addition to honoring tradition, asking the same four questions is part of a structure, a practiced and disciplined way of examining a situation.

Why bother asking the same four questions when we know the answer? At this time every year, we revisit the questions and answers, and both provide lessons for us. The essence of the answer remains the same but the context in which we explore the answers evolves in response to our lives and world conditions.

Why bother innovating how we ask the questions? Building on the tradition is part of the mandate of this holiday — to enlarge upon the telling of the Passover story. In addition, innovating encourages us to take a new look, to examine what we’ve done for years from a different perspective.

What questions do your children know they’ll be asked at the dinner table? What questions do your team members know they’ll be asked to explore during your weekly status meetings? What questions do you explore during your quarterly or annual planning sessions with your client?  How can you enlarge upon those questions? How can you innovate to make sure that everyone’s really paying attention?

Are you a “yes” or “no” person?

Friday, April 15th, 2011

In a gross oversimplification of the workplace, there are two kinds of people: those who say “yes” and those whose default response is “no.”

Let’s take a closer look at an account executive at a large public relations firm who says “yes” to everything. Not only is he considered one of the most positive, eager and open people on the planet, he’s also one of the most overworked and stressed. Despite all his effort, his work is inconsistent and he’s disappointing rather than impressing his manager. He is the first person to volunteer to take on a new project or opportunity to learn new skills. But he also says “yes” even when he doesn’t have a moment free in the day, even when he might not be the best person to get the job done and when he doesn’t feel prepared to do the work. “Yep…got it!” But does he really? When would it be better for this account executive to say “no” and how could he say “no” in a way that enhances rather than hinders his reputation?

Managers love a team member who is on top of his work, eager to take on additional responsibility and shows initiative. They welcome the confident individual who says, “Yes, I’d like to do that” followed by either “and I’ll have the work completed by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday,” or “I have a few questions that I’d like to talk about with you so that I understand your expectations and make sure I approach the task successfully.”  Or “I have some other work due later this week and I want to confirm that I can meet those deadlines and still work on this project.”

Managers also know which of their team members always respond with the same knee-jerk, “Nope.” “Can’t do that.” “No time.” “I’m far too busy.” Or worse, “That’s not something I do…”

What about those times when a team member is genuinely swamped and the manager isn’t really asking for a “yes” or “no” rather just insisting something has to get done in what she knows is an unreasonable time frame. “The client really, really, really needs this tomorrow morning” (said apologetically yet firmly). Typically the manager has already agreed to the tight deadline in the spirit of keeping the client happy.

Is the answer to pull another all-niter or is there an alternative to keep the account executive, manager and client happy? Instead of grinning and bearing it, the account executive can do some probing to learn what the client really needs by the deadline looming less than 24 hours away. Perhaps instead of a finished product (completed to the agency’s usual high standards), the account executive could present a well-thought-through outline, or questions for discussion, or samples of work done for other clients to be used as a jumping-off point for the discussion.

The account executive hasn’t exactly said “yes.”  But he hasn’t said “no,” is still being helpful and has proposed a compromise that may make more sense given the time frame. Of course there will always be those times when the tight turn-around isn’t negotiable. But wouldn’t it be great to make those the exception rather than the rule?

As with most things in life, people in the workplace are best-served by striking a balance between the unrealistic eager beaver and the self-obsessed, unhelpful naysayer. You want to be known as the person who is positive, enthusiastic and standing with two feet firmly — and successfully — grounded in reality!

What Would Your Clients Say?

Monday, April 4th, 2011

For those of us in the professional service business, client service is not an abstract concept. There are daily “moments of truth” when a client feels that you’ve delighted or disappointed them. What would your clients say about your responsiveness, the quality of your work or your billing process?

Try an experiment. Pick a week and view your client service through your clients’ eyes. This means that you can’t factor in your rationale — or excuses — for why you do things the way you do.  Take a critical look at every client touch point. For example:

  • Is the phone greeting they get when they call your office friendly, welcoming and professional or abrupt and amateurish? (I recommend that people answer the phone with their first and last name. Answering my phone, “Beryl” sounds as if I”m expecting an internal call or call from a friend. Taking the extra less-than-a-second to say “Beryl Loeb” is more professional.)
  • Does it feel as if your client’s e-mails are given priority or that their e-mails have fallen into an enormous black hole?  Even when you don’t have the answer to a client’s question, it’s best to respond by letting them know you’ve read their request and will get back to them within (fill in the blank) hours.
  • Are your e-mails, status reports and documents well-written, proof-read and formatted well?  Or does it look like everything was written in rushed, text-message lingo?
  • Does your day-to-day work come across as thoughtful, based on insight and experience or does the client see your best only on big proposals with even bigger price-tags?
  • Are your invoices easy-to-read or do you have to be “in the know” to understand what the charges are for? (The latter means that accounting will bounce back the invoice requiring more of your client’s time.)
  • Does your definition of when a project is completed match the client’s?
  • Would your client say your communication and updates are “just right,” “too sporadic” or “overkill?”
  • Do your meetings start and finish on time which demonstrates respect for your client’s time? Or not…
  • Does your client leave meetings with you excited about the good work you’re doing together or anxious and overwhelmed?

What impressions are your day-to-day behaviors creating?  Are your “moments of truth” building trust or seeding a series of small frustrations that will grow into overall unhappiness?

Winning Ways for First Meetings

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

What were you thinking about during a recent first meeting with a prospective client? Were you listening intently or were you distracted by what you wanted to say?

I’ve been thinking about a great first meeting that I had with a prospective client last week. From the moment we sat down the conversation was off and running. The meeting was an important opportunity, but I resisted the natural pull to stay stuck in my own brain and instead focused on the other person. Reflecting back, the meeting’s success was due to two things: 1) Curiosity-fueled preparation and 2) Demonstrating (not telling) the ways in which I could be a helpful resource.

Curiosity-Fueled Preparation

  1. I read through the background information found on the company’s web-site and in a Google search, and profile information on LinkedIn, to learn about the other person and her company but also to identify what I didn’t know yet. Rather than plan out what I wanted to say about my business, I focused on what I wanted to ask about my prospect’s business.
  2. Armed with what I knew and what I wanted to know, I anticipated a few possible openers to kick off the conversation.

Demonstrating vs. Telling

  1. I built on my questions by sharing new perspectives and insights from my unique vantage point.
  2. I respected the prospective client’s expertise and demonstrated how my knowledge, expertise and experience complement it.
  3. I offered a sneak peak at what the prospect would experience when we work together: relevant suggestions, fresh thinking about her business and tips that will help her business be more successful.

Your next business lunch

Just for fun…the next time you’re in a restaurant on a weekday, observe the conversation of business people lunching nearby.  Chances are you’ll be able to spot the good listeners and those preoccupied with their own thoughts.


Sharpen Your Client Communication-Platinum Rule (part 3)

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Sharpening your client communication is one of the most important ways to ensure that you are treating your clients the way that they want to be treated (Alessandra’s Platinum Rule).  Here are three suggestions to communicate really well:

  1. Listen first…then speak.
  2. Ask questions instead of telling.
  3. Avoid vague-isms.

Listen first…then speak: Jack Welsh once said about a consultant that he worked with, “He is a really great advisor….he listens better than anybody else.”  Notice that Welsh didn’t say, “I love listening to my advisor.” He wants to be listened to!  There’s a gem of wisdom I share in Loeb Group communication, client service and management skills workshops, “…When a person has the experience that they’ve been listened to and understood, they let go of their preoccupation with their own thoughts and feelings. The door to their mind swings open and makes it much easier for them to hear you.” (Dr. Rick Brinkman, author of Dealing with Difficult People)  Try listening to what you client wants to say before you launch into your messages.

Ask your client questions instead of telling: People in client service businesses assume that because the client is paying them, the client wants to be told what to do. That’s not always the case. In fact, more often clients want you to help them discover the key to success vs. dictating it to them.  In fact, asking smart, thought-provoking questions is often far more impressive to a client than having all the answers. What questions have you asked your clients recently that challenged their perspective or truly got them to think? What questions could you ask to drive new insights and mutual understandings? What questions could ensure that they’re focused on the core vs. tangential issue. Think about what questions you can ask that will not only get you the information you need but bring the client to a higher level of understanding and clarity.

Avoid vague-isms: We invite misunderstanding and client frustration when we use language that isn’t crystal clear or don’t clarify when the client uses vague language.  A vague-ism about project scope might be to say or hear, “Just run with it.” Really? How far should we run with that idea? “Or you own it.”  What exactly is ‘it’ and what do you really mean by “own” it? Is that authority to approve deadlines and budgets? How about when the client says, “I’d like your proposal to be more creative” or “strategic.” The only way to make sure that any revisions you make will hit the nail on the head for the client is to ask a few questions to understand what’s currently missing and what they’re looking for. Another example is, “Do a little research on ABC topic.” Is “a little” a 15-minute Google search or a focus group in one vs. ten markets?   Or “Get back to me ASAP.” Who ever really means “as soon as possible?” Chances are the client wants your response by 3:00 not as soon as you can wrap up the other work you’re doing.

Sometimes we just need to listen, ask questions and clarify in order to know what the client really wants.

How to Respond to 3 Client Pulse Points – Platinum Rule (Part 2)

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

We begin cultivating our client relationships from the moment we begin pitching for their business. We set high expectations from those very first meetings. We need to keep our focus on the relationship (not just the tasks we execute) from those exciting first conversations throughout the successes and struggles of the months and (hopefully) years to follow.

Our antennae need to go into overdrive around key “pulse points” — moments in the relationship that require a different level of service, caring or attention. There are three categories of pulse points:

  1. Business/Financial Pulse Points: The pressure clients feel during key budgeting cycles, at year-end, during planning periods, and during the  financial reporting process.
  2. Personal Pulse Points: The distraction and anxiety before vacations (pressure to get everything in order), during (what’s happening that I’m too far away to address?), and after (when the overflowing e-mail inbox and voice mails are overwhelming). And don’t forget weddings, divorces, babies or deaths in the family.
  3. Organizational Pulse Points: You need to look a little more closely to tune into organizational pulse points. What shifts are taking place in management or the organizational structure? Who’s moving offices and who’s getting promoted?  A client’s responses will be different than usual when they’re promoted or passed over for promotion.

This isn’t rocket science, but during all pulse points, it’s critical to think about the Platinum Rule. How is the client feeling and what’s the best way to support her now, in this period of extra stress? How can you help or how can you get out of their way? How can you adjust your frequency of communication and work style to meet the changed –and charged–perspective of the client during these pulse points?

What business/financial, personal or organizational pulse points are ahead for your client?

Focus on 3 Things You Love About Your Clients, Managers, Teams…

Monday, February 14th, 2011

In honor of Valentine’s Day, focus on three things you love about your client. (She remembers to say thank you, she asks great questions, she is very demanding but holds herself to the same high standards…). Then three things you love about your manager. (He’s always accessible, he shares recognition for our team’s good work, he has my best interests at heart…). Then your team members. (They do whatever it takes to get the job done, they ask great questions, they collaborate well as a team). Then the individuals on your team. Then your peers. Keep that love coming!

And once you’ve thought about the three things, try communicating them. Go ahead…you can always say you got swept away by the spirit of Valentine’s Day.