Most doctors firmly believe that certain types of regular screening tests and checkups are essential and help save lives. And most of us, no matter how much we despise devoting an hour or more to getting poked and prodded, dutifully go for an annual checkup each year. After all, our health is vital to our overall well-being and happiness. Annual checkups can play a vital role in your professional health as well – especially with regard to client and customer relationships, which are the lifeblood of every business.
In fact, you should absolutely review the “health” of your client relationships on a regular basis. Here’s why: most clients vote with their feet. They don’t tell you they are unhappy – they simply start to give their business to your competitors. Client relationship checkups can help you gauge the health of these relationships, prescribe changes when necessary and identify ways to further grow them.
I recommend infusing your client health checkups with “power questions.” In my book with the same name, I explore dozens of questions that light fires under people, challenge their assumptions, help them see problems in productive new ways and inspire them to bare their souls, which, of course, strengthens the bonds in the relationship.
All business interactions are human interactions. And part of being human is acknowledging that you don’t know everything about everything – and that you certainly don’t know everything about the other person’s needs. Questions help you understand these things more deeply, and they’re an essential tool when assessing the health of client relationships.
When client relationship checkups aren’t performed regularly, the relationships can take unexpected turns. I had a similar experience with a client, a Fortune 100 company with a long-standing relationship with IBM.
IBM’s then-CEO Sam Palmisano decided to visit my client’s CEO. A week ahead of the visit, my client’s relationship manager for IBM called his counterpart to discuss the upcoming CEO summit between their companies. Apparently he did not get a return phone call during that week! The story goes that when Palmisano met with their CEO, he opened by saying, “My people tell me we have an ‘A’ relationship with your organization.” My client’s CEO responded, “Well, my team tells me your relationship with us is a ‘C.’”
Fortunately, this was a wake-up call for the IBM team to dramatically improve the relationship with my client. Within a year, his client told him the relationship was indeed an “A,” and today the company views IBM as a key trusted partner in operating their business.
IBM is a great company that has been quite innovative in the way it builds long-term client relationships. But, as this story illustrates, even well-managed firms can dramatically misread the health of a key client relationship!
The successful firms I work with all have some type of process in place to determine the health and strength of their most important client relationships. They seek feedback at multiple levels. They access the client’s views using a variety of channels – through the relationship manager, during senior executive visits, using independent surveys and in client forums (virtual and in-person).