You’re working hard on behalf of your clients and most of them seem pretty happy.  After all, they are not complaining, thank goodness, and “no news is good news.”  Right?

Perhaps not.  Just because your client isn’t complaining doesn’t mean he’s entirely satisfied with you or your firm.  In fact, a study performed by The Technical Assistance Research Programs Institute and highlighted in the book Get Referrals Now by Bill Cates revealed that for big-ticket services, 63 percent of unhappy clients won’t complain.  Instead, they may silently go to one of your competitors, leaving you scratching your head and with one less client.

Author Bill Cates, widely regarded as America’s leading authority on getting referrals, recommends that you intentionally get your clients to complain.  Ugh.  Sounds pretty painful, doesn’t it?  But according to Cates, the study mentioned above demonstrated that complainers are more likely to stay with the company they complained about than the ones who remained silent.  Backing up that data is a similar study from The Strategic Planning Institute which netted statistics showing that of clients who complain, 70% will do business with the firm again if the complaint is resolved, and 95% will do business again if it’s resolved quickly.  Why?  Because, says Cates, “[a] relationship that’s had a problem handled well is a stronger relationship than one that’s never had a problem.”

If your clients are unhappy and you don’t know about it . . .

  • You’ll never have the opportunity to fix the problem for that client or for others who may be just as dissatisfied
  • There’s an excellent chance they will hire someone else without even giving you the opportunity to make things right
  • They will certainly not refer other clients to you and, even worse,
  • They may badmouth you to anyone who is willing to listen, damaging your reputation.

One tactic you can use to find out what your clients really think is to simply ask every so often.  Perhaps you check in with the client at pre-determined intervals (every 3 months, for example) or when a natural evaluation point arises (like the end of discovery).  Here are two different approaches you can try:

  • Ask the client to rate his recent experience on a scale of 1 to 10 (a “scaling question”) and then ask what would have to happen to increase his satisfaction level.
  • Pose the following question: What one or two things could have made this process/project/experience better?

Keep in mind this short but powerful quote from Kate Zabriskie: “The customer’s perception is your reality.”

While there will always be the occasional client who seems to endlessly complain about virtually everything no matter what you do, it’s a good idea to get the quieter ones to complain a little bit more.  This is one of those situations where what you don’t know can hurt you.  The more you know about what your clients want and need and what they are and are not getting from you, the easier it will be to create client relationships that will stand the test of time.

How might your practice improve when you encourage clients to be honest about what they think you’re doing wrong?

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