Maya Angelou once said, "People may forget what you say, but they never forget how you make them feel." Customers remember experiences more than the product or service you offer.
Effective communication can often dictate your customer's experience with you and whether they stay on board for the short term or the long haul. One of the main obstacles of communication is how you conduct meetings. These regular interactions are essential for building and maintaining a strong client-customer bond, but your approach to these get-togethers can either improve your relationship, or gradually erode it.
Customer meetings can be face-to-face, over the phone, or even via video chats, but whichever format you choose, always follow these five basic guidelines.
1. Always have an agenda.
Make sure every meeting is constructive. Your client's time is valuable, and if you bring something of value to them, the client will be much more willing to embrace them and see their real value. Ask the client beforehand if there is anything in particular he or she wants to cover. Write up an agenda that includes their items and yours and send out several days before the meeting.
This ensures they have time to review and can gather any information they may need. I also have found it is important to always leave space to talk about my client's family and their life. If the meeting is too formal, it can lose the personal human connection that creates a long-lasting relationship.
2. You are not "Google."
Do your best to research the main issues and questions your customer wants to discuss, or you feel may come up. However, remember that a client does not expect you to know everything right on the spot. If you get stuck on a question, let them know you will research it and get back to them by a certain date.
I have earned more respect from my clients by admitting that I don't know the answer to something, but will research it. By telling them a time and date when they should expect a response, it puts them at ease and they know they are working with the right person.
3. Choose a setting your customer likes.
I find face-to-face encounters help build and maintain a strong repertoire. Visiting a customer's workplace whenever possible offers him or her a comfortable and relaxed environment for the meeting. However, this is sometimes not possible, or even appropriate for the meeting, depending on their location or the services you offer.
If you do host the meeting at your office, set up in a conference room or other place away from the day-to-day hustle of office noise and chatter. If they are not local, use video conferencing. When you connect and see each other through a webcam, the relationship retains the personal connection that is important for success.
4. Begin and end on time.
Nothing is more draining that meetings that begin late and go over time. Again, respect the customer's time. Be ready at least 15 minutes beforehand and take care of any prep work or organization so you are ready to go. Keep an eye on the clock and announce when there is only about five to 10 minutes left in case there is something on the agenda that must be covered.
End the meeting by scheduling a time and date for the next one. Make it part of your agenda to repeat the action items and set the next appointment together. In my experience, it's much harder to get a hold of someone to set a future appointment after the meeting is over.
5. Send a follow up message and summary.
By day's end, e-mail a summary of what was discussed, any decisions that were made, or additional information or services the customer has requested. This ensures nothing was missed during the meeting and creates backup documentation in case either you or the client needs to revisit any decisions.
I used a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, which helps communicate to everyone in my business what the customers knows and where everything stands. This eliminates any communication confusion and provides action items for team members based on the meeting.
Customer relationships are just like those in our personal lives--you get out of them what you put in. Meetings are a necessary part of doing business, but instead of seeing them as routine work, approach them as an opportunity to improve your client relations. You have that valuable time together, so make the most of it.