This past summer, an elderly uncle passed away, leaving my sister and me with both the burden and honor of settling his affairs as co-executors. Our already busy lives were rocked with this out-of-left-field assignment as we began making what felt like mile-long to-do lists of everything that needed to be done. Planning a funeral, sorting through stacks of medical bills and insurance payments, dealing with the insurance company following the car accident that led to our uncle’s ultimate passing, making sense and taking control of his finances, assuming the oversight of his surviving spouse with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, and sorting through a very cluttered house in preparation for an ultimate sale.
Along with 47 years worth of household treasures, we also inherited a team of professional service providers that our uncle had used over the years, including a funeral director, attorney, and CPA. We also selected and hired other professionals to help us along the way including an estate liquidation company and real estate agent. In a short period of time, our relationships with professional service providers expanded significantly, allowing me as a PSM Project Manager a sudden laboratory in which to observe what works and what doesn’t in terms of meeting a client’s most basic needs.
Through this recent experience, I have learned a few important lessons about how much the little things matter when it comes to delivering exceptional client service. Regardless of what services you deliver, there are a few areas that cannot be overemphasized in terms of their importance to winning-over and retaining clients:
- Ask Good Questions Upfront
The service providers that have consistently exceeded our expectations are the ones who ask the best questions upfront. In doing so, they communicate a genuine interest in making sure there is a mutual fit between client and provider AND in understanding our specific needs, priorities and operating style.
- Follow Through and Keep Your Promises
It feels almost embarrassing to put this in words as it feels like such a “no-brainer.” I have been amazed, however, at the effort it has taken to get some professional service providers to respond to emails, call back as promised, or deliver what they’ve said they will deliver. I do not mind waiting an extra day for a return call if the expectation has been set appropriately. But saying you will call back tomorrow and then not doing so leads to loss of trust and unnecessary client frustration. When the client must work harder than the provider to get business taken care of, it may be time to revisit the decision to hire them in the first place.
- Don’t be Shy about Sharing Referrals
Several of the professionals we’ve hired have come to us through referrals from others. The estate liquidation company, for example, referred us to our real estate agent as they share a common focus of working with families with elderly family members in transition. The suggestions have been welcome and the synergies that often exist between complementary service providers have saved us time and given us added confidence in those with whom we are working.
- Remember: the Devil’s in the Details
I’m amazed at how many incomplete email responses I’ve gotten, how many errors on documents I’ve caught and how many excuses I’ve been given from my army of service providers-yes, even the ones I really like and have faith in. Taking a few extra seconds to re-read an email before sending or to cross-check facts goes a long way to building trust with your clients and to conveying your dedication to professionalism. I may not give credit to my attorney for spelling my name correctly, but I sure notice (and get annoyed) when the CPA spells it wrong.
- Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em
The original attorney who drafted the estate documents for our uncle never actually returned our call. My sister and I were collectively passed along from gatekeeper to gatekeeper, given excuses for our calls not being returned (“Oh, that secretary has since been terminated”) and ultimately put on the back burner after finally getting an in-person meeting with another attorney at the firm. It became evident that the firm would not be a good fit for us and we began our search for another attorney. There are too many good service providers out there to settle for one who does not work to exceed your expectations.
The hard work of settling an estate can be unsettling, to say the least.
With the help of our small army of service professionals, however, we are making headway and crossing tasks off the to-do list which a few months ago felt endless. We are learning important lessons along the way and seeing first-hand what a difference a client service focus can make.
Heather Felt holds a Bachelor’s in Business Administration degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Master’s of International Management degree from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, AZ. Outside of PSM, Heather focuses her time and energy exclusively on two young clients at home who just happen to share her last name.