The Hardest Question to Ask Your Client (You'll Be Glad You Did!)

While my family and I ate dinner at a restaurant the other night, I was struck by how often the waiter asked if everything was all right. The experience had me thinking how those of us in freelance businesses all too frequently avoid asking our clients questions about their satisfaction with our service.

The trouble is, we're afraid to ask those important, business-improving questions for fear the client might have something negative to say. Or, to avoid hearing something we don't want to hear, we phrase them in a way that doesn't really welcome a negative answer.

“Let me know if you have any problems,” we say as we head out the door or end the phone conversation.

My challenge to you is this: Ask your clients about your service assuming they have something to complain about.

For example: “What one thing did I do or not do that I could improve for you next time?”

With this question, you let the client know that you're sincerely interested in what he has to say. You also make it clear that you hope there will be a “next time.” In other words, that you want to have the opportunity to serve him again.

If the client can't think of anything, take the brave step of asking him about specific aspects of your service, such as promptness, billing, or your communication skills.

If he points out something that could be improved, thank him. Then ask, “How else could I have done a better job for you?”

Yes, it's kind of scary to ask direct questions like these. But we have to do it because we know that the best way to improve our services – and grow our business – is to find out what we've been doing wrong … and fix it.

We know we're not perfect. We make mistakes. But, being human, we shy away from hearing the negatives (and not just in business, but in our personal lives too).

The reality is, by inviting honest criticism from your clients, you dramatically improve your chances of being called back. They probably aren't used to being asked for input so directly, and will appreciate your concern about doing the best possible job for them. It also distinguishes you from other freelancers they've used in the past, and strengthens your professional relationship.

When do you ask these questions? Your clients are busy, so you need to respect their time.

One way to handle this is to send them a service-satisfaction questionnaire at the end of the project. Another way is to actually write a project “post mortem” into the schedule from day one … a short meeting to discuss how the whole thing went. Both of these methods give your clients a chance to think of specific things that might not come to mind if you spring your questions on them out of the blue.

No matter how you do it, make sure you ask your clients for input on your services – as clearly and directly as possible. Then fix any problems you uncover. You'll notice a dramatic increase in return clients … and satisfaction with your career.

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Published: February 8, 2007

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