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External Customer Connection Questions

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External customers want to feel valued and to trust you are providing the quality service based on their needs and wants. High performing leaders recognize the need to build feedback loops with external customers to inform service quality, improvement, and decisions that may affect service performance. Engaging external customers in conversations focused on their definition of quality service communicates your concern and commitment to the customer and customer care. We’ve found that making connections with customers that encourage open lines of communication provide leaders with important information that supports leader decision making and creates a great organization for all stakeholders. Asking your customer about the quality of service received, as well as the quality of service expected, indicates that you have sincere care for your customer. If you have sincere care, you will provide high-quality service consistently. This high-quality service becomes contagious.

Research tells us that “good decision making” is one of the highest organizational priorities for leaders. Intentionally connecting with and seeking the input of external customers reflects the highest level of commitment to better decision making since you are asking your customer to define what quality service means.

Why are external customer connection questions important?

Most of us want to:

  • be known for excellent service to all customers
  • consider how decisions will impact the customer
  • work in an organization that is known for excellent service
  • collect and use feedback from all customers for improvement
  • recognize employees who provide excellent quality of care for customers

Leaders are responsible for ensuring the intentional use of external feedback to improve the team’s service. The willingness of a customer to recommend your organization or service to others is the most important feedback item in our research on customer engagement and satisfaction. Connecting with customers and making them feel valued builds trust in the service you provide. This also increases customer confidence and leader competence in organizational decision making.

The deliberate practice of finding out what matters to external customers tells all stakeholders you care about making well-informed decisions and value continuous improvement.

What are external customer connection questions?

The External Customer Connection Questions (ECCQs) tactic includes two components, the questions to ask customers and follow-up once the information is gathered. We suggest that leaders use a common set of external customer connection questions to gain insight from external customers. The questions are:

  1. What is working well with the service we provide to you?
  2. Is there anything our team could do to better serve you?
  3. Who on our team has been especially helpful to you? What did he/she do?

As you are asking the questions, remember to take notes. Doing something with the information you gather is as important as gathering it.

How should I ask external customer connection questions?

Step 1:      Select a minimum of 3 external customers to talk with each month. There are various ways to make meaningful connections with an intentional focus.

  • Schedule a time to call the three customers. Use this time to engage in a conversation using the three external customer questions.
  • Let them know immediately why you are calling and the outcome you want to achieve. Also, tell them you look forward to spending a few minutes with them.
  • Always remain considerate of the customers’ time. If they are in the middle of something, in a hurry, distracted, or seemed rushed, schedule another time to connect.

Step 2:  Engage in a 3 to 5 Minute Conversation using ECCQs

  • Acknowledge external customers during the conversation and ask about something that is important to them (their day, their family, an event, etc.)
  • Ask Them Three Questions and Note Their Responses:
    • What is working well with the service we provide to you?
    • Is there anything our team could do to better serve you?
    • Who on our team has been especially helpful to you? What did he/she do?
  • Thank them for their time.

Step 3:  Follow Up on What You Learn

  • Create a way to keep your notes in a place where you can use the information to follow up with your team. Consider a designated notebook or an electronic record. Organize your notes in a way that helps you synthesize the information from all external customer connections.
  • Make intentional use of the information you gather by incorporating it into consistent communication protocols such as:
    • Include a standing item on a meeting agenda for your team that says something like – Follow Up from external customer connections
    • Include things you learn from your customer connection conversations and how it has impacted decision-making in your organizational communication briefs (internal newsletters, email debriefs, digital communication, etc.)
    • Communicate with those who participated in the ECCQs conversation any decisions made by you/your team based on information gathered in the scheduled conversations (external newsletters, email blasts, digital communication, etc.)
    • Determine people to recognize and acknowledge them by
      • Using a “Shout Out” that includes the name of the person recognized, person recognizing the work, and the specific “things” recognized.
      • Writing a personal thank you note expressing your sincere appreciation for this person and the noted recognition.
      • Sending a note to an executive expressing the person recognized, the person recognizing the work, and why this work is significant to the organization.

Commit to Connecting

If the months keep passing and you keep forgetting to connect with customers, use your calendar to establish a cadence for connecting. Set a 30 minute appointment on the same day of each month and use that time to schedule your connections. Then, treat the appointments as sacred events on your calendar. Avoid canceling and adjust the number of appointments each month, as you learn what works best for you.

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