Here are some tips…
- Give them some warning: make it clear that you want their views. “We’ve got a meeting coming up next week – I’d really like to hear from you how you feel things are going, and especially where you think we can improve.”
- Instead of being defensive, be curious. “Tell me more about where our approach gives you trouble.” “What is it that our competitor does that seems better to you?” “What effect does this have on you?”
- Thank them for taking the trouble to explain things to you.
- If you can’t explain in the meeting how you will take action to make things better for them, set a date for when you will get back to them.
- Take action.
We can’t overstress the need to take action. People in general don’t enjoy confrontation and delivering criticism, and if you don’t take any action after they went to all that effort, you are effectively ignoring them. This will diminish the relationship, not strengthen it.
This is hard, which is why skilled leaders sees it as their responsibility to educate and encourage their account managers to seek feedback from clients and to support them when they do it, even if what they find out is hard to take. This moves them towards a relationship where your client tells them what they need to do to make them happier.