Leadership optimize

10 things you should know about your clients (but probably don't)

Your client relationships will be stronger if you know a thing or two -- or 10 -- about their needs, preferences, and the business itself.

Quick: Who is your number one client? How much do you know about that client? Do you really know enough? My guess is no, you don't know enough about that client to be on top of their needs, wants, and plans for the future. I have a solution for that problem. The following list covers 10 things you should know about your clients. Verify what you already know and find out what you don't. Then be glad you are that many steps ahead of your competition.

Note: We created a simple Excel worksheet you can download to record this info and other pertinent notes for each of your clients.

1: Web surfing habits

I know, I know -- you're already shaking your head. But don't give up just yet. Let me explain this one. A number of the clients I work with have terrible Web surfing habits. It seems on a weekly basis, yet another client has surfed over to a site they shouldn't have and wound up with malware on their machines. After a while, you start to see the patterns. You can either work proactively to prevent the problems or just be aware that the surfing habits of end user A at client 1 will have you working overtime to keep malware off at least one machine.

2: Legal requirements

Do you have clients that fall under HIPAA? Or do you have lawyers who must have their clients' information kept under the tightest of wraps? These pieces of information are crucial not only for you to know but to fully understand. On a weekly basis, I see clients that don't even know the HIPAA requirements for their computers. So I have to know these rules to keep the client from getting into trouble and to keep myself out of hot water.

3: Technical knowledge

Are you working with end users who are completely clueless with technology-- or do they know just enough to be dangerous? What you can determine about your clients in this category will help you figure out exactly how to deal with them and what to expect from them. A client's tech savvy will also dictate whether a problem can be handled remotely or will require you to visit them. Those with fewer capabilities are far more comfortable with you making an appearance instead of having to be part of the action with a remote session. That face time also goes a long with in keeping the less savvy clients comfortable.

4: Budget for IT

How much does your client spend on IT? How much does your client plan on spending on IT. Why would you want to know this information? As much as it pains me to admit this, but support is a business and those clients that are better suited to pay your bills wind up higher on the food chain of your business. Knowing that a client is better prepared to invest in the future of their IT means that client is going to wind up getting special treatment. Knowing this gives you a bit of an edge.

5: Birthdays and other important dates

What was the date your most important client signed on with you? Can't remember it? You should. Sending out little thank-you notes and birthday cards can go a long, long way to ensuring that client is happy with your professional relationship. That relationship you are building (or have built) is the foundation on which your business will stand -- and it best be solid. Little things like knowing these kinds of dates will help steady it.

6: Business model

What exactly do your clients do? Who is their competition? What needs do they have (or haven't discovered) where IT infrastructure can help out? Knowing your client's business can give you an edge on predicting requirements, anticipating issues, and making sure the client has everything they need to stay ahead of the pack.

7: One-, five-, and 10-year plans for IT

This goes along with knowing your client's IT budget, but it takes it one step further to help you assist your client in planning. No good support service would sell hardware for the now -- we sell for the future so a client can be working long term, without having to upgrade hardware every year. For this, I recommend working with your clients to have a one-, five-, and 10-year plan. Yes, most likely the five- and 10-year plans will be more general than will the one-year plan, but even having those generalities will help you plan accordingly.

8: Best times to be reached

Every client has different needs and requirements. Some prefer to be contacted in the morning. Some prefer to be contacted in the afternoon. Some will give you explicit instructions on when they can be contacted after hours. You'll be able to put out a fire much faster when you know when a client can and can't be reached -- especially with higher maintenance clients.

9: Alternate contact methods

Closely related to knowing when to call a client is knowing the best ways to reach them. This will go a long way toward keeping the lines of communication open and flowing freely. Some clients prefer to be contacted through email, some by phone, and some with a text. I see each type on a daily basis, and it's always a huge plus to know which way to connect to each client. This is especially true when communicating after hours.

10: Passwords

This is always a loaded issue. Do you store your clients' passwords or not? From my perspective, it varies from client to client. If a client is bad at remembering or documenting passwords, keep them. If a client is good about documenting, don't bother. But you should always document certain passwords (such as Domain admin, wireless, and router passwords). When a client calls you and says "I can't remember my wireless password!" you don't want to have to reset their router just to give them a password.

What else?

What other kinds of information have you found helpful in providing topnotch service to your clients?

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

8 comments
a.portman
a.portman

Your contract should specify your password policy on their network/system. It should not have to be said that you use a different password set for each client. In addition to HIPAA, there is FERPA, Idea act (education), Sorbannes Oxley, state and local regulations and industry specific regulations (one of my clients was a small casino. Client once asked why the IT regs were so strict. I pointed out that if I could create a user and an account, I could literally create money. Hello green light.) Also, your contract should spell out that you will inform the proper authorities if you find child porn on the system in the course of your work. Again, depending on where you are and what industry they are in, you may be REQUIRED to report child porn.

tbmay
tbmay

Now, they always pay for hardware and software up front. And they always pay minimum deposit before I start. The initial invoice defines the work terms. The only thing more frustrating than working hard to solve a customers problems, then not get paid, is to actually be financing a couple of grand worth of equipment on top of it. Never again. I can do absolutely nothing and go broke. I don't have to work to do that.

Ron_007
Ron_007

If you do provide free "little extra's", unrequested backup before repair, antimalware scan, make sure you let them know it has been done, say be including it on the invoice, "Service N/C". I like Suresh's point. And actually, if you are a small operation, you may require they pay up front for large cash outlays for parts etc.

Dogcatcher
Dogcatcher

My preference is to know as few passwords as possible. When practical, let the client do the login to the computer, router, etc. If ever there is unauthorized access, I want to be as distant from the problem as possible. In addition to the obvious CYA aspect, it means less for me to remember or record.

codepoke
codepoke

I'm not a big fan of yours, Jack, but this was helpful. You brought a new perspective to the question, and I like your thoughts. I'd mention if you're going to keep your customers' passwords, you'll probably want to protect yourself in some way. Indemnify the process and be sure to use a truly secure storage solution. No one wants to be a vector.

msimms
msimms

Jack - good software like Norton 360 and Emsisoft make #1 a moot point....and by the way, it doesn't apply to clients who are looking for software dev service. #1 should be: who are the players in the company; how are decisions made; who has the most influence.

beck.joycem
beck.joycem

Servicing mostly home computers it's important for us to know who else might use their computers, and how much control the client has over how they do so. Middle aged gardener using Skype to call her sister in Australia who's never heard of iTunes and wouldn't even have a credit card, let alone buy anything from a web site sounds like a pretty low risk, but her son visits on the second Sunday of each month, and he has a penchant for downloading illegal videos. And he's quite capable of switching off firewalls, AV and antispyware to do so.

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

This is something I would probably find out only after the first paycheck. However, if I could research this before taking on the client, I would. Does the client pay on time? Do they make excuses for delaying payments? Do they make deductions for delays? etc.