Why do suppliers not ask their clients enough tough questions?

Are suppliers asking their clients enough questions?

The role of supplier is not for everyone

Having worked in a client service role for various communications agencies for more years than I care to remember, one could say I’m very familiar with the client/supplier dynamic.

I understand that the supplier or service role is not for everyone. Indeed, a job where you are communicating every day with your clients and constantly trying to ensure you are exceeding their expectations is not some people’s idea of following a great career path.

Service people get a kick out of making others happy

Nevertheless, for those of us who rather enjoy working on the service side of the business, we naturally get a real kick out of making others happy and solving their problems – not to mention getting some recognition for our efforts now and again.

Suppliers are not always great at asking tough questions

But, and you knew there was a but coming, even though I consider myself a customer service person through and through, I’m the first one to observe and readily admit that those on our side of the business are not always that great at challenging their clients.

Asking direct questions will often elicit a more honest reply

What I mean by this is that many service companies profess to want to be seen more as business partners than suppliers and yet fail to act like a partner i.e. asking tough, direct questions that will probably elicit a more direct and honest reply.

Lack of questions leads to relationship holes

Through interviewing lots of clients on behalf of suppliers, I come across countless simple-to-remedy holes in relationships that have not been identified by the supplier because they have failed to ask the right questions. Holes that if left dormant without any action could easily lead to crevices in the relationship.

Suppliers are people pleasers

Many people who end up in a client service role tend to be by nature ‘people pleasers’ and therefore actually get some satisfaction from sorting stuff out for others and making people happy. These people don’t tend to want to ‘rock the boat’ and therefore much is left unsaid.

Clear questioning is sometimes seen as rocking the boat

I’ve witnessed many suppliers put down the phone after a conversation with the client and complain why the client isn’t agreeing/collaborating/acknowledging etc. It seems the ‘pain’ of asking clear, probing questions in order to get to a place of mutual understanding is too great.

That pain seems to stem from a desire not to rock the boat or jeapordise the strength of the relationship. One could equate this to a marriage or romantic partnership where one party is clearly more ‘into’ the relationship than the other and therefore will bend over backwards to please that person and not want to upset the apple cart for fear of hurting the partnership.

The most successful suppliers challenge their clients

Is this healthy? I don’t believe so. And contrary to upsetting the client, I have seen the most successful and respected suppliers regularly challenge their client’s thinking. It’s positive, it’s healthy and it works.

Stop talking, start listening and asking questions

A great recent example of this was witnessing a colleague who usually ‘talks’ at the client rather than asking questions. First they started actively listening (70% of the time) and then starting asking questions (30% of the time) i.e. adopting a coaching style. The result was dramatic. The client revealed so much more information than they usually would and as a result the supplier was able to ‘diagnose’ the problem more accurately and together a solution was reached.

If you’re a supplier, are you asking enough questions?

So if you’re a supplier, are you acting like a business partner? Are you agreeing with the client to keep the relationship on a steady footing? Or are you asking enough intelligent, probing, respectful questions in order to uncover the real problems/issues and diagnosing the real issues before you provide solutions?

We all have clients

Nowadays we all have clients and therefore are all in some form or another in a ‘supplier’ role. So it’s worth asking yourself if you truly do ask the right questions or indeed whether any questions are simply left ‘unsaid’ and if so what impact this might be having on your career or business.

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