How to understand your clients' needs and challenges
June 23, 2023
How tuned into your clients’ needs and challenges are you? Although it may feel natural focusing on only the work they’ve hired you for, you’ve got more to offer.
The ability to read between the lines, know what your clients require from you, and anticipate this need is a vital part of meeting stakeholder expectations and maintaining happy and healthy relationships.
While it may not be as straightforward as checking items off a list, learning how to identify your clients’ underlying challenges and unspoken needs is a skill you can hone and improve.
Let’s take a closer look at the different kinds of client needs and how you can solve them.
What are client needs?
Client needs refer to both the tangible and intangible requirements they have for realizing the success of a project and for maintaining a successful working relationship. These needs can be stated outright at the beginning of a project.
Conversely, they may not even be recognized by the client as something they want. Oftentimes, it will be up to your team to figure out what your client needs before they even realize it themselves.
Examples of common customer needs
No two customers will have the exact same needs — but you’re likely to run into some of these common ones repeatedly. When assessing how you can best help your next client, look out for the following:
Transparency: This is another way of saying clear, consistent, and open communication with the client. That could mean sending out regular updates, meeting with them frequently to receive feedback, or developing up-to-date timelines so they know when to expect your work.
Availability: Clients with this need want to be able to access your team whenever they need. That may mean having a dedicated client services employee to interface with them, or simply staying on top of all emails and chats so that you never miss a message.
Control: Some clients may want an extremely high level of involvement at all stages of the project, while others may only want to be involved with the essentials. Properly assessing (and sometimes reevaluating) how much or how little control they want (or should have) over a project can be important.
Trust: Closely related to control and transparency, trust is ultimately about how much confidence the client has in your abilities to meet their challenges. While every client would prefer to have complete confidence, this may not be possible. It will be up to you to properly assess their level of trust, then put processes in place that help you manage the relationship while also instilling confidence.
Measurable results: This is when clients want to be able to see the impact of solving their core problems. Whether qualitative or quantitative, this will likely require your team to collect data throughout the length of your project that shows the results of your efforts.
Techniques to understand and solve your clients' needs
Understanding the challenges and needs of your customers doesn’t necessarily require a great deal of intuition (although it certainly won’t hurt). Instead, by employing some of the strategies below, you can put into place well built processes that will help you craft excellent customer experiences.
Understand your key stakeholders and their involvement
You wouldn’t set off on a journey without first looking at a map — so neither should you start a project without first getting to know who it is you’re dealing with.
The best way to do this is called (appropriately) stakeholder mapping. In this process, you not only identify each stakeholder, but also define factors such as their relationships to one another, what kind of impact they will have on the project, and how they will be affected by its outcome.
For example, you might group stakeholders according to whether they’re internal (meaning they’re directly involved with day-to-day operations and decision making) or external (they’re not directly involved but still affected). Alternatively, you could plot them on an interest vs. influence matrix in order to visualize how much you should engage with them.
Regardless of how you choose to map your stakeholders, this exercise should give you a better understanding of your clients and the many different types of customer needs.
Dig deep with questions during the initial discovery session
Whenever possible, the best way to learn what a client needs is to simply ask them.
This is exactly what a discovery session is designed to do: provide you with a formal and comprehensive way to conduct a customer needs analysis, uncover their project requirements, and identify their overarching goals. By the end of it, you should not only have a good understanding of customer needs, but also know what it will take to achieve success for your customer.
So, how should you go about doing all this? While there’s no single structure for a perfect discovery session, you’ll generally want to keep it open-ended so that your client has the opportunity to say whatever is on their mind. Help them along this process by starting out with a warm-up session to encourage participation, then by asking informed questions that move past surface-level issues and get at the heart of their problems.
Once you’ve gone through this process, you will have the valuable insights you need to start putting together a plan of action. This should not only show how you’ll solve their primary challenge, but also address the ways you’ll communicate, check in, and meet their various other needs.
Create an engagement strategy to document and track client needs
Whether your client’s project seems straightforward at the outset or complex, chances are their needs will evolve once work begins.
New problems may come into focus.
The project scope may shift as metrics come in.
New stakeholders may even come in and introduce unexpected ideas.
All this is why it can be smart to put together a document that records and tracks your client’s various needs.
There are numerous benefits to doing this. For instance, this strategy document can serve as a valuable resource for your team by giving them a centralized place to check in on what the client expects, how they prefer to engage, and any other essentials. It can also instill trust and confidence in your client by showcasing your due diligence in providing them with exactly what they want. And, as you document changing client needs and priorities, it may even help you predict future needs or challenges ahead of time.
Also, if either you or your client does decide that your strategy needs to be reevaluated, you’ll already have everything in place to start creating a new blueprint.
Conduct frequent, informal check-ins to gauge customer satisfaction
Check-ins are one of the simplest, but most effective ways to make sure you’re meeting customer needs. You don’t have to organize an all-hands meeting or create a comprehensive document. You just have to ask how they are feeling.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with them.
One of our favorite ways to check-in is by adding in some sort of visual component. For example, instead of just posing a question, you could ask participants to choose a picture that best represents how they’re doing.
Or you could get them to place a mark on a sliding scale marked from one to ten. This introduces a numeric component that, when tracked over time, could allow you to quantify customer feedback and gauge your performance.
Regardless, it’s important to conduct these check-ins often — once a week if possible. This way, you can ensure you are staying on top of any problems before they turn into real issues.
Make the implementation process as painless as possible
When it comes to delivering a new product or service, it pays to put some extra thought into how you can do this most effectively. After all, regardless of how thoroughly you understand client needs or how often you check in with them, if you aren’t delivering them value during implementation, then they won’t be happy.
This is where value stream mapping comes in. The goal of this process is to eliminate anything that doesn’t directly add value to the product or service you’re providing.
This waste can encompass a variety of different categories, such as time spent on unnecessary procedures, steps or features that are not needed, and errors that require additional work to correct.
As you create your value stream map, you’ll get the opportunity to look closely at each step of your implementation process, analyzing each one for waste and identifying areas where you can make improvements.
By following this process, you can improve the flow of value toward your client, helping to further increase customer satisfaction.
Be more customer-centric and get on the same page with clients
The secret to loyal customer relationships isn’t actually much of a secret at all: You just need to be able to tune into their needs and deliver the results they want.
Although not all of the above strategies may be necessary for your next client engagement, the philosophy behind them — to take your time listening and always be looking for opportunities to improve — is how you can become more customer-centric.
David is a contributing writer at Mural, focused on covering collaboration, meetings, and teamwork. He's been working in the hybrid tech space for over 10 years and has been writing about it nearly as long. When he's not doing that, he's probably cooking up a meal.