The interpreter Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2008

When Tiger Bitanga founded The Design People Inc. in 1999, the

CEO assumed he would be providing Web site and Internet marketing services to clients. What he didn’t anticipate was how much of his perspective he would share with clients in the process.

“Especially when it comes to new technology, clients come in with really unrealistic expectations,” he says. “I used to get clients that walked in and said, ‘I want to compete with eBay, and I’ve got a $10,000 budget.’”

Bitanga says managing such client expectations requires patience and diligent listening. By identifying the goals of clients and then working backward to achieve them, he’s grown his firm to 170 people.

Smart Business listened as Bitanga talked about how to become a better communicator by keeping your clients’ successes in mind.

Q. What are the keys to effective communication?

Even though you’ve heard the same thing a thousand times, you still have to remember to listen and to look for those little bits of information that are going to make this client different from previous ones or the next one. Once clients get a sense that you’re being honest and open, then suddenly, you just begin this whole collaborative process.

It’s suddenly not about the sale anymore. It’s about just being an authority and an expert, and them looking to you to provide that great advice. At that point, it’s just so much easier to get that client.

Q. How do you show clients you’re listening to them?

We do surveys all the time. A survey goes out to the client saying, ‘How was your experience?’ It’s a very quick thing that rates a number of areas 1 to 5. From there, after we launch the Web site and also when they call for support, we send out surveys.

It’s via e-mail. Then we also let them know that this is part of the process before they launch. That way, we actually get a good 90 percent of our clients who respond. Those one out of 10 clients who don’t respond, managers call them up.

Q. How do you word surveys so that you elicit such a high response rate?

No. 1, it’s got to be easy. Clients don’t want to fill out something that they can’t fill out in less than 30 seconds.

You should be asking questions that rate a person based on how they’re handled. The most important question is, ‘Did you succeed in what you wanted to do?’ That in itself will tell you whether the person working it did a good job or not. Did they feel there’s a sense of success there?

You can directly translate the comments into new products and services or improvements in processes.

Q. How often should executives communicate with their clients?

All the time. You have to do it all the time. You can’t get caught in this bubble where you’re constantly trying to innovate your products and services based on what you think is best.

That’s probably one of the biggest mistakes you can do. You have to innovate based on not what your competitors are doing or not on what you think needs to be done but on what your clients want.

Q. How can other executives become better communicators?

First off, you have to have the client’s success in mind. You can’t have your company in mind first or whatever thing you’re selling. Once you have the client’s success in mind, you have to talk to the client and figure out what their definition of the final successful result is. Then work backward from there.

The benefit is that suddenly you have raving fans in your clients. For example, we don’t cold call. We get most of our business because ... we get so many client referrals.

Once they feel that they’ve been given something that helps their business or generates leads, No. 1, they come back, and they want to upgrade a package. No. 2 is that they tell everybody around them, ‘Here’s how I became successful. Here’s how I generate more business.’ Suddenly, you get all these calls coming in.

Q. Is there anything else to remember when communicating with clients?

When people do a search for your company in Los Angeles or wherever it may be, they know that your Web site is basically stuff that you control. There are many, many other Web sites out there where customers are talking about your products and your practices and talking about your company and your services. You have to embrace that.

We’re in a new age where there are just so many other tools that people use to look at your company before they even call you. You have to take advantage of those tools.

You have to make an active campaign to get your customers to post testimonials.

HOW TO REACH: The Design People Inc., (800) 850-7707 or www.thedesignpeople.com