This comes in two parts: generic and specific. ABC and 20 Questions.
The generic tip is “always be curious”—ABC. If you’re always curious, you’ll ask good questions. You’ll have to develop some hypotheses in order to come up with questions. You’ll develop insights. You’ll be market-focused, rather than inward focused—always a good place to focus first.
But most importantly, your self-orientation will drop. Self-orientation is the biggest factor affecting personal trust—if your objectives, goals and focus is on yourself, then to that extent, customers and clients won’t trust you. As well they shouldn’t. Being constantly curious transforms self-orientation into customer focus.
The tactical part is the list of 20 questions. Always have a rolling 20 question list about your client and your customer on hand. Keep them in a notebook, in your to-do list, in a separate client info/data file.
Keep the questions genuine—questions that you honestly don’t know the answers to, and the knowing of which would add to your knowledge of the company and its issues. Don’t use gimme questions that you could have looked up; make them richer questions, ones requiring insight or perception.
Now put the two parts together. At every client interaction, be curious by asking one or two of your questions. There’s no need to be coy about it—you can tell your client exactly what you’re doing and why. Top up your questions list a day or two later, so it’s always a rich one.
The trick, I think, is discipline in doing it. This is not a tip that delivers results by thinking about it; you actually have to do it.
And so now I must confess: I’ve been suggesting to people for some time that they do this, and I haven’t been doing it myself. I don’t like making New Year’s resolutions, but I think I’ll make a December 28 resolution.
I’ll report back to you in a few months on my results. I’d love to hear yours.