Is Your Client Experience Truly Different?
Would you like your clients to say, referring to you and your firm, that “Working with them really is different”?
How many of your clients would say that right now? 75% of them? Half of them? 10%? One or two?
The client experience you provide is the sum of all of the different interactions that a client has with your organization. Making this experience special and different from what your competitors offer is important for many reasons.
Increasingly, value is no longer confined purely within a service or product offering, but is being added at the points of interaction between a service provider and the client. In other words, while your client derives great value from, say, the core services (consulting, auditing, banking—whatever it may be) that you deliver to them—they also get substantial value from your wisdom, judgment, experience, and advice in face-to-face conversations and other types of interactions. To use an industrial analogy, IBM, which we may think of as making computers, actually earns 95% of its profits from software and services, which are, in many cases, the value added around its hardware.
You need to distinguish between delivering a competitive client experience versus a truly unique client experience that differentiates you from the competition. Many companies can do the former; few deliver the latter. The Apple stores indisputably deliver a unique client experience—and the highest sales per square foot of any retail space in the world—but it’s harder to conceive of how to deliver such a unique experience when you sell an intangible service like consulting or legal advice.
A competitive client experience requires, at a minimum, high quality products and services, and consistent client service over time. This gets you into the game.
To create a unique client experience requires more. To achieve this, there are three principle things you can do. You can expand the dialogue and communications with the client; have new players from the client and from your organization interact in the relationship; and you can create new locations for these conversations—that is, you can change the client relationship environment. Here are some questions that illustrate what I mean:
- Can you find opportunities to increase the amount of dialogue and communications between your organization and the client? For example, by involving the client more directly in the development of your account plans? Or by sharing more information about your own research, methodologies, and intellectual capital? Can you create more transparency in the relationship?
- Could you have more line managers from the client involved in your interactions? What about getting the perspectives of executives in other staff functions? On the flip side of this, can you give clients more direct access to subject matter experts within your own organization? Several of my own clients, for example, have created forums to discuss topics such as diversity, employee engagement, and sustainability with their clients—thus creating entirely new connections.
- Can you create new experience environments? That is, can you create valuable interactions with your client outside their offices, perhaps through offsites, forums, and so on? Can you give your clients a more educational experience, so that they and the teams that work for them are learning through their interactions with you? Recently, a senior client executive talked to me about a particular banker who had, over a period of several years, taken time to help educate him about the finer points of corporate finance and how the debt and equity markets functioned. It may seem like a small point, but he had not forgotten this.
In business-to-business markets it is not easy to create that unique client experience, but it is possible. IBM Global Services has done it through their online innovation jams, which virtually connect their employees directly with clients and other business partners. ERM, the world’s largest environmental consulting firm, does it through 3 day, offsite client forums which are like mini-MBA programs focused on critical environmental issues (their forums are routinely over-subscribed). Booz Allen Hamilton has done it by using powerful computer simulations that engage clients in intense, multi-day, interactive strategy sessions.
What is your organization doing to differentiate the client experience that it offers?