Do You Offer a Truly Unique Client Experience?
How would you rate the overall client experience that you offer? Is it:
1. Below average (or perhaps very uneven)?
3. Truly differentiated versus your competition?
Would you like your clients to say, “Working with you really is different”? How valuable would that be, from a retention and referral perspective?
In the consumer world, the idea of trying to create an outstanding “customer experience” is well accepted. I recently spoke at a client event in Orlando, at Disney World, and experienced the “Disney Experience” first-hand.
Here’s just one example: When I checked in, I didn’t get a magnetic key card or a physical key (some hotels still have those!). Rather, they gave me a plastic wristband that was my key to everything. I swiped it on the door to unlock my room. I touched it on a little pad in the restaurants to pay for meals. And, had I had the time to go to the Magic Kingdom itself, I could have used it to buy my ticket and anything else I wanted. It was my 21st century “key” to the kingdom.
It was convenient, engaging, valuable (it saved time), and also fun. I didn’t have to separately keep track of my wallet, my room key, my tickets, etc.
What about the delivery of services in fields such as consulting, accounting, law, PR, corporate banking, insurance, and so on? Most clients will tell you that providers in these markets are relatively undifferentiated.
There are many top strategy consulting firms, for example, but their delivery models are fairly similar. While the Big-4 accounting firms all have a particular “feel” to them, again, clients don’t see them as being very different in the way they engage and deliver their work. The same is often said about law firms.
You might ask, so what?
Here’s why it’s important—and more so than ever: It’s a basic law of economics that when clients perceive multiple, equal substitutes for the provision of a product or service, there is downward pressure on price. By differentiating your client experience, you can protect your margins, increase client loyalty, and gain more word-of-mouth promotion of your business.
There are five dimensions to a great client experience:
1. Value. Does the client feel you are improving their business and organization and also adding value to them personally? I think value is a sine qua non, a foundation for the overall experience. The client must answer the question: Are we better off?
Questions: Do your clients fully appreciate the value you are currently adding? What could you do to enhance their perception of value-added in your relationship? Are you regularly tracking and communicating your impact? Would greater communication and transparency enhance your client’s sense of value?
2. Education. Does the client feel they have learned on a personal level and/or that you have improved the skills and capabilities of their organization?
Questions: What are you doing to educate your client? What can you do to build your client’s organizational capabilities and also to improve the skills of the individual executives you work with?
3. Engagement. Do client executives feel like active, involved participants in the process? Or do they feel like something is being “done” to them?
Questions: What opportunities could you create to draw your clients in and make them greater participants in the work you’re doing? How could you create “reach” instead of always “pushing”?
4. Emotional Resonance. This is a little different that (3). Are you engaging your clients’ emotions—their hearts—through the experiences you create?
Questions: Are your conversations always focused on the analytical and rational, or do you also touch on the emotional side and ask questions about feelings—about fears, hopes, excitement, and aspirations? Are there opportunities to create “experience environments” outside the office which encourage greater emotional involvement? Could you infuse your presentations with more stories, graphics, videos, and so on?
5. Entertainment. Have you captured the client’s attention and created enjoyment and fun? This is not trivial: People learn more, are more engaged, and are more open to new ideas when they are having fun.
Questions: Is working with you and your firm fun? Do you use humor? Are there opportunities for you to make your client interactions more entertaining?
When most or all of these elements are present, the odds are greatly increased that you’ll deliver a great client experience. The results can be powerful.
Here are just a few examples of relationship management and service delivery strategies that can help enhance the total client experience you offer:
Client communities: Clients love to learn from each other, and creating opportunities for them to do so can be an important value-add in your relationship. Communities are powerful. However, it’s easier to conceive of them on paper than to successfully implement them—not least because senior executives are being asked more and more often to participate in forums, councils, advisory boards, and so on. Start with a clear goal for the community, be prepared to invest for several years to get it off the ground, and always start by recruiting a few “anchor” clients who will in turn help you attract the other members. Make sure there’s a strong center of gravity for the community—knowledgeable, credible top executives from your firm who attend, as well as possibly well-known outside experts.
Offsite experiences: One of the Relationship Laws in my new book (Power Relationships, January 2014) is “Change the environment and you’ll deepen the relationship.” One of my clients, for example, invited the entire treasury department of one of their best clients to come in to their offices for a one-day offsite. The first half of the day they were engaged in a computer simulation my client had developed to help sharpen financial management skills. The second half of the day was an interactive workshop on a topic of great importance to the company they had invited in—sustainability—and how it related to the treasury function. This experience was valuable, engaging, educational, and also entertaining.
Relationship co-creation. Do you sit down with each new client and talk about how the relationship is going to be managed? Do you invite their input into things like type and frequency of communication, stakeholder involvement, and so on? A discussion like this can enhance commitment and engagement. It can create a broader canvas for the relationship. It can differentiate you versus your competitors.
Joint account planning. Most companies which are on a calendar fiscal year begin their planning and budgeting in late summer or early fall. Do you create your account plans while sitting in a conference room with your colleagues? Or do you sit down with your client and plan together? Do you then show your account plan to the client and get them to react to it? The more collaborative the effort, the more you’ll understand about your client’s needs and constraints. You’ll find there is enhanced engagement and commitment. Transparency builds trust—don’t be afraid of it.
Capabilities transfer. There are many ways of enhancing your clients’ organizational capabilities. You can incorporate elements of training and skill-building into your product or service delivery. You can offer free seminars and workshops to educate your client on the competition, technology, regulations, new best practices, and so on. One of my clients holds a three-day forum for clients that includes outside faculty that teach—it’s like going to an alumni college session. The executives learn from each other and they learn from the expert faculty. This firm has a waiting list of clients who want to attend each year—a sharp contrast to the difficulty that many companies experience in trying to draw senior clients to conferences and offsite events.
The final dimension is creating a set of systematic practices that come into play during every key interaction of the client development lifecycle. When you make these part of the warp and woof of your organization processes and culture, then you have institutionalized your own, unique client experience. For example—and these are just a few of dozens of possible ideas—what if:
- No one ever submitted a proposal in your organization without first discussing it thoroughly with the senior economic buyer? No discussion to get feedback=no proposal.
- Every client got a call after an engagement from a senior member of your organization to discuss the results and the client’s perspectives on how things went.
- Every major client relationship always included an annual, one-day offsite for your team and the client’s team to review progress, discuss evolving trends, and plan for the new year?
- You scheduled a working session at the start of each new relationship to co-create the relationship with the client? Creating, effectively, a custom tailored suit for your client rather than an off-the-rack suit?
What should your systematic practices look like? Could you create a roadmap of the entire client lifecycle, from pre-contact to sales to delivery to post-project, with these practices laid out for all to see?
Can you identify opportunities to:
- Add more value and/or increase the perception of value?
- Create deeper client engagement?
- Engender more emotional resonance?
- Educate your clients?
- Entertain while you deliver value?
Summary: Creating a Unique Client Experience
What have you done to create a unique or differentiated client experience? Please leave a comment, below!