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The Ultimate Client Experience: Recipe for Success in a Down (or Any) Economy
by Michelle Pope

 
   
 
   

What do your clients experience when working with you? Are they “good” experiences or bad ones? How do your client experiences serve to advance your own business goals, as well as theirs?

Client experiences can range near and far. They could represent what it feels like when working with you personally or when engaging with others within your organization to solve a critical, complex issue or they may signify something as simple as a quick question or minor request.  Whatever the case, client experiences always begin with a client need and/or your understanding of the client’s need and/or the overall experience you create throughout the engagement lifecycle.  Once you truly understand your client’s need, you can then begin to design the most favorable client experience of all, i.e., the “Ultimate Client Experience” or UCE.

To successfully design a UCE, be mindful of why a client comes to you in the first place:

  • To meet a need or to solve a specific problem or pain point
  • To make his or her life easier in some way
  • To feel good about the experience throughout the engagement
  • To make the client look good to his or her leadership team, a feeling of personal reward for the sound decisions and choices he or she has made

Notice in reaching out to your company, your client is looking for both the technical – the solutions themselves, and emotional – reliability, trust, knowledge and “feel good,” connections. Too often in business it is easy to fixate upon the technical aspects of the products, services and solutions we sell.  We have been educated for years to focus on how our solutions are designed, implemented, and maintained.  Our clients expect a high degree of technical competence in the work that we perform.  We have become extremely technical in our disciplines, highly “system” and “process” oriented. And we have come to believe that clients will judge us based upon our technical ability to produce results and desired outcomes.

While this technical demand is absolutely true – and expected – our clients are also seeking something more, something affective. The “feel good,” repeat experiences that positively impact our clients on an emotional level are just as important to the solution itself. It’s like going to a good restaurant – when you have delicious food and friendly service, your experience is enjoyable and you are more likely to return.

Another important note in delivering The Ultimate Client Experience is that it is not just the responsibility of one individual within your organization; it is everyone’s. Like with the hostess, waiter, bartender and chef in a restaurant, “touch points” have to be created by various people within various parts of your organization throughout the lifecycle of the client engagement – from presales and implementation to billing and continued support. Each of these touch points will help to build a strong client relationship and to deliver memorable experiences for your clients and repeat business for your company. 

So how do we go about designing The Ultimate Client Experience? We become the restaurant chefs. Designing The Ultimate Client Experience is like following a recipe for your favorite dish or dessert. Once you have all the key ingredients you can begin to follow the recipe and achieve measurable and repeatable results.  The following Ultimate Client Experience recipe has been crafted through many years of experience and experimenting with various measurements of ingredients, both with favorable and not-so-favorable results, before attaining a solid and profitable dish. When reading the key recipe ingredients below, keep in mind that each company’s recipe might be slightly different -  an addition of something more here or less of something there, to suit their company’s individual taste or service.  However, the principle is the same ... the experience needs to be special and memorable, leaving the client hungry for more.

Ultimate Client Experience Recipe for Success - The Key Ingredients:

Culture

Culture is the main ingredient in any recipe -- without it there is no dish -- like the sweet apples in grandma’s homemade apple pie.

Similarly, without a client-focused company culture, there can be no Ultimate Client Experience. A culture of Ultimate Client Experience needs to permeate the organization from top to bottom and left to right.  The client should find it easy to engage with you and your team. And your employees’ passion and commitment should be transparent and infectious. This will lead to a client that is a stark raving fan. The smallest things that you and your organization do in that uncommon way will hook your client on the great experience and service you provided.  The following ingredients go into creating this accolade-worthy culture of excellence: 

  • Teamwork is the best way to ensure the Ultimate Client Experience permeates your organization throughout all those touch points mentioned earlier. It is that special ingredient that helps to keep all the other ingredients together.  The process of working collaboratively in a group of highly motivated individuals will result in positive energy toward achieving the common goal or objective.
  • Defined Values give the employees a sense of purpose, a common direction and a clear understanding of how to approach the task at hand.  Values are the list of ingredients that we must have before starting any recipe.  Without clearly defined values the choices one may make can be in direct conflict with what it is you are truly trying to accomplish, which may lead to frustration and an undesirable end result.  The Values of the organization must be in direct support of the Ultimate Client Experience.
  • Shared Vision can create inspiration and positive energy if it is clearly defined. Shared Vision is much more than a bulleted list of goals or tasks that must be accomplished. Rather, it is a Vision of what the teams are working towards – such as serving the fresh-baked apple pie at a happy family gathering. Shared Vision exists when employees feel that their ideas are heard and incorporated into the organization’s vision and when the day to day activities they are involved in clearly support the overall goals of the organization.
  • Action upon the series of events that creates the experience for the client, taking the values and vision and putting them to execution.  An organization must create systems and processes for performing actions to gain repeatable and measurable results.  Once in place the employee can take all the ingredients and mix them up to perfection before taking the last step of placing that pie in the oven. 
  • Fun by definition is the engagement in an activity that is enjoyable or amusing.  The typical employee spends a good majority of their waking moments working, preparing for, or travelling to work.  Making the workplace enjoyable is as simple as creating casual and collaborative work areas, places where employees can engage in break time activities like a fun game or watching a favourite TV show.  Try adding an activity in the middle of that long meeting or taking a break to do a fun brain teaser that has nothing to do with the topic of the meeting.

People

People are any organization’s biggest asset. Just as a great chef (with the knowhow, passion and charisma) can turn a simple dish into something magnificent, great people can do the same for a company, helping to differentiate an organization from its competitors.  Furthermore, great results come from having great people in the right roles, or as Jim Collins states, having them “in the right seat on the bus.”  It all comes down to the people. Making the right people decisions will promote success for the individual, the organization and, ultimately, the client. 

Attracting, motivating, and retaining quality people are keys to this very special ingredient in our recipe.  Once you have found the right people it is important to develop and mentor them, which will in turn produce top notch performance.

Relationships

Building lasting business relationships is very similar to the relationships we build in our personal lives, as they need constant care and attention.  Spending quality time with your client is crucial to a happy, healthy and successful relationship.  Be unique and offer something special from time to time. It never hurts to send client-tailored surprises such as a birthday or anniversary card, or a hand-written thank you card for attending a meeting or placing an order. Just as a chef visits his tables or sends out tasty gastronomic treats between courses, constantly connecting with clients on a special and emotional level is an important ingredient of delivering the Ultimate Client Experience. Memorializing special relationships and saying thank you is an easy and effective way to do so.

Understanding the Client and Their Business

It is extremely important to understand the client’s expectations from the beginning. It is very common for professional services organization to be very good at understanding the technical needs of the client and what it will take to deliver upon the technical need. Frustration can be created on both sides, however, when other, less technical and often more simple needs are overlooked at the beginning of the client engagement such as:

  • A real understanding of what the client wants and/or needs.  It is critical to understand the client’s overall business goals and needs, and not just focus on the technical issues. Expressing a genuine interest in the client and their people will also help to develop strong relationships.
  • Establish common goals for both sides. Making sure that the goals have been clearly communicated to the team members to ensure success in achieving them.
  • Defining the roles and responsibilities of the client and your team members.  Making sure that these are clearly defined and communicated from the beginning of the engagement will help to minimize confusion later on. 
  • What means will be used for communication throughout the client engagement.  It is important to set expectations for the method and the frequency of communication with the client and your team members at the outset.

Once you understand your client’s needs you can create simple personal touches that generate significant value from the client's perspective.  These touch points validate the fact that you truly understand the client’s needs and care about the quality and outcome of the engagement.

Uncommon

Simply put, there is great value in doing common things in an uncommon way.  Make that special dish or service you provide unique; an experience like no other.  Try performing the most ordinary task in a different way, look at it from a different perspective and think outside of the box.  Uncommon thinking leads to uncommon action.  For example, instead of sending that holiday Christmas card before Christmas, consider sending a Thanksgiving card thanking your client for their business or a Valentines card letting them know how much you love working with them.

Getting your employees to think in uncommon ways can be tricky, like mixing the cake batter just the right amount of times to get the perfect texture or consistency.  You have to get them to break out of their daily routines, step outside of their comfort zone and try a new recipe instead of the same one they have baked for years.

Conclusion

Now that you have the key ingredients to create a memorable Ultimate Client experience, how will you go about creating that unique recipe for you and your organization?  Every chef has their secret and as with any great recipe it takes practice along with some trial and errors.  Be willing to accept the challenge, and sometimes frustration, along with the fun and excitement. Each step in discovering the right combination of Culture, People, Relationship Building and Client Understanding will lead you closer to the recipe best suited for your organization and clients. One that makes you stand out from others and keep your clients coming back for more as you provide the Ultimate Client Experience.


     
   
     
   

The Author

Michelle Pope

 

Michelle A. Pope is Chief Operations Officer at Atrion Networking Corporation and holds certifications as a Project Management Professional (PMP), Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Cisco Sales Expert (CSE).  With over 18 years of experience in the IT industry, Michelle’s passion for customer service and technology experience has made her a true asset to Atrion and its clients. Michelle can be reached at 401.825.4165 or MPope@atrion.net

     
   
     
   
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Copyright 2011 by Michelle A. Pope. All rights reserved.

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