Have you ever patronized your favorite restaurant and found the wait staff distracted, unresponsive or flat-out horrendous? Perhaps you’ve encountered someone who’s given you the impression that you’re the last priority, as though he or she would rather be doing anything else than take your order. How does that experience make you feel? Like you can’t wait to go back the next time, right? You wouldn’t call that the Ultimate Client Experience.
So what does a person experience when working with you or others within your IT organization? Clients shape opinions of your service and aptitude at every encounter—for something as simple as a question or as complex as a critical service-related issue. This means there are plenty of opportunities where you can cultivate and synchronize the Ultimate Client Experience.
In the IT industry, when a client reaches out to your company, they are looking for both technical competence (the solutions themselves) and emotional connections (reliability, trust and relatability). Unfortunately in the IT industry, many of us who are entrenched in the technical side every day tend to fixate on those aspects of the products, services and solutions we sell, influencing our belief that clients will judge us based on our technical ability to produce results and desired outcomes.
While the technical demand is absolutely true (and expected), our clients are also seeking something more, something effective. The “feel good,” repeat experiences that positively impact our clients on an emotional level are just as important as the solution itself. No matter the case, it starts with understanding the client’s needs and expectations—and more importantly, responding attentively and competently to those needs. It’s like going to that 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. As 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 life cycle of the client engagement—from presales and implementation to billing and continued support. Each of these touch points will help build a strong client relationship, delivering 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. 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 is my creation, and 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 person’s or company’s recipe might be slightly different, with the addition of something more here or less there to suit individual taste or service. However, the principle is the same: The experience needs to be special and memorable, leaving the client hungry for more. Here’s my recipe for providing the Ultimate Client Experience:
Culture is the main ingredient in any recipe, like the sweet apples in grandma’s homemade apple pie. Without a client-focused company culture, there is no Ultimate Client Experience dish. 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. Moreover, your employees’ passion and commitment should be transparent and infectious. This will lead to a client that is a stark raving fan. Some of the spices I use in creating this accolade-worthy culture of excellence are Teamwork, Values, Shared Vision, Action and, last but not least, Fun. You have to have fun.
People are the next ingredient, which are any organization’s biggest asset. Just as a great chef 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. As Jim Collins, author of “Built to Last,” states: You need the right person “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.
Build Lasting Business Relationships. Similar to the relationships we build in our personal lives, building strong client relationships requires 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 or her tables or sends out tasty treats between courses, constantly connecting with clients on a special and emotional level is an important ingredient of delivering the Ultimate Client Experience.
Understand the Client’s Expectations. This is a critical ingredient from the beginning. It is very common for professional service organizations to excel at understanding the technical needs of the client and what it will take to fulfill those needs. However, frustration can be created on both sides when other, less technical and often simpler needs are overlooked. For instance, you might be so focused on fixing a technical issue at hand that you bring down the client’s whole network in the middle of their day during their busiest season. While the technical issues needed to be resolved, it could have been scheduled at a less busy time or after hours. Once you understand your client’s needs and expectations, you can create simple, personal touches that generate significant value from the client’s perspective and validate your investment in the engagement.
Do Common Things in Uncommon Ways to make the special dish or service you provide a unique experience. Try performing the most ordinary task in a different way, looking at it from a different perspective and thinking outside of the box. Uncommon thinking leads to uncommon action. For example, instead of sending that Christmas card before Christmas, consider sending a Thanksgiving card thanking your client for their business or a Valentine’s Day card letting them know how much you love working with them. The smallest things that you and your organization do in that uncommon way will lead to your client gushing about the great experience and service you provided.
Now that you have my 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 his or her 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, Client Understanding, and Doing Common Things in Uncommon Ways will lead you closer to the Ultimate Client Experience recipe best suited for your organization and clients—one that makes you stand out from others and keep your clients coming back for more.
Michelle Pope is COO at Atrion Networking Corp., a systems integrator and network services provider in Warwick, R.I.