As a company grows larger, sometimes the clients suffer.
We all know that successful owners rely on their people, their systems and a great culture to hold everything together.
But is that enough?
As your company scales, who is truly looking out for the clients’ best interest?
- Sometimes clients get lost in the shuffle when a company grows too fast and takes on more clients than it can handle.
- Sometimes a company becomes overly complex and clients can fall between the cracks.
- Sometimes the jobs you take on become so complex that your systems cannot handle them well.
Who’s job is it to ensure the ‘client experience’ is optimal?
There is a trend for large corporations to hire a Chief Experience Officer to ensure the client is being well served, but that seems overkill to me.
At your current size, this job may be yours, or you may have a second-in-command whose job is to integrate your company’s sales and operations.
Which means it is their job to protect and enhance the client’s experience.
Are they hard-wired to do that?
Back in the days of running my landscape firm, once or twice a year I would take time out to meet with a few important clients, to understand how they perceived working with us from start to finish, as they touched all the divisions of our company.
Here is the process I followed: I loved doing this because I found it eye-opening to see my company through their eyes and learn how well all the pieces of our firm were working together (or not).
Improving Your Customer’s Experience
1. Meet with both decision-makers: I set up an appointment with both spouses to meet them on their property for a couple of hours. (Commercially you would meet with the property manager and possibly the property owner.)
2. Chronological questions: I would engage them in a conversation about their experiences with my firm, taking them through the process from start to finish.
3. Start before the beginning: I would start with questions like: “How did you hear about us? What did you think you were looking for before you called us, and did you find what you were looking for?”
I want to hear it in their words, so I can do a better job of thinking like they think and using words that they use.
4. The initial impression: How was the initial interaction with us, as you emailed or called to get more information?
Make sure to ask open-ended questions and remain curious even as you hear things you don’t agree with.
5. How was the buying process? Tell me about the salesperson (or designer) you worked with, the response times you experienced, the details of what we provided you, the contract, etc.
What was helpful and what was confusing?
I generally did these interviews for my largest design-build clients because I wanted to talk with people who touched the most parts of our company. You could also do this for comprehensive maintenance accounts.
(Note: If your services are more commodity based, I would advise doing a focus group with 5-7 clients at once.)
6. The big pause: How was your experience between signing the contract and starting the work? Was it made clear to you what to expect? How was the communication you received?
Russell Landscape Group: Two years ago I held an event at Teddy Russell’s company in Atlanta; his client on-boarding process was some of the best I have seen. You can bet he lives and breathes what I am laying out here. You are never too big to obsess about this. He spends a large amount of time with customers, both networking and keeping tabs on the largest clients.
7. How did the work unfold? Was the process clear? Any hiccups along the way? Where did our people serve you well, and where did we drop the ball?
8. Closing out the project: Did anything linger? Were you as happy as we finished as when we started? Any workmanship issues we still need to fix?
9. Billing and admin: What about the billing process?
10. The handoff: At the end of the job we handed off the relationship to our maintenance team, how did that go? Did you feel embraced and immediately taken care of? Did our maintenance people show you as much love as your original salesperson?
It is important to not fear asking the questions that expose your weaknesses. Be bold and be willing to “step into the poop” as you go through this interview. Your clients will respect you more for wanting to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly.
It’s also important to not use this anecdotal information to bash anyone in your firm, but rather to focus on improving your processes.
Even if you are working day to day with your clients, you can still miss the bigger picture. This summer, go through this process once or twice to learn what your company looks like from the outside.
Remember, your brand reputation is the sum of all your clients’ experiences with your firm. Make sure they are telling you what they are telling everyone else.
These client interviews taught me many things, including:
- To identify the weak spots and dreaded holes in our processes.
- To better understand my client’s priorities, by getting inside their head.
- To better speak their language by hearing them describe their needs in their own words.
- To develop ideas for new products, services, and marketing techniques.
Over to you — go talk to some important clients…