During the first part of this year, I’ve written rather extensively about the merits of building a firm that is deeply positioned around expertise. In short, be it an engineering firm, an IT firm or financial services firm, we believe the best clients are those that hire the professional firm for its “proven expert guidance” rather than its “warm bedside manner.” That said, I don’t want firm leadership to misunderstand our opinion in this regard. The best clients hire experts. They stay or leave the firm based on the service experience.
The 2 Sides of the Service Experience
There are really two components to the service experience that any competent firm must manage:
1. WHAT = Technical Service Delivery
This is the functional part of the service delivery. It’s the technical expertise that the client lacks that your firm provides. If you’re an engineering firm designing an industrial facility, it could be the process of understanding the business purpose for the facility, analyzing the site, making technology recommendations, and developing the physical drawings and documentation necessary to actually begin the build process. It’s WHAT the client hired you to do.
2. HOW = Client Service Management
This is the service delivery itself. It’s the process of setting and managing project expectations, providing clear and regular communication about budgets and timelines, communicating progress updates, and managing the challenges that any complex project inevitably faces. It’s HOW you deliver what you were hired to do.
Client Satisfaction is an 80/20 Proposition
Let’s take each aspect of these in turn:
1. WHAT = 20%.
The inevitable mistake that most firms make is falling victim to the mantra that it’s “all about the work.” The prevailing belief is that if the firm provides outstanding technical service delivery, then the client will ultimately be satisfied with the outcomes. The fact is, often, clients are not capable of evaluating this component of the service. If they were able to completely evaluate the technical merits of your work, they might not need you at all. If they are capable of evaluating the technical aspect of your work, chances are they don’t want to. After all, that’s still why they hired you. In most cases, the technical competence of the work is assumed. At best, this portion of the service makes up 20% of a client’s satisfaction with a firm.
2. HOW = 80%.
Which brings us to the other half (or rather 80%) of the service experience that clients can easily evaluate and do often: client service management. This is the softer side of the relationship. Was the firm easy to work with? Did the project manager set clear expectations? Was the budget and timeline described clearly? Was it accurate? Were budget and time overruns communicated early and often? Did the professionals communicate themselves clearly and avoid jargon. Were the firm’s documents timely, organized, and well presented. In short, did the firm do what it said it was going to do when it said it was going to do it?
So, Satisfaction = Retention. Right?
So, if you do good work and you manage that work effectively your clients will be satisfied. Satisfied clients come back for more. Not so fast. These are all just the baseline expectations any client has of any service provider. If you don’t do these things consistently, they’ll fire you. If you do all these things consistently, well, they still may fire you. After all, you’ve only delivered what they paid you for in the first place.
We will explore the deeper aspects of client retention in more detail in an article later this month.