My most recent post was on the drivers of client satisfaction. To ensure client satisfaction, a professional services firm must tend to both sides of the service experience: the delivery of the technical service (“what it was hired to do”) AND client service (“how it accomplishes the service”). It is my opinion that the “HOW” component of the service drives 80% of a client’s satisfaction, or lack thereof, with a professional service firm.
Client Service Failure is the Biggest Driver of Dissatisfaction
The reality is that most clients perceptions of a firm are developed at the moment in time when something goes wrong. At Mlicki, we call these “moments of truth.” Any IT consulting firm engaged in any level of systems or network support can probably relate to this concept. As long as an application is performing the way it was intended, the client is reasonably satisfied. The moment an application becomes unexpectedly unavailable, clients are dissatisfied. Even good clients can forget thousands of hours of uninterrupted performance if the firm’s response to the disruption isn’t professional, timely and well communicated.
A Real World Example of Client Service Failure
Last Spring, I hired a paving contractor to replace the asphalt driveway on my home. The contractor has been in business for over 100 years and regularly performs work in our local community. When the estimator visited our home he asked a lot of intelligent questions I hadn’t thought about in the process and demonstrated clear EXPERTISE in this type of work. I signed a contract in April. Unfortunately, the client service experience that followed could at best be described as a disaster:
- Process: The first thing any professional firm should do after signing a contract, is clarify process and schedule. After signing the contract, the contractor never described what would happen next. By end of June, a full 60 days after signing the contract, we still hadn’t even received as much as a phone call.
- Project Management: A call to the office manager informed us that they’d call two weeks in advance of arrival. A few weeks later, on a Thursday, we received a call to tell us they’d arrive the next morning (what happened to two weeks?). Five trucks and six guys showed up the next day, took one look, and said it would take too long to complete the work in one day and they’d come back the following week (The estimator didn’t communicate the scope of work to the team?).
- Communications: Here we are in February 2012 – 10 months after contract signing, 6 months after the team said they’d be here “next week,” and we just received our first proactive call from the company asking to schedule us for Spring 2012. Oh, and they’re willing to honor the price they quoted last year. Gee, thanks.
Three Suggestions For Recovery
I don’t think I could script a worse example of client service delivery than this. At this point, I literally have no confidence that the firm is technically capable of replacing a driveway. How could I when they can’t communicate with each other internally nor communicate clearly or effectively with me? While it’s largely unthinkable for any professional services firm serving business clientele to manage a project this haphazardly, it serves as an extreme example of how a firm should respond to a failure in service delivery. Some suggestions for recovery:
- Acknowledge Mistakes: Your people are human. It’s okay for them to make mistakes. It’s incumbent on firm leadership to empower people with the right to admit failure and apologize. A simple, “we messed up” would go a long way towards protecting the firm’s reputation.
- Offer Concessions: What does a restaurant do when you tell them you had a bad meal? They offer free dessert or a gift card. Offer a discount on the service. Offer a small credit for future projects with your firm. Accelerate the end deliverable to the extent you can. In a situation as bad as the one described above, a bit of all three might be required.
- Fix What’s Broken: More often than not, when client service breaks there are systemic issues within the firm that need attention. If this is the case, acknowledge it to the client, and explain what steps you’re taking to avoid future indiscretions. Clients are human too. They’ll appreciate your acknowledgement of what needs fixed and your effort to improve your client service delivery in the future. Despite how it might seem at times, clients want you to be successful.