When it comes to keeping clients truly satisfied and coming back year after year for every service your firm provides, most A/E/P and environmental firms have a long way to go. Creating a genuine experience takes some creativity, care, and focused attention of the firm’s top management. It starts with having a crystal-clear and team-wide understanding of what the client’s real wants and needs are. This can only come about through specialization and repeat experience applied across a standing team of folks who can retain the knowledge gained through serving other similar customers. While specialization is critical to customer service, a desire to “dig deep” into the client’s particular needs has to be there in those who are developing the project. If there’s a danger to specialization, it is that assumptions may get made too easily— assumptions that the current client wants the exact same thing as the last client. That’s the downside to specialization (though the upside is worth risking it, in my opinion). Good design and solving the right problems is implicit to creating a “genuine customer experience.” Good design takes creative, yet practical, people, those who are the most rare of all human resources. I don’t accept that creative people can’t work within a budget, are disorganized, or can’t meet a schedule. I will say, however, that creative people are not always practical. But being practical is essential if your clients are going to believe you are a team that can be relied on over time. How to hire and keep these people takes an inspired organization that is dedicated to some noble purpose. And what’s more noble than helping people, i.e., clients, build something, stay out of trouble, or solve a problem that has been hampering them? Regular checks (during— NOT after the project is complete) on how things are going is essential to showing clients you really care. Beyond the fact that you need to ask and listen, you also have to DO something with the feedback. Whether it’s collected through an e-mail, a written survey, or interviews, it makes no difference. Action is essential. The problem has to be solved. The situation must be righted. It’s the response of the A/E or environmental firm principal to the client’s dissatisfaction that can create a genuine customer service experience. Little things always make a difference. Receptionists who remember a name, e-mails that get replied to in minutes, and cell phone numbers willingly volunteered to incoming callers who can’t locate the person they need to speak with. Nice holiday gifts, open houses, birthday cards, sports tickets, handwritten thank-you notes, and more all help communicate your sincere interest in and appreciation of the client. Of course, nothing goes farther than making friends with the client and then NOT taking them for granted. This will do more for creating a genuine customer service experience than anything else! Finally, how consistently top management does these things will set the example for project managers and others who are involved in direct customer care on a daily basis. If you believe creating a genuine customer experience is valuable to your current and future success and act accordingly, so will others in your firm. If you don’t, however, watch out. Situations will occur where clients are not treated as the top priority or, worse, are mistreated outright. You set the example (and establish the culture) in your firm.Originally published 1/16/2006
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