Good Service, Part I

Your job as a services consulting firm can be boiled down to quickly establishing and maintaining trust through “Good Service”. This is made more difficult by the fact that your delivery will continuously be evaluated, and that your work products may not be delivered until quite some time after the engagement begins, i.e. before trust has been established. Ongoing service levels from start to finish make or break you as a services company.

On the experiential side, service firms have to make the customer feel “conveyed” throughout the engagement. This is distinct from simply delivering them to their destination. To use an airport metaphor, by hiring you they should feel as if they’ve been met in the arrivals lounge by a limousine service - complete with driver and customized name tag - who then proceeds to remove all worry in transporting them through traffic, tunnels, and toll roads to their hotel of choice.

Were it not for you, they’d have to learn about travel modalities within their arrival city, take the airport bus to the car rental terminal, negotiate payment in a foreign language, and generally manage things they don’t want to manage in order to simply make it to the hotel room and start their vacation, even though they’re paying for transport in either case.

So how do you become that driver?

Well done is better than well said

— Benjamin Franklin

1) Make Promises, and Follow Through on Them

This isn’t as obvious as it seems. Sales people tend to over-promise and under-deliver, thinking that “somehow things will work out and that the most important thing is getting the business in the door”. This almost always leads to a bad experience for the delivery organization because they are expected to do the impossible, and also for the client, because their high expectations don’t get met.

Delivery people have a tendency to under-promise and over-deliver, thinking that this will give their customers a better experience “in the end”. Lowered expectations are a well-known way of making sure that your customer is “eventually relatively happy”. The problem is that under-promising tends to under-whelm the customer before the relationship even begins, preventing them from getting excited about your offering, or worse, getting them to think that you’re inefficient or too expensive for the value you’ll provide. No-one wants to hear a series of caveats when they are at the blue sky stage, even if those caveats are perfectly valid. They want to hear about what’s possible.

Therefore, do not over-promise, and do not under-promise. Be confident, and tell them exactly what you think is possible and what you are willing to commit to.

2) Internalize and Discuss Your Client’s Concerns

People like to feel understood. If they feel understood, they’ll think that you’re “on their side”, and that they’ve found someone to share the burden of their issues, and who can help find a solution for them. A good way to do this is to talk about any of their concerns that you may have heard. Use every opportunity to repeat back to the customer what their concerns are. It will cause you to remember them as well as satisfy them that you think these concerns are important.

You can do this:

  • At the beginning of a presentation that follows a conversation
  • In a follow-up email to a presentation they deliver
  • In a special section of a proposal called “key success criteria”
  • In the minutes of meeting
  • By mentioning them in your code comments, if you’re a software developer
  • By simply repeating back and relating to their concerns verbally

3) Assume Responsibility for All Communications

Don’t wait for the customer to communicate with you, or ask you to communicate with them. Take responsibility for this. Always:

  • Create the Project Charter and submit it to them for review.
  • Write meeting minutes and submit them to the client for review
  • Maintain an issue log and regularly go through unresolved issues, even if the ball is in the customer’s court to resolve them.
  • Maintain an action item log, and drive it in meetings that make sure actions are completed.
  • Schedule the weekly status meetings, and reschedule them when they are cancelled by the customer.
  • Define the method of contact, prepare the agendas, send out meeting invitations, and initiate the calls.
  • Write the Proposals and Statements of Work (SOWs), including specifications of Resources, Effort, Price, and Payment Schedule.
  • Generate change requests and repeatedly ask for customer approval until you’re given the green light to proceed.
  • Explain clearly all charges, and ensure that they represent pre-approved costs. Please don’t place any charges on an invoice without prior approval from your customers!

In the following weeks, in part II and part III of this series, I describe 7 more practical ways of enhancing your customer's experience of your service.

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