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December 11, 2012

It really is all about the customer ‘experience’: A 10-point checklist for providing memorable service.

Twice in the last two months, I have had really lousy experiences at retail specialty stores.  Yeah, I know you’re not a retailer… but bear with me – the same ideas (and ideals) apply.

I went into these stores with every intention of buying (one was a bike shop, the other a computer store – so they were pretty good-sized purchases).  In both instances, I literally stood in the aisle near the products that interested me for 15 minutes waiting for some help to be able to ask some questions and make my purchasing decisions.  In both cases, it was the middle of a weekday and there were store employees just walking or standing around, not busy and simply ignoring me.

I left both stores frustrated and took my business elsewhere.

But those experiences got me to thinking about our industry… are we being proactive and responsive to our clients so they don’t “walk way” frustrated? To help you review your client interaction processes, here’s a 10-point checklist that can help:

  1. It starts with your website.  Is it easy (I mean really easy) to get around and find things?  Have you done any usability testing – even if it’s informal?  If not, get a couple of clients to give you their feedback – after all, you’re building it for them.  Have you thought about integrating one of those live chat platforms to intercept visitors right when they’re on your site?
  2. Do you respond to every inquiry immediately?  Even if it’s a programmed email that says, “Thanks for your inquiry… we’ll get back with you shortly.”  Acknowledging their request is half the battle.
  3. Are you an order-taker… or are you a consultant?  Do you ask questions to make sure that you recommend to your prospective clients the services that best suit their needs?  Often, they don’t even know what they want… and if they don’t, now’s the time to help them figure it out.
  4. After you respond, if you don’t hear back from them in a reasonable timeframe… do you follow-up?  Clients get busy too and will appreciate a gentle reminder.
  5. Are your bids clear and concise… or full of pages and pages of ‘fluff?’
  6. Once you win the project… do you thank the new client?  Do you have a kick-off conference call to introduce them to their Project Manager, to ensure that everyone is on the same page and to answer any questions you might have before you get started?
  7. When the project is underway, are you proactive with your communication – both good and bad?  Do your clients have easy access to their PMs?  Are the PMs immediately responsive?  Do they give your clients their cell phone numbers?  Note: clients will rarely call those cell phones… but giving out the numbers sends the message that you’re willing to do what it takes to guide them through the project.
  8. Do you use a CRM or PM software platform to record all interactions with your clients?  Having that central repository of data allows anyone on your team to jump in, see the history of what’s gone on and quickly become part of the conversation.
  9. Do you ever throw in a couple of small services for free?  “Freebies” are a great way to enhance relationships – they provide real value without costing much.
  10. Project reporting… first, are they easy to read and understand?  Do you include appropriate graphics to help explain the data and to make the report more readable?  Do you sometimes use audio or video to provide a different kind of perspective?  Are you just providing a data dump or are you helping to decipher the data and offering your opinions?  If it’s a long project, are you scheduling check-in meetings along the way?

Think through the entire continuum of client touch points – from pre-sale through project billing.  Make sure every one of those touches is as good as it can be.  Pay attention to the little things – they often mean the most.  Over-communicate with your clients.

Bottom line… treat your clients the way you want to be treated when you’re the client.  Follow that rule and you’ll build a sustainable competitive advantage.

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