Forward-thinking professional services firms are realizing that providing an exceptional client experience across the entire client life cycle is the key to creating genuine differentiation and sustained competitive advantage.

The truth is, most (if not all) of what professional services firms tout as their differentiators have become table stakes. Delivering quality projects on-time and on-budget is what the client expects—not a point of differentiation. Today’s professional services buyers demand more, and by consistently elevating the client experience, firms can truly distinguish themselves from the competition.

Most (if not all) of what professional services firms tout as their differentiators have become table stakes.

Client-centricity and CX can’t just be an aspiration

A construction firm wouldn’t be able to make a valid claim that safety is a priority without putting a program in place with dedicated time, resources, training and staff to ensure that safety is a reality. CX is no different—an exceptional client experience doesn’t just happen.  It requires a great deal of intentionality in the form of a structured, methodical CX program. Here are five essential components that a CX program needs to get going.

1. Qualitative and quantitative client research

A world-class CX program starts and ends with the voice of the client. And the client’s voice is heard most clearly through qualitative research, conducting one-on-one interviews with clients. While requiring an investment of both time and money, qualitative research—ideally conducted by a skilled third-party—provides insights that go far beyond that of a survey. With that said, quantitative research in the form of online surveys and other research allow you to extend the reach of your research, as well as establish a baseline for measuring your success.

Create a 360-degree view of the client

The purpose of the research—both qualitative and quantitative—is to create a 360-degree view of the client, seeking to understand the experience your firm is delivering today, in order to elevate the experience you’ll design and deliver tomorrow. Client research allows you to look past assumptions and learn directly from clients what matters most to them, while uncovering often unexpressed emotions and behaviors that are at play in the relationship. In-depth client research will provide your firm with the change-driving insights that are fundamental for designing a better client experience.

2. Client journey mapping and experience design

Building on the foundation of client research, you can now (re)design a much more exceptional client experience. And experience design starts with mapping out the client journey. Client journey mapping is the process of creating a compact visualization of the end-to-end client experience—identifying key touchpoints, interactions and activities overlapped with the client’s questions, needs, thoughts, emotions, motivations and behaviors along the journey.  These visual tools enable your firm to see things through the client’s lens, and then identify and prioritize areas of the experience for both improvement and greater investment.

Inject personalized “moments of wow”

An exceptional client experience is as much about how to delight as it is about how to deliver. Part of experience design involves injecting intentional “moments of wow” into the journey. These interactions are entirely unexpected by the client and can be as simple as a handwritten thank-you note or as elaborate as a value add to a project. The point is to continuously seek to exceed the client’s expectations.

Brand the entire experience

Professional services firms can learn a lot from the CX superstars of the retail world (e.g. Amazon, Walt Disney World, Starbucks). Consider your firm’s brand and how consistently you deliver on your brand promise in every area of the client experience. Every aspect of the brand experience—from your visual identity (logo, business cards, site signage, website, etc.) to your messaging, office environment and interactions with employees—should be consistent and on-brand.

3. Employee training and engagement

For a CX program to be successful, all employees, departments, systems and processes must be aligned to support the client experience.  CX is directly a function of your firm’s employees, so employee engagement is critical to the effort. Everyone needs to be “singing from the same song sheet” to ensure consistency of both brand and experience delivery. Communicating the vision of the CX initiative is where it starts. A top-down, clear explanation of the what, when, how and why will help employees understand their vital role in the process.

Once the vision has been communicated, conducting CX training workshops for all levels of the firm will equip employees with the knowledge and skills needed to deliver the exceptional client experience that has been designed. The training should include an overview of the program goals, key insights from the client research and a walk through of the client journey map(s). And just like no construction safety program stops with a single training workshop, employees need continuous reinforcement of the CX initiative, as well as opportunities for sharing success, lessons learned and ideas for elevating the client experience.

4. A continuous client feedback loop

Client research isn’t a one and done exercise. While 3rd party qualitative research may only happen at key intervals, the success of a CX programs depends on a firm’s ability to receive ongoing feedback from clients. Having a continuous client feedback loop will allow you to measure the experience you’re delivering and identify areas that need improvement. Here are some examples of how to gather client feedback:

  • Tracking your firm’s Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) will provide your firm with a crucial measuring stick for the overall success of your CX efforts.
  • Leveraging a survey tool to capture feedback from clients at key project milestones.
  • Capturing real-time feedback through the use of a website widget, web app or jobsite kiosk.
  • Creating an internal system to capture and communicate informal comments from clients will add context to things that may appear in surveys. Project managers, consultants and other client-facing employees often hear “off-the-cuff” or informal comments that can provide important insights.
  • Prioritizing leadership visibility with clients will allow opportunities for clients to share feedback with an executive that they may not feel comfortable sharing with a project manager or account manager. Ongoing, informal qualitative research like this will continue to provide both client-specific insight, as we as insights that can be incorporated across the entire CX program.

5. Technological empowerment

In the digital age, no CX program can thrive without the use of technology. Leveraging MarTech (Marketing Technology) can greatly empower your CX efforts and allow you to not only make your efforts more effective, but also increase efficiency and reduce wasted time on manual tasks. With so many tools available, the important factor is that your technology should be seamless and transparent to the client. In other words, don’t make the experience about technology, but rather let the experience be enhanced by it. Here are just a few categories of MarTech that can benefit your CX efforts:

  • Client feedback and survey tools – Products such as Wootric, GetFeedback, Client Feedback Tool and Survey Monkey can help you gather feedback from clients, track your Net Promoter Score® and keep your finger on the client’s pulse.
  • Customer service and experience platforms – As CX has become a critical aspect of business, there are a growing number of software platforms to handle many aspects of client service and experience. Some of these include Medallia, inQuba, HubSpot’s Service Hub and Zendesk.
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) – CRM should already be a staple in your firm’s business development process, but as CX becomes a greater focus, you may need something more powerful and sophisticated than what you’ve been using. Some platforms worth considering include Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Zoho CRM and even HubSpot’s CRM.
  • Marketing automation – In today’s digital-first world, marketing automation software is another critical piece of the marketing and business development puzzle. Tools such as HubSpot, Act-On, SharpSpring and Marketo can be used for a number of helpful CX activities including sending out targeted email communications, on-boarding, client engagement and tracking a client’s activities with your firm’s content and web properties.
  • Social media marketing and listening – Tracking the impact of your firm’s social efforts, as well as listening and sentiment analysis are also important to the overall measurement of your brand and CX health. There are a plethora of tools to assist with social listening, including Meltwater, Agorapulse, Crimson Hexagon and Sprout Social.

Consistently, constantly, elevate the client experience

Listening to the voice of your clients, understanding things from their perspective and creating both a culture and a structure for true client centricity will pay dividends in both brand differentiation and the bottom line. While a CX program can certainly encompass a wide range of components, these five are fundamental to getting started with a client experience initiative.