Managing the client experience

I mentioned a few days ago that I would talk about how organisations might better manage their clients’ experience. So here we go…
Unless you want to take the chance that your client will only ever find out how well you can deliver a service (over and above your core product or service proposition) by how you deal with cock-ups, there are three key stages of the client experience that you must manage.

First of all is the promise. If your client thinks that they are going to get something different from what they actually receive, then, no matter how good what you provide is, there is a strong possibility that they will be disappointed. A good example of this is how a decade or so ago EasyJet allowed cameras to follow what were often moments of pain and anguish for their customers in the TV series Airline.

I was never really clear what Stelios (the founder of EasyJet) was up to in agreeing to take part in the show – it always appeared to show the firm in a fairly poor light with customers being turned away at the gate when late, and given short shrift when requesting refunds or transfers to other flights.

However, seen in the light of helping to manage the expectations of customers down, it makes perfect sense. Before the rise of budget airlines, air transport was assumed a luxury purchase. In the EasyJet budget world, there was no room for luxury on a 99p flight to Alicante, and the programme Airline frequently illustrated the point.

The second step to manage the client experience is in the way in which the perception of service is managed as that service is being delivered. Something that people in the engineering world often get wrong (and this is one area where I would say Google still have a lot to learn) is that just providing a high quality product is rarely enough. Whether it’s the greeting you receive at a hotel reception desk, the liveried uniform worn by the sales assistant, or the call to say that the problem has been fixed, there is a stack of the superficial that makes a tangible difference to how clients feel about the service they receive.

In some instances, the surrounding warm and fuzzy feeling is more important than the technical service. In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell talks of insurance companies researching the premiums that should be payable by doctors finding that the bedside manner (or lack of) had more correlation with likelihood of a practitioner being sued than any objective measure of the quality of medical advice received.

The final part of managing the client experience is making sure that you evidence back to the client the quality of what has been delivered, because if you don’t, you leave it to them to find out only when it fails. In recent years most supermarkets have adopted this approach in the way in which they structure their receipts.

In days before, discounts and BOGOFs would be liberally scattered around the printed receipt in the order in which the checkout assistant scanned the items. These days the ‘money shot’ of discounts is saved up until the end of the transaction, and then usually highlighted on the bill with words like ‘today you have saved’.

If all three of these element are in place, managing the clients experience of the service you provide becomes a far easier challenge. Each missing brick makes the job harder, and if you only rely on the quality of your product… Well, if things fail, you’ll probably lose your clients if you’re in an open market.

Next article, I’ll talk a bit more about what sorts of things we’ve been doing to put some of these ideas into practice.

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