Is client experience a hot, new buzzword? Does it have staying power? Is it affecting the bottom line? Is it measurable? 

Client experience is hot right now, but if you think it’s a new concept, you’re missing the point.  

  • Scenario 1 | Your favorite lunch spot calls you by name and always remembers your order. They confirm you’d like your “usual” just in case you feel like mixing it up that day. 
  • Scenario 2 | You enter a store. No one greets you. When you find something to purchase, you have to wander around the store looking for an associate.
  • Scenario 3 | You enlist the help of a travel agent for vacation planning. While they’re responsive to your inquiries, the responses seemed canned and only answer your specific questions. You were hoping to connect with someone who would openly share additional information + opinions based on their knowledge of the industry and of you, their client. 

This is client experience – good, bad + indifferent! We experience it every day – online, over the phone + in-person. Client experience isn’t specific to B2B or B2C and isn’t specific to a traditional client/vendor relationship (think about when you ask the accounting team a payroll question). It’s not even specific to interacting with another human (we see you chatbot + intuitive website design). 

Our goal with client experience is to research + study how our clients prefer to communicate and set general (+ flexible) guidelines based on our findings. Some guidelines can be pretty obvious, like responding to an email in a timely manner and preparing for meetings. Some can take more thought + understanding, like remembering to translate a complex engineering challenge into the client’s everyday language (+ explain why it matters). 

Since 2020, Schaefer has made client experience (we call it Schaefer Experience) an explicit priority as an annual plan initiative, and as of 2022, one of five pillars that are the focus of our multi-year strategic plan. 

How we started our client experience journey 

The first step | research + study. 

We started internally. We interviewed representatives from each of our business units asking when, why, how + how often they interact with clients with the purpose of understanding the existing client journey. It set a baseline in preparation of reviewing the responses from the client survey so that we could compare where we aligned (or didn’t).  

We worked with an outside expert, MarketVision Research, to develop our intended client response list and an online community in which they would engage. We went a different route than the typical survey, instead adopting a two-week facilitated community discussion, similar to a Reddit-type feed. We encouraged interaction from our clients, as well as interaction between them, in a confidential space. We wanted to: 

  • Understand our clients 
  • Understand how they hire their partners 
  • Understand how they view Schaefer in the marketplace 

We organized the data into strengths + opportunities, as well as our clients’ baseline expectations for a partner consultant. 

How we set up our client experience plan 

The second step | organizing our message. 

We wanted to clearly define + communicate our client experience strategy in a simple, memorable + actionable manner to our people. It needed to speak to all Schaefer team members – from office coordinators to principals – because it was important to educate our team on how we all play a part in a client’s experience, and that this isn’t just a client manager topic. As we waded through all of the useful research, we came out with six client foundational terms in which we organized our messaging + guidelines around. 

Inspire. Respond. Prioritize. Engage. Prepare. Collaborate.

These six words were defined, and we created a roadmap that included (+ gave our marketing team members action items to produce) additional resources that would help all Schaefer team members apply those six words to the different scenarios that we call host, attend, communicate, manage, and operate. 

Mid-way through 2021, we began rolling out the client foundations along with their definitions, a leadership team member testimonial on how it relates to our overall firm identity, and a client quote from our research.  

That was just the beginning. Over the whole of 2022, we took the learn, confirm + activate approach, spotlighting a different foundational term every two months in: 

  • Team meetings 
  • Staff meetings 
  • Bulletin board messaging 
  • Internal newsletter 

Yep, we generated a lot of insightful content, heard a lot of impressive stories from our team members and had a lot of candid conversations. The collaborative process was in alignment with Schaefer’s core value of continuous improvement. 

How we’re measuring our client experience ROI + where we go from here 

The third step | keeping the momentum. 

We’ve spent nearly a year implementing our client experience roadmap and it’s time to kick the tires and see how it’s holding up in the real world. It comes in the form of another client survey mid-year 2022. This time, it’s a more traditional format and requires less commitment from our clients. It asks questions explicitly linked to our client foundations. We’ll use the data to evaluate what client foundations are fully integrated in our clients’ experiences, and which need additional work. We’re also analyzing our net promoter score from this data. 

We’re continuing to evolve our client experience initiative because we believe it’s always something that will need to remain top of mind. We anticipate hosting spin-off events + discussions in the future, like a book club where we really read + discuss the books (okay maybe there will be a few snack + drinks, too). We have a lot of big ideas, from onboarding to hosting external expert presentations, and we’ll continue to brainstorm + execute in alignment with our strategic plan. 

We will continue to share our client experience initiative in an external capacity so that the people we’re lucky enough to partner with, and who took the time away from their work, their lunches, and their socializing to share their feedback with us know that it was worth it, and experience the difference when partnering with Schaefer. 

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