Ask an executive of an architecture, engineering, environmental, construction, or related firm to define “client experience,” and chances are you won’t get the same answer twice. To some, it is simply a synonym for “customer service.” To others, it’s more about gathering client feedback about firm performance. Some view it as a “function” within a marketing department. And yet, to others, it is a holistic approach that engages every employee at their firm.
In other words, there is limited consensus on what client experience or CX is, much less agreement as to who within a firm is responsible for it.
Interestingly, recent research from the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) revealed that client experience will be the most important approach to marketing and business development within the next few years, supplanting networking and ahead of thought leadership, branding, and personal selling.
So, it seems that client experience is pretty essential.
However, the same research revealed that only 18% of design and construction firms currently have a formal client experience program. This means there is a large gap between where firms are right now and where firms think they need to be in the future.
How Do We Bridge that Gap?
An excellent first step is to define “client experience” since there is no universal definition.
As the last century drew to a close, business strategists B. Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore wrote the groundbreaking business book, The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre, and Every Business a Stage. They subsequently updated and expanded the book in 2011.
The book challenges the business model based on commodities, goods, and services and suggests a fourth source of value: experience. They write, “When a person buys a service, he purchases a set of intangible activities carried out on his behalf. But when he buys an experience, he pays to spend time enjoying a series of memorable events that a company stages—as in a theatrical play—to engage him in an inherently personal way.”
Simply put, Annette Franz of CX Journey states, “Customer experience is the sum of all the interactions that a customer has with an organization over the life of the relationship with that company or with that brand.”
If your company is staging positive, personalized experiences for every customer, you have created Positive Memorable Customer Experience (PMCE). It’s important to note that if there’s just one negative interaction along the journey, the whole relationship may be thrown off balance—and future interactions in jeopardy.
In the AEC market space, we refer to our customers as clients, but the concept is the same. Every interaction we have with our clients needs to be a positive experience, from the marketing and business development through the negotiation into project delivery, billing, closeout, and ongoing relationship maintenance.
Business-to-consumer (B2C) firms have a jump on business-to-business (B2B) companies, mainly because they have been doing it longer. Starbucks sells a commodity product: coffee. Heck, a lot of people will tell you that Starbucks sells a sub-standard product. And yet, coffee is secondary to their offerings because what Starbucks really sells is an experience—one that millions of customers will gladly pay a premium (guilty as charged). Just like Disney, Amazon, and maybe even the local car dealership where you purchased your last automobile.
If you aren’t thinking about the kind of experience you create for your clients and every single touchpoint along their journey with you, then you need to start. Ask yourself:
- What if marketing overpromises and production underdelivers?
- What if you propose a low fee and hit the client with unexpected change orders or scope increases?
- What if your project manager doesn’t return calls in a timely fashion?
- What if the work produced by your firm is excellent, but your subconsultants or subcontractors are not performing to your client’s expectations?
- What if your invoice is hard to understand, or the client wants to pay by credit card – but you don’t accept it?
- What if…fill in the blank.
There are hundreds—thousands, really—of interactions that a client has with your firm, including many you don’t even know about (like when they land on your website or LinkedIn page).
It’s crucial that someone pays attention to these things and is the client experience champion for each and every client.
Seller-Doers to the Rescue
Here’s where seller-doers—those staff members tasked with both getting the work and delivering the work—can and should play a critical role. We already know that seller-doers are typically on the front lines of interacting with clients—principals, project managers, project executives, discipline leaders, etc.
Because of their client-facing roles, seller-doers are poised to be the maestros of client experience. Your seller-doers drive success, client satisfaction, revenue growth, and profit for the firms from the initial marketing and business development touches through the pursuit and contract phases into project delivery. Eighty percent of your company’s business probably comes from repeat clients, and it may very well be true that eighty percent of your firm’s revenues come from the top twenty percent of clients.
Either way, these typical industry metrics call us to greater action when it comes to turning our clients into loyal fans. Who better to lead the charge than your front-line staff: seller-doers? After all, they regularly interact with the clients, understanding their needs, learning their challenges, helping to solve their problems, and, yes, learning about concerns they have with your firm.
Of course, for seller-doers to succeed in this role, they need to be relationship managers. And coaches. And problem solvers. And researchers. Are they?
If you are looking to gain insight into what client experience is within AEC firms, please join Stambaugh Ness for our next webinar, The Role of Client Experience in Driving Revenue. We’ll showcase 18 components of client experience to help you better understand the journey clients are taking with your firm, how you can better engage them, and the role these components play in improving the experience with your firm.
Scott D. Butcher, FSMPS, CPSM | Director, Strategic Growth Advisory
Scott is an AE industry veteran with 30 years of experience in strategy, marketing, and business development. As a former Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for a mid-sized engineering firm, Scott brings a unique perspective to his client work, delivering first-hand industry insight and knowledge.
Scott is a sought-after national speaker who has presented for numerous industry organizations including ACEC, AIA, ASCE, NCSEA, PSMJ, ROG, SDA, SMPS, and USGBC. A prolific writer, Scott has authored 15 books, written numerous ebooks, white papers, and blogs including his Marketropolis blog for Engineering News-Record. He is a past president of the SMPS Foundation, an AEC research-focused nonprofit organization, and has served on the national board of directors for the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). In addition to being a Fellow of SMPS, Scott is also a Certified Professional Services Marketer.