Defining client experience: Building a culture of engagement
Good experiences (including professional ones) come from relating as individuals, sharing thoughts and feelings with others who believe in and are passionate about the same things as you.
When thinking about a good customer experience, an evening in a London restaurant came to mind when on the face of it everything went wrong: a mix up with the booking, a long wait at the bar, a fire at one of their produce suppliers meant many menu items were unavailable... the list could go on. But how did the maitre d’ handle all this? With charm, humour and sincerity, making us laugh with incredulity that so much could go wrong for one couple on one evening. So with drinks and dessert on the house, we left with fond memories. We’ve been back again since and recommended it to friends. Illogical? Not at all.
Good customer or client experience is not about perfection, not just about the functional elements of service; it’s about how it makes you feel. It's how you are treated on a human level.
In most businesses, defining a consistent and valued client experience is your greatest opportunity to stand out. Clients increasingly have access to more information giving them more choice and are affected by a wider range of influences, becoming more discerning with rising expectations. It’s no surprise then that reviewing and improving the client experience is high on many companies’ agenda. And so it should be.
Delivering a consistent and relevant experience at every touch-point, every day, requires employees to feel a very personal and genuine affinity, understanding and commitment to the experience you collectively strive to deliver. To do this sustainably, the culture and nature of internal interactions must match those conducted externally with clients. Culture and experience align; driven from the inside out. From the top down and the bottom up.
The need for framework
This is not about cultural autocracy; it’s about empowerment. All employees must feel informed, empowered and motivated to think, act and adapt to the changing needs and expectations of the marketplace and of clients. And the need to be flexible, to innovate in your service design, delivery and experience is becoming increasingly urgent to meet the accelerating changes affecting all businesses.
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Above, we discussed how delivering a consistent experience depends on cultural alignment from the inside out. In smaller firms it’s often an organic process with founding partners’ characters and ambitions shaping their firm’s culture. This isn’t always sustainable, however, particularly as a business grows or, as is more often the case in today’s world, consolidates with another.
Do culture and experience merge that easily? While there is often a meeting of minds as well as balance sheets how do you safeguard the best bits of each culture and drive a consistent client experience? How do you define a culture that is a living and breathing part of how your people interact? How do you sustain it? And how do you use it to achieve commercial advantage?
This is when a strategy or framework should move from a ‘nice to have’ on the to-do list to a business critical must have. Here are some practical examples of our approach:
1. Listen and learn from employees
A soft drinks manufacturer client of ours has a very special culture borne out of its origins as a family business. The ‘old-timers’ naturally bring new joiners up to speed with the ‘way-we-do things-round-here’ in their own personal (and personable) way. This had worked for 140 years! But this business was growing faster than Coca-Cola. It urgently needed to capture the special qualities of its unique culture, to protect and make it scalable.
We began with a business-wide employee consultation and soon identified key behaviours consistently demonstrated when employees performed at their best. Based on this, four resonant behavioural principles were articulated including all the character that makes this business so unique. These principles now form the cornerstones of all their recruitment, performance management, engagement, and change management activities. Our client is confident its culture will continue to drive future growth and success.
2. Define your shared story and promote your strengths
Almost a year ago we began working with a market-leading global real estate business. It professed (as many do!) that its people were its differentiating factor. But how could it prove that its people and their interactions really are that different? And how could it recruit more of those sorts of people to maintain its leading position in the market?
The answer was to develop a global Employee Value Proposition. An expression of the interactions and strengths shared across its employee community that truly makes the business what it is today and will be tomorrow.
Forming a working group of cross-functional roles (HR, internal comms and marketing) we began by listening. Then based on our findings we crafted a narrative with cultural themes to guide a more consistent and compelling approach to promoting and celebrating culture. This directly impacts on recruitment, engagement, performance management and shaping the client experience.
3. Bring it all to life!
So when you’ve really got under the skin of a culture and defined it don’t forget to empower everyone inside the firm. Everyone from the Managing Partner through to Support Services should feel informed, empowered and motivated.
A long-standing professional services client with an iconic external brand has grown through mergers and acquisitions to become one of the UK’s Top 20 firms. With all this change over a relatively short period of time it’s been vital to define the ingredients that make up its culture and to help all employees both understand and embrace it. Internally there are a host of templates and tools not just telling teams what the culture is but bringing it to life. Ultimately this culture drives the client experience.
This insight was first published by Totum as a two-part blog piece.