I firmly believe that the real business of a consulting firm is to “delight their customers”. We, “the consultants” are not in the business of delivering some fancy new technology solution but instead purely are in the business of “delighting our customers” because frankly – nothing else matters. The technology solutions, platforms and services are just the drivers and means to achieve the customer delight and satisfaction.
What do you do? is the question that I get asked a lot lately or perhaps it was always asked but never made me think about it as deeply as I have done over the last year. The main reason is that when you have a specific title within an organization, the answer is pretty simple – I am an Engineer, a Manager or a Statistical Analysis & Data Configuration Manager (Chandler’s Job from friends!). In most instances, the title does not truly communicate what you do and is met by an indifferent nod or a smile unless you are lucky and someone really knows what you are talking about. Now if you play multiple roles within an organization or if you are an entrepreneur the question becomes really difficult to answer.
Michael Port in his book “Book Yourself Solid” suggests that every individual or a business should have a tagline. The tagline should communicate what you really do and you should not rely on a boring corporate title or a list of services that no one understands to define what you do as an individual or an organization.
For a consulting firm the tagline should really be “We are in the business of delighting our customers”. Although for DataInvent we have been using a fancier description to define what we do – “We are a Digital Transformation Partner helping organizations transform their technology future” but what really matters at the end of day is a delighted customer – not just a satisfied customer but a truly delighted customer.
Customer Satisfaction vs Customer Delight
I define customer delight as the next stage of customer satisfaction. You can have a lot customers who are satisfied with the delivery and that is the job that any consulting firm must do but in order to establish a long and trusted relationship – you have to go beyond simple satisfaction of delivery. This means going above and beyond your contractual commitments and serving the customer as a trusted partner even if it translates into an investment in the short-term.
Creating a Customer Delight Culture
Consistently delighting customers is hard work and requires a well-executed effort by the entire firm and not just by a few super stars or the executives. Every junior, mid-level, senior consultant and the leadership must all be bought into a culture of customer delight and must understand the importance of exceeding customer expectations at every step.
In order to create a customer delight culture – a consulting firm must,
- Hire only top talent.
- Encourage employees to take risks
- Promote innovators and risk takers instead of short term profitability hawks.
- Depend on the expertise of the team – don’t override or influence their expert advice.
- Allow your team to spend additional non-billable time as long as it makes the service, solution or deliverable better for the customer and improves the overall customer experience.
- Get rid of slackers and misfits quickly.
- Be completely transparent with the customers – treat them as intelligent and worthy partners. There will be instances where the firm can potentially benefit from their lack of knowledge and you will be tempted but they will ultimately find it out.
- Charge a fair market value – don’t undervalue your work by charging a lower price for your services.
- Have the courage to walk away from a deal if it is not the right thing to do for the customer, even when the customer is willing to move ahead. You are the expert not the customer – so walk away even if it results in lost revenue.
- Be open to accept your shortcomings as a firm in front of the customer when things go off-track. No business is perfect!
As you can see from above – creating a customer delight culture may not be possible for every organization at least not in a short order. If you are a small sweat shop producing low value work with low margins, you might not be able to afford the investment required for the delight culture. Therefore, it is important to think about your services and the value that you are producing. Only a firm with high value services making a reasonable margin can successfully create a delight culture.
A customer delight culture may not result in immediate short term profits but will ensure long term sustainability and growth of the consulting firm through customer and employee retention.
Why do Organizations hire consulting firms?
Organizations don’t hire consulting firms to only do technically work anymore. The technology landscape has been completely redefined over the last decade and most organizations are now increasingly relying on Packaged Solutions, SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) based solutions and a number of other off-the-shelf Cloud, Web and Mobile platforms – even if some technical work has to be outsourced, it is not considered high value work for the business.
Instead, most client organizations now hire the consulting firms for a strategic partnership, for their domain or technology expertise and for their advice and oversight to ensure they become growth partners in an organization’s success. They expect the consulting firm to consistently exceed expectations by solving complex business and technology problems.
This type of work also distinguishes a consulting firm in terms of its value to the business and hence allows for better rates (and margins) that are crucial for establishing a customer delight culture within the firm.
In order for a consulting firm to consistently exceed expectations and delight its customers it needs to rethink its value framework and how the firm can do high value work. The high value work will allow the firm to continuously invest in establishing a customer delight culture that will keep the clients delighted and will result in a trusted long term relationship. It will also improve employee retention and will ensure long term sustainability and growth of the firm.