The Real Client Treatment

6 Nov 2017 by Steven Giannoulis

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Talking to a (hopefully soon to be) client last week about growing staff advocacy for their client service experience, got me thinking about how well we apply our own service ethos to ourselves.

This prospective client works at one of the big banks and the discussion was about how to give staff a first-hand appreciation of the customer experience. It’s a wonderful idea and it aligns nicely with my desire for us to all see ourselves as our customers do.

Client-first is one of our values. We track client satisfaction, monitor net promoter scores and actively look to engage clients in discussions about what we can we do better. These are all good actions and collectively they’ve contributed to making us exponentially more client-centric than we have ever been.

But it seems we still struggle to recognise the internal client as a real client. This manifests itself in numerous ways: from not meeting internal deadlines, not making time to address key internal matters, being late to internal meetings with no ‘heads-up’, or postponing internal meetings last minute because “I’m just too busy.” It shows in the priority given to new business proposals, marketing activities or other similar jobs, which are essential to our survival, but are the first to be put aside when external client work comes in.

Mostly I see it in our business plan activities whose importance is somehow always trumped by the ‘urgent.’ It’s this work that will make the biggest difference to us and our clients but doing this work is never as high priority as even the smallest client job.

We wouldn’t dream of saying to a client “sorry, we didn’t do your job because work came in from a more important client.” Effectively, that’s what we do every time we don’t deliver on our internal timeframes and promises. If we were our own client, we’d probably sack ourselves!

Am I suggesting that we need to give our work priority over paying client work? Yeah, maybe. Mostly I’m saying that we can’t use clients as the excuse for not doing what we said we would. We must treat ourselves like a real client and manage expectations, agree realistic timeframes, communicate proactively and do everything we can to deliver what we said we would. And it starts by giving external clients realistic timeframes for delivering their work based on our full workload. Never assume that we will just drop the internal work.

Reality is, things happen and we need to reprioritise. And sometimes we just can’t find a way to do what we promised to do. Talk to the client (internal or external) before the due date and agree a new timeframe and deliverables. Most clients will be reasonable about it, if they can. And if the scope can’t change then at least they have the option to find alternative ways to achieve what they need. Chances are they’ve also made promises and this allows them to manage any expectations they’ve created.

And as we all know, good service experiences are all about expectations being exceeded.