Client experience is still a foreign concept to most professional service firms. Often, its importance by founders and partners is underestimated. And when they do take it seriously, initiatives are almost always focused on the wrong things.
So let’s start by clarifying one of the main misconceptions: Believing client experience is the same thing as client service. They’re not. Here are two helpful definitions:
These definitions make it clear that client service is only a subset of client experience. If your value proposition is about generating desired outcomes quickly, you can easily measure if your service is delivering on this promise or not. But being the fastest service provider on the market will not guarantee clients’ satisfaction if the pre and post-project interactions consist of horrible experiences for them.
That’s the idea behind the 50/50 rule: You should devote half of your attention to results, and the other half to your client's experience. Especially when there are hundreds of consultancies capable of delivering the same results as you do.
Now, a superior client experience will differentiate your consultancy. But superior client service won’t. And again, it’s easy to see that conflating these two things into one is harmful to micro consultancies.
According to every research I’ve found, firms with higher growth rates and profitability rarely differentiate themselves by client service. Not only that, but service is a frequently used “differentiator” among low- and no-growth firms. I believe customer service is a poor differentiator simply because consulting buyers expect a high level of service from any firm they hire - it’s table stakes.
The value behind client experience comes from validation and retention. As Ryan Suydam from Client Savvy puts it,
"Client experience is not so much a selling point that has to be taken at face value as it is a validation of your brand promise after you have made the sale."
It's not just about convincing new buyers that your service is superior; it's about delivering on your brand promise to existing clients in a way that exceeds their expectations. Doing that will earn you trust, loyalty, and new business from them.
The fact it includes pre and post-service interactions makes client experience understandably more difficult to measure than client service. We need to listen to the “voice of the client”. And this is often done both through one-on-one interviews and online surveys.
Now, the exciting part: How can micro consultancies improve their client experience? While this depends on the specifics of your practice, here are some practical steps I would not skip:
Start putting client experience at the heart of what you do, and watch as your practice thrives.
"A lot of what is called 'customer experience' today is really just traditional cost-cutting or funnel-building activities masquerading as CX. The problem is that too many brands treat customers not like human beings but like wallets to pluck or annoyances to minimize. True CX means putting the customer at the center of our efforts and measuring impact not just in dollars and cents for your brand but truly in terms of how the customer is benefited. You can find so-called CX efforts everywhere, nowadays, but actual customer-centric decision-making is sadly hard to find."
An analysis confirmed consultancies that self-report higher CX maturity tend to have more satisfied clients. Firms that were in the most advanced stage of their CX journey had 7% more satisfied clients than the industry average.
Interestingly, firms in the other three stages only saw marginal differences in client feedback scores from the industry average. This suggests that clients truly feel the benefits of CX investments when they are embedded across the entire firm and have been fully optimized.
My thoughts on this? Better take these numbers with a grain of salt. It is likely that the firms who invest heavily in CX are also the ones who can afford to hire better people, systemize business development and marketing activities, and develop brand assets and IP.
If you want to invest in CX, do it because you want people to have an extraordinary experience and perception of your consultancy - not because it might improve your revenue or profitability. Measuring your ROI is an impossible task here.
If a client were to describe their experience with your firm, what would you want them to say? How close is your firm to achieving this ideal?
Would they talk about the exceptional service, the personalized attention, the unexpected 'moments of wow'? Comparing this ideal scenario with your current reality is a good starting point.