Beyond just a sale, the customer is buying much more than the services you deliver, as I discuss in an earlier blog ‘Being in control’. Ultimately, the customer is buying the whole experience – every aspect of the interactions between you and your customer is part of the deliverable. In the services arena, customers depend on your expertise, judgment, objectivity, communication and warnings. You have the opportunity to be a trusted advisor. You also have the potential to let customers down.
Attention to the customer experience journey is critical to ensure that you’re lockstep with the customer’s expectations.
Compare the two halves of the business development lifecycle (the part before the contract and the part after) and see what you notice.
All kinds of thoughts may pop up, perhaps things you never noticed before. Here are some of my ideas:
- The mood of customers doesn’t stay the same throughout their journey in looking for and implementing a solution to their need. They can go from optimistic, even elated, to depressed, almost despairing (especially if their needs have a serious impact on their business or are complex to solve).
- A big swing exists from the subjective to the objective in the first part of the cycle. In the early stages, anything is possible. The customer’s research can be quite wide-ranging, looking at a lot of options, not all of which are apples-to-apples comparisons. As they progress round the cycle, they start to eliminate possibilities and hone in on what they think may work for them, for their situation, for their budget. The move is from a subjective enquiry into an objective one, from ‘What might I do?’ to ‘What will I do?’
- Choosing is decisive. Literally. When they choose you (or anyone), do they heave a sigh of relief? Absolutely. They’ve moved from a world of uncertainty to one of certainty. Now they know who they’re going to be working with. The engagement ring has changed hands.
- The contract is the pivotal point. This is where objectivity really matters. Customers have to be clear what they’re getting. Any looseness at this stage can bite both parties later on.
- Delivery is an uncertain time. Customers can be unsure what to do when the contract is signed. Should they stand back and let you get on with it, or do they need to be active and participatory? Should they minutely inspect everything, or should they trust you? Are they confused about what’s going on, or clear?
- What does ‘done’ really mean? You may think you’re done, but does the customer? Is this sometimes a point of disagreement and why is that?
- What now? Does the customer expect something beyond the delivery, such as a post-project review, a thank-you note, a dinner?
TIP: One person can’t do everything around the customer experience cycle and be really good at all of it. I’m not just talking about the fact that you’d need to be Super(wo)man, but that the stages in the lifecycle require very different skill sets from your team. Someone who’s good at pitching your services in a live presentation to a group of C-level people and fielding their questions isn’t necessarily the person to write your contracts or deliver the work. Try getting a project manager to expand his relationships in a key account to see whether you can get more business, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.