Client Experience : Listen, Reflect, Respond, and Grow
Stacy Clouse, Client Experience
October 17, 2022
Automated customer satisfaction surveys offer ease and convenience in exchange for a handful of numerical ratings. They have their place, but there is an alternative that provides a more meaningful experience for the customer and company alike.
It’s called a conversation.
At Olsson, we call that conversation client experience, or CX.
Nearly 25 years ago, our engineering and design firm established a formal client experience program to better understand what we were doing well and what we could do better. During a phone call with a member of the CX team, our clients embraced the opportunity to give feedback on our performance while the work was ongoing, which our employees used to deliver a stronger final project.
As the firm grew, so did the CX team. We now devote three full-time staff members and an intern who hold more than 600 conversations each year with clients and project partners. CX is central to our track record of winning repeat business with nine out of 10 of our clients.
Our approach relies on trust and honesty between the clients and the employees who serve them. To be effective, our employees must be willing to listen, reflect, and respond. When they do, they experience professional growth.
The CX Process
CX conversations fall into three categories: client visits, project pursuit debriefs, and panels.
Client visits take place while the project is ongoing, usually via a phone or video call that lasts 20 to 30 minutes. The feedback gathered from the conversation can be used by our project staff to adjust midstream so we can finish the project stronger.
Pursuit debriefs are conducted after we seek a project, regardless of whether we’re successful. These conversations allow us to clearly understand why we won, or why the client selected another firm. What we learn helps us better prepare for future pursuits.
Client panels are events where a diverse lineup of clients appear before a group of Olsson employees. The panelists respond to questions and share insights with the group about what they are looking for in a consultant. Panels provide a great way for more of our staff to engage in the client conversations.
During client visits and project debriefs, we make clear that the CX team serves as independent intermediaries. Frequently, clients are pleasantly surprised by the opportunity to provide feedback to a staff member who is not directly or emotionally vested in the project. I am convinced it helps promote openness and honesty.
“You are the only firm that does this,” one of our municipal clients said during a visit, echoing a sentiment we’ve heard repeatedly. “Others do a debrief, but you are the only one that does it this way. This way works better, I like this way better … it works well.”
Additionally, we do not use a client conversation to make a business pitch or inquire about upcoming project opportunities. I’ve had conversations with clients who were almost shocked by our approach, which keeps the focus on communication and improving project results.
“I appreciate the opportunity to do this. I think it says a lot about Olsson,” a railroad client told us. “I can tell you like to find out about things before they become a problem. This is a cool process.”
Unlock the Value of Feedback
CX team members document the conversations in a report, which is shared with project managers and other key staff working on the project. Our clients often provide glowing feedback, but not always. This is when the honesty and trust we’ve worked to build comes into play.
When the client’s message is critical, we remind our employees that the feedback will help them succeed individually and as members of their practice team. Most employees get it and they genuinely want to understand what their clients think about how the project is unfolding.
That’s when reflection takes place.
It’s human nature to react defensively to criticism. But once employees step back and consider what’s been said, most understand their client’s perspective. And that’s when they take the next step, which is to respond.
Many employees tell me they’ve come to value the constructive criticism, seeing feedback as a roadmap that gets them to a better project outcome.
“Using CX effectively allows us to remove the blind spots from the equation,” said Nick Weander, who leads our offices in Dallas and Fort Worth. “Once we know where we’ve made a mistake – or where we’ve exceeded expectations – we can lean in and provide an even better experience for our clients and our teammates. It’s critical that we have the confidence in ourselves to listen well, take the criticism, reflect on our shortcomings, and accept the challenge to get better. It’s what makes us Olsson.”
Surprising Benefits of CX
Olsson’s top tenets are that we exist for our employees, and our employees put our clients’ needs first. When former CEO Roger Severin launched the CX program, he wasn’t so concerned about return on investment or creating a new business development tool. Instead, he told me, he saw CX as the necessary thing to do.
After all, how do we know if we are fulfilling our clients’ needs unless we ask, listen, and respond?
Though the support of the firm’s leadership is critical, the CX program is considered vital throughout the ranks. At any given time, the CX team has more than 300 requests for client visits from Olsson employees.
One unexpected benefit of CX stems from the fact that our conversations with clients are truly dialogues. Our clients often think about their roles and performance. More than a few times, clients have come to the realization that making changes to their approach can help our staff produce a better result. They frequently begin to see our employees not simply as consultants, but as partners committed to the project’s success.
Most often, however, the real gold nugget in the CX program is uncovered by our people. When they trust the process, they grow as professionals. In my years of doing this work, I’ve seen it over and over.
Helping our employees grow their skills and deliver the projects they’ve always wanted to accomplish is one of the primary reasons we invest in our CX program. As a CX professional, it’s one of the most satisfying parts of my job. Truthfully, it gives me a feeling of joy.
Stacy Clouse is director of client experience at Olsson, where she helps to address the needs of our clients and develop the careers of our employees. Reach Stacy at 402.458.5040 or firstname.lastname@example.org