Cause and Effect in Professional Services

Sorry, no Easter Egg link in the post title. You hadn't noticed?

Someone was wondering if he was crazy to expect other bloggers to share their ideas and efforts. No, he's not, but he should be careful what he wishes for, or he'll get stuff like this:

Back in 2003 I was working at a branch office of a mid-tier technology consulting company. It wasn't fun. At our large, anchor clients offshore firms were buying huge chunks of business on price alone (sample client comment: "At their rates, we can afford to have them fail twice before getting it right and still pay them less than we'd pay you guys")[Ed. note: this on a project the client told us was extremely time sensitive!]. Other clients were choosing to cherry pick onshore individual talent at bargain prices and managing their own projects. Our software vendor "partners" were pushing their own professional services organizations as a way to shore up their sagging financials. We were being squeezed from all sides, with no relief in sight. A small group of concerned souls analyzed the situation and identified the following options:

  1. Do nothing and pray for an economic turnaround - with the risk of a slow or quick death

  2. Reorganize on a low-cost model - and make significant lifestyle changes

  3. Find a way to secure higher-value work - but we would have to transform the business

Option 3 was the only palatable (and motivating) choice for us, but would we effect the necessary changes? Given the opportunity and back-against-the-wall need to think outside the box, and synthesizing a bunch of proven concepts, we created the following model:

Cause and Effect in Professional Services Posted by Hello

The green box represented the firm management committee imperative: improved financial performance. The blue boxes were customer behavior changes we needed to effect to get there, and the order in which they would progress. The red boxes were the internal processes that would need to be transformed to develop customer relationships.

Definitions for each box:

Customer Evangelist
A customer evangelist is someone who moves from being a raving fan to someone who evangelizes our company and products. McConnell and Huba, the customer evangelism geniuses, define the following characteristics of such evangelists:

  • They purchase and believe in your product or service.

  • They are loyal and passionately recommend you to friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

  • They purchase your products as gifts for others.

  • They provide unsolicited feedback or praise.

  • They forgive occasional dips in service and quality; they let you know when quality slips.

  • They are not bought; customer evangelists extol your virtues freely.

  • As your evangelist, they feel part of something bigger than themselves.

Long Term Relationship
A long term relationship is one which lasts beyond the term of an initial engagement. It should span multiple engagement, not necessarily contiguous. Relationships here are defined as person-to-person. The kind of relationship we want to develop is a trusted advisor relationship.

Trusted Advisor
A trusted advisor is the highest form of professional relationship. Trusted Advisor Associates defines four layers of professional relationship:
  • Expertise-based – paradigm of giving answers

  • Needs-based – paradigm of solving problems

  • Relationship-based – paradigm of customization

  • Trust-based – paradigm of personalization

They define the trust creation process as:
  1. Engage around an issue meaningful to the client

  2. Listen to what is important and real to the client; get the data, affirm the importance of that data to the client, and demonstrate you recognize it

  3. Frame the true root issue, without blame, through a series of problem statements and hypotheses

  4. Envision an alternative reality, including specific descriptions of outcomes and results

  5. Commit to actionable next steps that imply significant commitment and movement

The ELFEC trust development process describes generically the evolution of trust in an interpersonal relationship – including successful consultative interactions.

We aspire to develop trusted advisor relationships with key C-level executives and other decision makers (and check signers) within accounts in [our territory].

Raving Fans
Raving Fans = Delighted Customers
Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles wrote the book “Raving Fans” and described in the simplest terms a process for creating customers that are not merely satisfied, but “raving fans”. There are approximately two copies of this book in print for every practicing manager in American industry (topped only by the 5 copies of The One Minute Manager per worker in American industry). At a high level, the formula for creating raving fans is:
  1. Decide what you want

  2. Discover what the customer wants

  3. Deliver the vision plus one percent (not ninety percent of the vision plus 11%)

Tim Keiningham and Terry Vavra wrote The Customer Delight Principle, in which they offer some definitions of customer delight:
  • Positive surprise arising from extremely good service delivery or product performance

  • The highest level of sastisfaction

  • Exceeding customers’ expectations

The key difference between raving fans and customer evangelists is the depth of commitment and breadth of relationship with the individual evangelist. Each and every one of our engagements should aspire to create raving fans / delighted customers, even if the client never uses us again. If we are successful, they will often find ways to engage us again, which gives us the opportunity to build a trusted advisor relationship. Every single employee involved in customer-facing processes is responsible for the customer delight creation process.

Relationship Management
The process by which we cultivate and nurture trusted advisor relationships with key client individuals. It consists of a series of processes to identify potential target individuals for a trusted advisor relationship, match an appropriate advisor to the client, and actively managing the relationship on an ongoing basis. We will need to define the specific processes and tasks as part of building our trusted advisor program.

We will also actively manage client relationships that are not trusted advisor relationships. This will be done in a more traditional account management framework, but will involve more conscious planning than we do today.

Offer Development
Offer development is the process of creating standard mass-customizable technology/business solutions for offer to our customers. The deliverables are intended for our sales, trusted advisor, and delivery teams. Each offer provides tools for developing business justification, risk assessment and cost estimates for completing initiatives.

Offer Design
Offer design is the process of taking a developed offer and tailoring it for a specific customer. This will generally be done as part of a trust-building experience / assessment project. The deliverables are a business justification, risk assessment, and cost estimate for full implementation of the initiative. This information will allow us to create alternative billing arrangements for the full initiative.

The process of conducting work for a client; includes three phases:
  • Planning

  • Doing

  • Insuring customer delight

Planning includes understanding not only the entire scope of the project, but the customer satisfaction attributes, including delight-creating attributes, of the project as well. Insuring customer delight encompasses not only traditional QA, but also managing customer expectations and ‘selling’ the project.

Sales and Marketing
Most of our customer relationships will not evolve into trusted advisor relationships in the short term, and many will not in the long term. We will constantly be looking for new companies to work with, and exploring new business units and groups within existing accounts. Trusted advisors manage specific individual relationships, and will not be able to cover every conceivable opportunity within large organizations. In fact, the value of having a trusted advisor relationship may diminish in the eyes of those special clients if the services are available to everyone in the company. This work – “hunting” for new business, will be the responsibility of our business development team.

Marketing comprises the set of activities that we engage in to develop initial leads for business development and trusted advisors, and includes the development of materials for use in the sales process.

We thought it was brilliant, but it was a little too far out of the box for the management committee. We presented. Crickets chirped. Most of the original group is no longer with the firm.

But I still think it's good stuff, and somebody ought to be able to put it to good use. What do you think of it?

posted by Mike at 2:59 AM


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