For consultants, improving client satisfaction is an essential component of retaining and growing their client base. To help justify the investment of professional services, consultants must continually focus on delivering great analysis AND pleasing their clients. Unfortunately, however, a commonly quoted jab by Carl Ally (1924-1999) defines a consultant as “someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time, and then keeps the watch.” While in rare circumstances this stereotype may, regrettably, be accurate, consultants can (and should) proactively fight this notion. However, if you follow four key principles, you will be more likely to succeed in improving your client’s satisfaction.
Header image courtesy of Cydcor Offices via Flickr Creative Commons
1. Quantify Your Qualitative Findings:Make a Compelling Case
In most business environments, major decisions require compelling data before gaining buy-in—especially as data gathering and analysis technologies continue to evolve and pervade organizations. Gut instinct or anecdotal evidence are no longer sufficient. In order to satisfy your clients, qualitative findings should be quantified when possible and communicated in a way that supports your findings.
While qualitative data is often captured during a consulting engagement through client interviews or simple surveys, these approaches are lacking in their speed and ability to gather deep and meaningful insights. One of the difficulties in collecting and using qualitative data is dissecting what is useful from what is superfluous. Fortunately, there have been advances in technology that solve these challenges. For example, 9Lenses software for consultants allows consultants to achieve the depth of information that is gathered during an interview across an unlimited number of stakeholders in the organization all while collecting, connecting, and automatically quantifying these insights in one central location. By quantifying the qualitative, you can make a compelling case and “wow” your client.
2. Involve the Client:Co-create the solution
Benjamin Franklin noted, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” In other words, giving the client a voice by asking for his or her opinions and analysis can lead to better outcomes. By involving your client, you take another step toward increasing client satisfaction. Walk them through your information gathering process and be sure to send regular updates as the process moves forward. This practice can help you in your final presentation of your deliverables. Ineffective consultants scarcely ask for suggestions outside of his or her presuppositions and consequently and can risk losing client buy-in. If you have effectively involved your client, the client will recognize that the results have been in part inspired by his or her suggestions. The client then feels as if he or she was a valuable part of the process and his or her opinion was taken into consideration. Perhaps most importantly, the conclusions that were reached during the consulting engagement are more likely to be implemented after the engagement finishes.
A key to successful client involvement comes from empathy. Empathy means understanding the client from their perspective, instead of viewing the situation only from the outside. Consultants need to listen to the client while trying to reach the root causes of an issue. Ultimately, this practice can earn buy-in points from the very beginning.
3. Understanding the “Why”:Moving Beyond the “What”
Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on Inspiring Action has accumulated over 19 Million views through examining the difference between understanding the “what” versus understanding the “why.” Instead of focusing on “what” clients are hoping to achieve, dig further and examine the “why.” In general, most clients can articulate what they believe is the problem:stagnant sales, misaligned incentives, etc. However, understanding the core issues can set apart ordinary from impressive consultants. A consultant is better off taking the time to thoroughly understand the topic instead of jumping to immediate conclusions. Understanding “why” can provide a solid opportunity to reframe the key problem into a more long-term solution which leaves the client satisfied.
While this often can be a time-consuming process, 9Lenses software for client discovery shortens the amount of time that is required to aggregate deep insights from company stakeholders. This SaaS software process eliminates unfruitful conclusions and uproots why the problem occurs. Ultimately, speeding up the process can lead not only to new project opportunities but contribute to improved client satisfaction.
4. Providing Deliverables:Exceed Client Expectations
While consultants are compensated for their expertise and analysis, many demanding clients expect tangible deliverables in their hands by the end of the engagement. Providing outsized results for your clients, will not only add to your client’s overall satisfaction, but also help retain and potentially grow your existing client base.
However, consultants should start this process from even before the engagement begins during the RFP or bidding process. There is a temptation to overpromise your deliverables in order to win the client’s business. However, if a project is oversold, the consequences can be disastrous:lower margins, decreased client satisfaction, and a damaged reputation. Once the project is won, the scope should be well defined and the client should understand the services and deliverables you intend provide beforehand. During the project, the client should be provided consistent progress towards those end goals. By ensuring set goals in which you are confident, you have the opportunity to effectively meet or exceed the client’s expectations by the end of the project. Such value not only contributes to your work, but also to your reputation as a consultant. In short, properly executed deliverables entices clients to come back for more insights and solutions.
Ultimately, consultants are responsible for the actions they take. While an unfortunate stereotype might precede consultants, they can fight the stereotype by pleasing clients and meeting their expectations. Research and provide a compelling case. Know why the problem occurs, set expectations, and provide solid deliverables. These principles will not only sit well with your conscience, but help retain and potentially expand your client base.