Little things mean everything

April 2014 » Web Exclusive
John P. Bachner

Why would a company try to sell perfume via a TV ad, seeing that the product’s only real attribute is scent? Because there’s more to a scent than scent, such as the celebrity-affiliation part that can allow someone to say, “I smell just like JayLo!” The goal of such campaigns is to get people to try the product once, if only for the wrong reasons. If they like the product for its true raison d’etre, they’ll buy it again. And if they don't like it…well, so it goes.

Much the same applies to the professional selling you do: Your goal is to get prospective-client representatives to try your firm once. If you delight them, they’ll come back. But delighting them takes far more than fulfilling your raison d’etre. Rightly or wrongly, client representatives expect to receive your deliverables on time and for no more than the fee you’ve agreed to, just as they expect whatever you have designed to be buildable or otherwise doable for the budgeted sum. In short, doing what you ordinarily do outstandingly well is not enough to make your firm seem outstanding to many client representatives; it doesn’t delight them because it fails to go above and beyond.

So what does delight? Typically, little things, such as keeping track of client-representative information so, like a dentist, you can ask questions about the representative’s spouse and children using their names and referencing recent plans the client representative has shared with you — a child’s high-school volleyball-team tryout or a semester abroad. Another might be having a receptionist (a.k.a., vice president of first impressions) who knows the name of the client representative just by hearing the person’s voice, and then is able to refer to a “cheat sheet” to mention the name of the project the caller probably is calling the project manager about.

Given that just about anyone in your firm can bollix things through poor telephone etiquette, an erroneous bill, and so on, just as surely, most anyone in your firm may be able to contribute ideas about doing the usual with a little twist or two, to make it memorable in a positive way, and delight client representatives in the process.

Here’s something simple and fun you might want to try, because of the positive impact it could have on client representatives and on employees, too.

Call representatives of all departments together. Identify the individual client representatives you want to delight and provide as much information about each as you can — where the person grew up, schools attended, job history, family, personal interests, passions, and so on — all of which is information you should have on hand.

“Now,” you can ask, “what beyond-the-ordinary something can you do to make an extraordinarily favorable impression on the individual?” The possibilities are more or less endless, and pursuing the right ones can make your firm stand head and shoulders above others, depending on how clever and resourceful you and your staff can be.

Assuming your phones are answered by a person rather than a machine, does the individual have a list of the firm’s 25 most important client representatives and their projects that you’re working on? What about the bookkeeping department? Suggesting to the client representative that your “A/R person” meet with the client’s “A/P person” to learn how they can streamline the billing/paying process would be a nice touch (“Good thinking. Why hasn’t anyone else suggested that to me before?”).

Does the firm have 10 or so client representatives who love wine? Maybe a wine blog and/or a monthly wine tasting would be appropriate. What about community outreach? Are there organizations or objectives that one or more client representatives might want to be involved with? And what about project kick-off meetings? What do you do — or what could you do — to make them stand out, perhaps by adding a touch of memorable whimsy that attendees would regard as special.

Special is the word when so many assume that any licensed professional should be able to achieve the desired results. You know the assumption’s not warranted, but why invest time counterproductively, by trying to prove to client representatives that you’re smarter than they are? Sure: Do what’s expected, but then do something special — something that delights client representatives, something that can help make them client representatives for life.

Thinking big is important. But often, thinking little is even more important.

John P. Bachner is the executive vice president of ASFE/The Geoprofessional Business Association (GBA), a not-for-profit association of geoprofessional firms — firms that provide geotechnical, geologic, environmental, construction materials engineering and testing (CoMET), and related professional services. GBA develops programs, services, and materials that its members apply to achieve excellence in their business and professional practices. He can be contacted at john@asfe.org.


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