The perils of keeping customers happy

US Consulting company CirrusOne, founded by Erich Rusch and run by Shane Anastasi (founder of PS Principles) and John Pora, removed Customer Satisfaction as a metric in 2016 as it was felt that this was driving negative behaviour.  Instead they focused on the metrics generated from two simple questions:

1. Will the Customer act as reference for us? and; 2. Was the project profitable?

The objective being that a project can only be deemed a success if both of these questions are answered “yes”.

Were they right to do this?  I certainly believe so - allow me to explain why.

During the formative stage of our careers, we’re conditioned to think that the Customer is always right.  Providing what the Customer wants is the way to make money; to stay in business; to keep us employed and profitable.

Of course, nobody will succeed if Customers do not want the service being offered, but this very human desire to please the buyer can land us in all sorts of trouble – especially in the world of technical Consulting and implementation services.

Take a situation that will be all-too-familiar to those in Professional Services: a Customer, through no fault of their own, discovers that requirements are different from those listed in the Statement of Work.  The Consultant, who is working with the Customer for several months (and needs to build a good relationship), agrees to deviate from the specification and incorporate changes to the build – after all, it won’t take long and it’s a minor change.

The Customer gets their changes, the Consultant is praised – everyone is happy.

Then it happens again. And again. And again… you get the picture.

Having initially set the precedent that ‘minor’ deviations are fine, the proverbial snowball is set in motion...

This can lead to a tangled mess of an implementation that has time overruns, has no budget and due to the Customer requests, is nowhere close to the original Statement of Work. The Customer is not happy, the Service Provider is not happy, and the Consultant is working all hours to bail out a sinking project.

Sadly, this is not uncommon. The solution is often a project reset, an agreement to work for free, or the Customer not getting the outcome promised. Whichever, money and time is lost and crucially so is the Customer’s confidence in the Service Provider.

This situation illustrates how the desire to keep Customers happy can lead to them being anything but.

Why am I telling you this?  It's quite simple really - I firmly believe that prevention is better than cure, and by changing the way we think about Customers and projects we (us and our Customers) can enjoy much more successful outcomes.

Embracing this way of thinking requires us to accept that Customers don’t always know what they want.  Sometimes they think they know, but it is the job of a skilled, trained Consultant to navigate the trials and challenges of complex projects and deliver an outcome that is the very best given the circumstances (the one thing you can guarantee is that there will be unexpected challenges in all complex projects).  This requires difficult conversations at times, an eye on the big picture and the ability to adapt to changing project environments.

These and other skills are covered in the PS Principles ‘Seven Principles of Professional Services’ – a unique programme that covers the art of Consulting in a pragmatic, outcome-driven and engaging way.  I firmly believe that this approach equips Consultants with skills and knowledge that are far more important to getting the best outcome than technical know-how alone.

What about CirrusOne and their bold move?

The new approach, combined with Consultants who were properly trained in Consulting, resulted in over 60% of new business coming from existing customers, and the company willing to offer an open book policy to customer references (something I’ve never seen before in a consulting firm).  It was this stable base that allowed them to be recognised as the 4th fastest growing consulting firm in the US, and the 6th fastest overall firm in the San Francisco Bay area in 2017.  Clearly the decision wasn’t hurting their ability to grow!

Maybe it’s time to think differently?

You can find out more about PS Principles Consultant training and Certifications here.

Author: Kelly Smith