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Two sides of the same coin: CX and EX

In today’s Q&A on Research.Reveal. George Beaton talks with Briana Millar, Tonkin + Taylor's Client Experience Specialist.

Since time immemorial coins have had two sides. So too, do CX and EX in professional services firms. The eXperience of Clients and Employees (the people of the firm) are inextricably linked.

Briana leads us in a deeply insightful conversation about CX and where EX fits in.

Thanks for joining me on Research. Reveal. today Briana; I know our many readers will find fresh and actionable insights in your experienced views.

Q: To set the scene for our discussion today, I’d love to hear your views on why has it taken so long for the significance of the strong relationships between the perceptions and attitudes of front-line staff and customers in services industries to be recognised in B2B professional services?

A: People are still people - whether in a personal or professional capacity - so it would stand true that our B2B clients’ expectations for personalisation and ease of doing business, aren’t just set by their experience of working with our competitors. Rather, their benchmark is formed through their everyday experiences, including those from outside work: the apps they use, how easy it is to make purchases online, the experience of dining out with friends – the intentional design of which has long been valued and acknowledged in the B2C space.

Given that context, it’s curious that it has taken longer for some professional services to recognise the importance of CX. Historically there may have been a misconception that engagement was purely about the technical expertise. However, professional services are actually a business of relationships, so how easy you are to work with, how trustworthy you are to deliver when it matters most and how you make your client feel throughout the process, are so important when it comes to loyalty and repeat business.

Q: In today’s hyper-competitive world of professional services, where do smart firms start when they decide to be more deliberate in lifting CX for their clients?

A: They must start with the client. It’s important for firms to understand how/where their involvement fits within the clients’ world – not the other way around! Smart firms explore the wider context their clients are working within, what they care about most and their biggest challenges.

They take the time to talk person-to-person with clients about their current experience and explore where the critical moments and interactions lie. This is really important, because there are probably 1000 things a firm could fix, 100 things it should fix, but only 10 that it actually can fix right now. When firms just rush in and try to change everything at once before they truly understand the moments that matter most to their client, they are in danger of putting their efforts in all the wrong places.

Q: You’ve referred to hearing from clients about 'critical moments and interactions'. In your view, what types of client listening are most powerful in providing a firm and its people with a baseline so that as they go forward they can track the impact of their efforts on CX?

A: We actively seek qualitative feedback from our clients because this type of feedback is so powerful in its ability to explore the emotions and meaning behind their responses.

When we first began our CX journey, we created a comprehensive baseline of qualitative feedback and we continue to seek it on an ongoing basis, to understand how any changes and improvements have impacted on our clients’ experience.

However, it’s also important to supplement this with quantitative data such as Net Promoter Score, as it provides an objective rating against which we can calibrate our feedback. It also creates a benchmark for us to track progress and changes over time, in both our own firm and as well as that of other professional services.

Q: Thinking of aspects such as feedback on transactions and the relationship with the firm, what clients think and how they feel, specificity of the behaviours that make them glad or mad, ability to track and benchmark the feedback, the cost and intrusiveness of gathering feedback and offering clients anonymity if they so choose, what’s the logic behind your answer the previous question?

A: Rather than viewing the gathering of feedback as a cost, we consider it an investment – one of improving service delivery, as well as strengthening relationships with our clients. Over the past few years of managing the CX programme at Tonkin + Taylor, my experience has been that our clients have also shared this view – especially when they see that we are genuinely interested in listening to their concerns and understanding their business, in an effort to improve their project outcomes and their experience.

The emotion – how they feel – is critical. Taking the time to understand not just the interactions our clients have with T+T, but also how and when these touchpoints intersect with their moments of high stress or challenge, has been key to our approach. This allows us to prioritise improvements based on the ‘moments that matter’ to our clients, focusing on making the changes that will have the greatest impact on the client journey.

Q: This is brings us to EX, Employee eXperience, and its links to CX which were famously documented by Professor Benjamin Schneider in banking services as long ago as 1985. Schneider and many others who came after him have shown that Happy staff result in happy customers who contribute to superior profitability of the service provider. You’ve recently been speaking at New Zealand Marketing Association meetings on the CX-EX connection; please share with our readers your top three tips for leaders of professional services firms who are striving to maximise their clients’ CX and their staff EX?

A: You can only get so far with CX alone, before you reach a ceiling. To deliver a superior CX and create sustainable CX improvements, you have to develop EX in parallel: assess the employee journey alongside the client journey and look for opportunities to influence change.

When addressing your EX, just like the CX, you can’t change everything at once. Prioritise your efforts based on the moments that matter most.

Impactful change requires a cross-functional approach that is company-wide and across all levels, starting with senior leadership. Having this shared vision and focus the necessary engagement, buy-in and consistency in experience for the people of the firm are created.

Briana Millar

Briana manages the Client Experience programme at Tonkin + Taylor, a leading New Zealand built environment and consulting engineering consultancy.

She is a former school teacher and a TVNZ Marketing Awards Finalist.

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