March 16, 2015
TL;DR: There is market saturation of web tech professionals in client services, so make your personal or agency’s differentiating factor an excellent client experience, aka CX, and share that via your site, blog, and social media proudly.
Currently, all corners of the tech world are filled with talk of “user experience”, aka “UX”. The buzz that has caught everyone’s attention is justified – improving UX makes a happier user, happier users are more likely be paying users, and therefore users that don’t churn. However, client service tech professionals don’t need to just worry about the UX of the products they build, they also need to reflect on the client experience (CX) they’re providing.
My working draft of a “client experience” definition – the overall experience of a person receiving client services, especially in terms of how easy or pleasing the initiation, process and outcome of the services are. (This definition has heavily influenced by Google Search’s definition of ‘user experience’)
So why do client service tech professionals need to reflect on the CX they’re providing? Successful consultants know that the CX of their client is as important, and sometimes more so, than the UX of their client’s users. Analogously, the medical professional has demonstrated that the importance of the bedside manner is critical for successful care. In fact, malpractice suits have shown to decrease when bedside manner is improved. CX for the consultant is the equivalent of a physician’s bedside manner.
Why are SaaS companies so focused on UX right now?
SaaS companies are trending towards hiring like crazy for UX positions, especially designers and developers, but also in product and support. There’s no better reason than the one we gave already: improving UX keeps happy, staying, and paying users.
In addition to looking for UX designers and developers, there’s been a trend in startups away from using the term “Support” for employees in product support, and instead using titles like “Customer Success Coach”. These job title shifts are intended to guide the outcome of a user’s interaction with someone on their support team by being a constant reminder of the support person’s primary job: make the customer successful. With an interaction that ends in “success” for the user, how can you not have a great user experience?
Accordingly for these SaaS companies, like with any product whose market is saturated, “what” the product does becomes commonplace in the market and “how” the product does what it does becomes the product’s competitive advantage. In other words, winning users over with an excellent experience when using their web app and interacting directly with the company (ie. via support requests) is the key to differentiating themselves from the pack.
Agencies are focused on UX for their clients’ users too…
Let’s not forget about agencies, because they hire UX designers and developers as well, but the experiences these hires work to build is for the client’s users, not the client themselves. For example, Thoughtbot, a leading Rails agency in Boston, was commissioned to craft a user experience in Tile’s app. Tile has users (or customers), but when Thoughtbot was hired to focus on the onboarding experience for Tile, it was hired to focus on the needs and experience of Tile’s users, not Tile itself.
So what about the client’s experience (Tile in the previous example)? It’s probably fair to say that Thoughtbot deeply considers how to instill confidence in prospective clients and makes sure all the experiences that these prospective clients have with Thoughtbot, whether sales meetings, portfolio reviews, or brainstorming sessions, are positive ones. What we do know about Thoughtbot is that they publish their “playbook” so clients know what to expect throughout the project cycle.
Therefore, agencies aren’t just building 1 level of experience, they’re actually building 2. The first is the experience they need to give their direct client (CX), as we concluded with Thoughtbot winning the confidence of Tile. Second, Thoughtbot needs to build an exceptional experience for the users of Tile (UX).
So although agencies are tasked with building 2 sets of experiences (CX for client, UX for client’s users), I’d argue that only recently did CX become as important as UX in the eyes of agencies.
But why is CX important now more than ever?
Agencies aren’t a new concept in the tech world, but over time, like in any industry, there is a higher market saturation of agencies to provide client services. A number of agencies now have very impressive portfolios filled with many projects. So how do you differentiate between a bunch of agencies that have a bunch of great portfolio pieces to show for themselves? The agency’s focus on Client Experience.
Clients have experiential needs beyond just delivering the project scope of work, and building an excellent client experience is about satisfying those needs.
- Clients are looking for great communication where they feel they’re being heard. A low level of responsiveness can easily break a client’s confidence in the consultant(s).
- Clients are also looking for execution and progress. Clients want to be shown what you’re building during a projects and where in the project timeline your progress has taken you.
- Finally, delivering the final product, as promised, on-time and on-budget isn’t just logistical, it’s experiential. Often, due dates and budgets will change during a project, and managing those shifts in expectations is crucial to guaranteeing a client’s confidence doesn’t waver in the process.
Satisfying these needs is the crucial differentiator for agencies and consultants looking to prove their value and edge over competitors. If agencies share how they create incredible client experiences via blogging (or some other medium), then they should expect prospective clients to see that and say, “wow, I want to work with them!”.
My challenge to agencies and consultants:
I challenge and encourage agencies and consultants to speak more openingly about the CX they aim to provide for their clients. Very few, if any, agencies operate without competition so if an agency’s true differentiating factor is their CX, then agencies should wear that on their sleeve! My message to agencies and consultants: The CX that you provide should be expressed in your branding, blogging, tweeting, prospective client meetings, home page, and most certainly your case studies. In fact, you should have a top-level navigation page called “Client Experience” that sells prospective clients on what it’s like to work with you, both from your perspective and via testimonials.
For the agencies and consultants that don’t already do this, I challenge you to begin to do so and see its impact. To the agencies and consultants who already do this, what outcome have you experienced? What feedback do your clients and prospective clients say about why they picked you or why they loved working with you?
An extra note on the CX acronym: CX has historically been used to mean customer experience; for an agency, the customer is the client contracting for the service, and agencies need to provide top quality CX. So if “CX” hasn’t already been coined for “client experience”, I’m doing so in this post. The client services industry needs to have a more specific term for the concept and you can’t talk about something unless you have a term.
What customer experience means for agencies is the ability to elegantly and efficiently communicate not just plans, but progress against those plans. This is the focus of ProjectPulse. Our definition of client extents from external clients to internal (an IT team’s client can be the marketing department, a CEO’s client could be shareholders, and a product manager’s clients could be users and stakeholder). ProjectPulse is all about a sensational CX by helping agencies communicate project status with the same professionalism and quality as the product the agencies are producing for the their customer.