While client centricity isn’t remotely new, you can’t open a business periodical today without hearing about a renewed emphasis, especially as the economy wobbles and inflationary pressures cause more price shopping and less brand loyalty. There are only so many price increases consumer package goods companies can pass through before their volume declines.
Of course, there’s always an exception to the notion of a commitment to the client or a cause close to your customers leading to financial success. A recent Wall Street Journal article documented soaring airline profitability, despite dismal client service and declining customer satisfaction as a result of pandemic-related staff shortages and surging pent-up demand. (Perhaps this is why airlines continue to allow their customers to physically and emotionally abuse their employees, despite federal laws, but more on that in a moment.)
8 Traits of Client Centricity
Big Village was a very early adopter of formally defining our approach to client centricity. We have collaborated with our teams to build the following manifesto, which every Villager has posted and strives to embody on a daily basis:
Recently, a trusted colleague and friend retired from Big Village and the Insights industry after 38 years. We were having some great transition discussions, and we came to realize we shared a common notion toward the missing component of the topic and even Big Village’s client centricity commitment: Our People.
Said another way, when our ability to provide thoughtful, valuable recommendations to client business challenges collides with irresponsible client requests, what’s the right balance? For example, if a client that is not well-versed in primary or secondary research asks the wrong question for the issue at hand, what’s the right approach and response?
My colleague and I feel that being client centric does not always mean saying yes. In fact, sometimes saying yes is not in the best interest of the client. Many times, clients will benefit from our expertise on how to improve what they are requesting. Ultimately, we gain and retain clients by doing good work. Which means not blindly following requests, being easy to work with, communicating in accordance with their preferences, et cetera. Ideally, every client should feel like they are our only client and have our full attention, but not without limitations. This approach also extends to working with internal stakeholders – your associates. They aren’t always right either, and the best approach is a balanced one.
Interestingly, as I was interviewing candidates after my colleague’s retirement, I began asking the question, “all things being equal, who comes first, your team or your client?” I believe there are three answers, two of which are correct, and one that isn’t. Saying the client comes first is the wrong answer. The right answer is our team – a happy, engaged team will ensure client centricity and a satisfied, loyal customer base. I’ll also accept that it’s a balance between ensuring our teams have the resources and support they need to address and help guide client requests, especially those that seem unreasonable. Because the aforementioned airlines and others in the hospitality industry answer this question incorrectly, it’s no wonder they are experiencing the labor shortages leading to poor client relations. Letting your clients bully your people is not a sustainable business model.
Most of us in the service industry were taught the Nordstrom’s anecdote in a Marketing or Management class in undergrad, made famous by the business author Tom Peters. A “customer” returned a set of tires, which the “empowered” Nordstrom employee happily accepted for store credit. Of course, Nordstrom doesn’t sell tires but were portrayed as pioneers in client relationship management. That may be the most absurd example of customer engagement I’ve ever heard. Not only is it tough to teach at scale, but it’s not sustainable, and puts the employee in an impossible position.
No Virginia, the client isn’t always right.
Let’s put employees first in our client centricity approaches, and I can assure you our clients will benefit immensely.