If you're like most people, you work at an organization that relies on new projects each year. That fact probably goes a long way toward keeping you humble and client-centric, but it also makes repeat work from clients crucial. This task is much easier if existing clients remember your last working experience in a favorable light.
In most circumstances, your clients probably should remember you favorably - but do they?
It's a well-established axiom that 70% of the typical purchase decision is emotionally driven, while only 30% is rationally based. Emotions are fickle things. How can you increase the chance you're remembered favorably for a project experience that may have happened a year ago when only 30% of the decision is based on a rational evaluation?
Most organizations attempt to be "client obsessed" in every phase of the project cycle. But the efforts you put into your client relationship can be remembered more easily if you pay special attention to two particular periods - the peak and the end. But before we get into specifics, I want to share an example from an ILG retail client.
As part of this client's employee training curriculum, the company talks about the importance of cashiers to the customer's perception of the shopping experience. The company believes the cashier can influence the customer's entire shopping experience even though the cashier is only a part of the end experience. Why? The company feels it's precisely BECAUSE the customer is at the end of the experience that the interaction is most easily remembered and thereby, most influential.
This makes sense. We've all experienced it in books and movies. We go along, enjoying our reading/viewing experience. But if the ending is bad, it taints our perception of the entire experience, even if we were having a great time earlier. Most likely we'll forget our past enjoyment and consider the entire experience in a more negative light simply because the ending was unsatisfying.
You've probably experienced similar feelings with service providers, contractors, and suppliers. Things start out well. Then, somewhere toward the end of the project attention to detail falters, work quality suffers, or quick responses stop. Your perception of the entire experience is tainted by its ending. Don't make the same mistake with your own clients.
The fact that a poor ending can taint your entire project experience may sound simplistic (and perhaps irrational), but the further you explore the subject, the more it seems to bear out. I read about a variation of this concept called the Peak/End Rule. According to this rule (a concept first proposed by Daniel Kahneman), we judge our past experiences almost entirely on how they were at their peak (pleasant or unpleasant) and their ending. Other information isn't lost, but it's often dismissed.
This rule could be applied directly to your business.
The peak event will likely be difficult to predict or recognize - especially when you're in the midst of the situation. It doesn't need to be a positive event. In fact, it probably won't be. It'll most likely show itself in how you react when something has gone wrong. If you refocus and remain client obsessed, these bad experiences will turn into good memories for your client.
One such experience involved the new hybrid car, the Chevy Volt. When a government safety agency said there was a risk of the battery catching on fire after a crash, Chevy acted quickly to meet the concerns of its 5,000 Volt owners.
The fact is, only a few Volts have crashed on public roads. None have caught fire, nor have the battery packs been compromised. Chevy could've acted defensively pointing out there were only three reported fires involving the Volt, and all of them were in crash-test situations. The fires occurred seven days to three weeks after the crash tests and could've been prevented if the battery charge had been drained as GM detailed in its post-crash procedures.
Instead, Chevy took action in a timely manner, and did so on its own and not in response to customer demands. Chevy reached out to all of its Volt owners, reassured them the vehicle was safe, and offered a free loaner to anyone who was worried about their car catching fire. This action likely became a peak event in the owners' experience. It didn't matter the experience started as a problem; in fact, it probably became a peak experience because it started as a problem.
In the project experience, the end isn't "post project;" it's the end of the actual project work. You know, right about the time when you're dying to start the next project! And in many cases, you really NEED to get to the next project. However, this is an incredibly important time in the life of your client relationship. You want to finish the project with the zeal, passion, and attention to detail. If you surprise your client at this stage, it'll easily play a positive role when that client is considering using you for future projects.
It's human nature to slow down near the end of a project. That's precisely why there are more unfinished novels in the world than finished ones, why so many home renovations are still waiting for the trim to be installed, and why my track coach would implore us to imagine the finish line was 10 yards further down the track than it actually was. He knew, regardless of how hard we ran the entire race, we'd tend to slow down just before the finish line without even realizing it.
Speaking of track, I like to run. I sometimes even like to watch other people run. But the most memorable race I've ever watched was only memorable because of the guy who finished last.
I can't tell you who won the 400-meter semifinal in the 1992 Olympics, but I know Derek Redmond finished last in his heat. This guy was favored to win the heat and advance to the medal round, but he ended up popping a hamstring halfway through the race. He couldn't even put weight on his leg. But when Mr. Redmond realized what had happened (peak event), rather than crawling to the infield, he hopped along as best he could in an effort to finish the race. When the crowd witnessed his determination, it went wild. By the time his dad came out of the stands to help him finish the race, the entire stadium was going crazy.
He finished last, but he finished. And he did so when everyone expected him to quit - when everyone knew it was pointless to continue.
We remember things like that.
What's your most memorable client experience? I'd love to hear it!