Recently, I sat down with Ryan Suydam, Chief Experience Officer at Client Savvy, a firm that helps professional services firms build and deploy powerful client experience (CX) programs that drive higher retention rates and greater revenues. His firm also runs CXps, a conference for professional services firms that want to understand and implement client experience best practices. I wanted to get Ryan’s expert perspective on client experience and how it fits in the context of a professional service brand.

I began by asking Ryan a tough question: does he consider client experience a true differentiator? According to our own research, the most successful firms rarely differentiate themselves by client service. Moreover, service is a commonly used “differentiator” among low- and no-growth firms. At Hinge, we explain that customer service is a poor differentiator for a couple of reasons: 1) buyers expect a high level of service from any firm they consider (it’s the price of admission); and 2) because so many firms talk about their great service, buyers don’t place much stock in it.

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Ryan’s response surprised me: “Client experience is not so much a selling point that has to be taken at face value as it is a validation of your brand promise after you have made the sale.” In other words, it is a differentiator that has to be experienced rather than described. It is more about delivering a powerful brand promise to existing clients than convincing new buyers that service is what makes you different.

“Now, I want to clear up a common misconception,” said Ryan. “Client experience is not the same thing as client service. Firms confuse these two concepts all the time — probably because they sound similar. They are very different things.”

Download-Inside-Buyer's-BrainIn fact, Ryan explained, client service is a subset of client experience. Client service is the way a service is delivered — “on time,” “on budget,” “in scope” and so on. It can be measured by a defined set of criteria. And it delivers (or tries to deliver) exactly what a client asks for.

Client experience, on the other hand, meets a client’s unstated need. It includes all of those tangible elements — and it adds a critical intangible component to the mix: emotion. It answers the question, “do I love working with this firm?” This kind of emotional appeal drives repeat business, referrals and brand loyalty. It’s quite possible to have perfect client service and never get any repeat business. But when you deliver an exceptional client experience, you create something special that engages people at multiple, sometimes unconscious, levels. Clients become excited about your service, your firm, your brand.

“They may not know it, but people are always buying an experience,” said Ryan. Nothing sours an engagement faster than a service provider that doesn’t live up to unrealistically high expectations set during the selling process. According to Ryan, “hope doesn’t create magical experiences. A great client experience does. And it is the product of a deliberate, carefully calibrated strategy — one that connects to your brand.”

CX is still a foreign concept to most professional services firms. “To find truly magical customer experiences, look at B2C companies like Uber, Airbnb, Amazon and Disney. These businesses have made a radical commitment to deliver exceptional experiences to their audiences.” How many firms in your industry go to such extremes?

“Professional services firms that want to build extraordinary brands must develop an unwavering focus on delivering what clients need rather than what they ask for,” said Ryan. That doesn’t necessarily mean producing more than you promised. Instead, it means delivering the promised services with greater efficiency, intelligence, communication and sensitivity to those areas of a project that resonate most with the human side of your clients.

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That means optimizing every human interaction in the course of an engagement. In my next post, I’ll share more of Ryan’s insights and explain what measures firms need to take to build extraordinary client experiences. Stay tuned!

Ryan Suydam is Chief Experience Officer at Client Savvy, where he helps professional services clients design and deliver an exceptional client experience.

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Hinge has developed a comprehensive plan, The Visible Firm® to address these issues and more. It is the leading marketing program for delivering greater visibility, growth, and profits. This customized program will identify the most practical offline and online marketing tools your firm will need to gain new clients and reach new heights.

Karl Feldman