Wabi-Sabi of Client Satisfaction
Service companies are often challenged when trying to balance changing client needs, adhere to processes, drive timelines and manage costs. A rock solid process is necessary, but not sufficient for this tricky balancing act. A service company must also rely on a proper mindset and incredible communication.
Embrace Wabi-Sabi. This Japanese philosophy represents the acceptance of transience and imperfection. In other words, nothing is perfect, nothing is permanent and nothing is complete. By no means should this philosophy be used as an excuse for not performing. Quite the opposite, it challenges an organization to be successful despite change. Accept change. Embrace it. Thrive on it. Successfully managing change makes a service company even more valuable to its clients.
Let’s be honest, we love it when we receive a signed contract or statement of work. Presumably, all the information a service company needs to deliver is outlined in these glorious documents. Unfortunately these documents are not perfect. They are probably not complete or at least there are grey areas subject to interpretation. Since things have likely already changed since the ink dried, they are not permanent. Behaving as if they are can lead to frustration, missed expectations, misalignment of objectives and ultimately, failure.
Any number of things can create the need for change…new management, a competitive threat, poor assumptions (yours or theirs), introducing cross-department needs late in the game, budget cuts, someone doesn’t like the color blue, and on-and-on. Establishing frequent and open communication channels at all levels of the client relationship is essential. Rather than being frustrated by change, seek first to understand the need for the change. Step up and offer recommendations. At times, a change can be accommodated within the same timeframe and budget. Openly discuss the options and possibilities and good things happen.
It sounds so simple, but it often doesn’t happen. We’re “always on” trying to juggle more than ever. As a result, communication suffers. It is important to establish formal, scheduled discussions to ensure there is proper alignment to objectives and expectations are being met. Monthly or quarterly reviews are essential “traffic-light” key metrics. We’re meeting service levels on the following items (green light). Do you agree? If yes, move on. If not, discuss. We’re missing in the following areas (yellow or red light) and here’s our action plan to improve. If everyone is in agreement, it’s time to move on to more strategic discussions. What has changed in the client’s business? In the market? Are current plans aligned? How do we need to adjust? Conclude with specific tactics to address new or changing objectives. Review the results in the next session. Rinse and repeat.
Lastly, take the time to conduct a formal satisfaction study with clients, once or twice a year, with period-over-period improvement being the goal. A simple online survey tool is all that is needed. Send the questionnaire to all client stakeholders. Review feedback as an organization to look for macro issues. Then have the client services team do the same at the client-specific level to look for issues. Create action plans for improvement at all levels then share the findings with all client stakeholders in a group session. Discuss your improvement plan. This open, honest dialog helps an organization in many ways, but perhaps most of all it builds trust between the service company and client.
KBM Group: Health Services continuously reviews our processes to ensure we are operating with efficiencies and, proper checks and balances. But process alone is never going to be enough. Understanding clients’ objectives, challenges and changing environment, then embracing the Wabi-Sabi philosophy to be successful in that environment is how we strive to bring value to our clients.