If Starbucks can transform a commodity like coffee into a high-end product, can we not do the same with our services? Does the Experience Economy apply to the A/E business? Let's consider the evidence.
As reported in their book Clientship, authors Kennedy and Greenberg asked over 500 A/E firm clients this question: "If you consider that we provide you value in two ways and that together they equal 100%, how would you divide up the value between our technical skills (what we do) and our client-service skills (how we do it)?" The prevailing response was 50/50. In other words, the experience is every bit as valuable to clients as the expertise. Other surveys in our industry have come to similar conclusions.
If you're inclined to think this overstates the value of the experience, consider this: When your firm has lost clients, was it because of technical shortcomings or inadequate service? When I've asked that question of principals and managers in our business, they overwhelmingly agree that it's service-related problems 70 to 80% of the time. So we get it. Right?
Not so fast, my friend. Another survey asked firms to identify their primary competitive advantage. Eighty percent said it was their technical capability; only 20% said it was how they served clients. We clearly place more emphasis on technical excellence than on service excellence (i.e., the client experience). That bias is evident in our business development strategies, our proposals, and our marketing materials. It's evident in the disproportionate amount of time and money we invest in technical improvement versus service improvement.
This suggests that our priorities are out of step with those of our clients. There's a substantial gap between what our clients say they value and what we think they value. I call that the Value Gap, it it represents an exciting opportunity to distinguish your firm. Indeed, I believe that closing that gap is the best differentiation strategy available to most A/E firms.
So where do you begin? That's the subject of upcoming posts. Next up: The prized product of the Experience Economy is what is commonly referred to as the branded experience. What is it and how do you create it? Stay tuned.