Customer experience is not a new concept. It began when the first market stalls were erected in city centers, and the interaction between buyer and seller was in-person and face-to-face. When the vending machine was introduced in the 1880’s, followed by Sears’ first print catalog in 1888, the way consumers interacted with companies began to evolve.
Customer experience, or CX, is defined as the interactions between companies and consumers and the feelings that result from those interactions. CX begins the moment a customer interacts with a company, whether through a website, on a phone call or in person. You’d think a concept that has been around for thousands of years would be well-understood by now. But as touchpoints between consumers and business have grown – think omni-channel – so has the complexity and importance of customer experience.
These factors have spawned an entire industry focused solely on customer experience. You know it’s important to the success (and future) of your company, but with so many customer experience “experts” proclaiming their superior knowledge in the field, how do you choose? How can you know which CX consultants will deliver real ROI, and which will only show you smoke and mirrors? Here’s a checklist of five things to think about when hiring a CX consultant:
Define Your Needs
Before you start vetting possible consultants, it’s important to fully understand what your needs are and what you expect the consultant to provide. Review my past post on the importance of RFP’s. Part of this process includes determining which departments and leaders should be part of your customer experience initiatives. I’ve seen cases where the marketing department (or finance or customer service) decides to run with CX without consulting others, which results in solutions that work in only one area of the business, rather than across the whole. Even worse: several departments engage with different vendors and/or consultants without knowing it (yes, that has happened), and they meet somewhere in the middle where merging new processes and systems is next to impossible.
Experts will tell you to choose the consultant or vendor with the most experience. I would argue that you should choose a partner whose experience matches your needs. For example, Nike’s brand consultants obviously have tremendous experience, but hiring them to help your company may be like using a shotgun to shoot a fly. The key is to ensure a potential consultant has successfully worked on projects similar to yours. In order to determine this, ask candidates for concrete examples of their past work, including references. Go beyond a simple Google search and read the articles they publish on their and others’ websites. Are they members of industry trade groups, do they have a network of trusted relationships on LinkedIn? Finally, ask your colleagues in other companies for recommendations. Almost all of my work comes from word-of-mouth, and I never take that for granted.
Perhaps as important as experience is a consultant’s interpersonal and communication skills. She has to be able to work well with you and your team and effectively communicate throughout the project, even if that means being the bearer of bad news. I like to be open with potential clients from the start buy telling them they are not always going to like what I have to say. On the other hand, I don’t bring challenges or problems to the table without a list of recommendation for solutions. A successful consultant has to fully understand your unique business situation, and the only way to do that is by listening. During the interview process, a candidate should have as many (if not more) questions for you as you do for him.
The consultant/client relationship has been compared to attorney/client or doctor/patient for a reason: it’s based on trust. You have to be comfortable revealing the intimate details of your business and be open to receiving – and acting upon – recommendations. The best consultants have a reputation for professionalism, as well as results.