One of my favorite bloggers and authors, Brian Solis, recently wrote a book, [What’s the Future] of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences. For those of you who may not know Brian Solis, he’s a [really smart]digital analyst, sociologist, and futurist who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in new media. For the social media gurus out there, he has 179K+ Twitter followers and 23K+ “likes” on Facebook. That’s pretty impressive.
Brian’s latest book is a fascinating read about how businesses need to “start creating and nurturing incredible and shareable experiences for your customers from the moment your brand touches them.” He boldly states, “The future of your business depends on it.” Of course, much of Brian’s work relates to what many of us in the government contracting world refer to as the “commercial sector” – that whole body of business outside the federal government.
However, I couldn’t help but think about how the government services industry could benefit from his approaches to customer experience. He asks, “Is your company equipped to change with your customers? Is it ready and able to create meaningful experiences that keep them hooked? If not, it’s time to recognize how customers are not only changing but also how they’re sharing experiences about you and your competition.”
From my time serving in the Federal government as well as working with Fortune 500 companies, medium and small businesses –all vying for a piece of the federal procurement pie – I know the criticality of creating exceptional customer experiences. I also understand the importance of establishing great relationships with your customers to ensure they tell you when they’re happy/hooked or not happy/hooked, long before you see it in a lackluster “past performance” rating.
After all, winning new business in the federal government sector depends on favorable customer “past performance.” Without highly satisfied customers who are willing to respond to routine reference checks, provide glowing reviews of your company’s contract performance, write testimonials about your company’s successes on a given contract – and in a nutshell, go to bat for your company –government contractors have a touch challenge staying in business.
In his book (which I highly recommend to anyone looking for new and creative ways to build customer relationships), Brian talks a lot about “creating a meaningful and shareable customer experience.” With the federal government’s growing use of mobile devices and social media, it’s become a whole lot easier to connect and share experiences with constituents and stakeholders. He stresses, “Engagement is not just about communication. It’s about creating experiences that mean something, something that’s positive and worth sharing.”
So, how can marketing and communications professionals help CEOs and business leaders create positive, meaningful and shareable customer experiences? I adapted three of Brian’s recommendations for the government services industry:
1) Define the experience you want your customers to have with your brand: When executing government contract, business leaders and program managers are diligently trying to figure out how they’re going to produce quality deliverables within budget, scope and tight timelines. You can’t blame them – they’re under the gun to get the work done so they can invoice the customer and get paid. More than likely, they are not thinking about the meaning of your company’s brand. They probably don’t even know what your company’s brand stands for? The job of marketing and communications specialists is to develop, communicate and promote your company’s brand attributes that enhances a customer relationship. CACI is a good example. On their web site, they have a page dedicated to “CACI’s Commitment to Our Customers.” They spell out in black and white what their customers should expect from working with CACI. In fact, they coined their own motto, “Quality Client Service and Best Value (QCS/BV)” and explain what it means, “…because we strive always to be top notch, offering quality in everything we do and providing the best value for our clients.”
2) Create a customer loyalty program that measures more than just satisfaction and contract compliance: Gone are the days when government contractors want “satisfied” customers. Today, they need customers who jump up and down, scream from the mountaintops and brag about how great your company is. I’m serious. The whole notion of “customer satisfaction” is over. Companies that want to win new business and beat the competition need ecstatic, energetic and excited customers who will give your company “outstanding” and “exceptional” rather than “acceptable” ratings. So, how do you create those kinds of customers – especially in the Federal government which is facing sequestration, budget cuts and low morale?
I go back to CACI because they’ve figured this one out, as well. On the same page on their web site where they talk about their brand commitment to their customers, they describe, “Excellence+, an independent assessment program that provides us [CACI] with objective measurements of customer satisfaction. The information collected helps us improve our quality processes, identify and resolve problems quickly, and measure trends in our performance over time and against our competition.” Now, while I’m not terribly crazy that CACI uses the term “satisfaction” because that’s not what they really mean, they get high kudos for developing their own process (and communicating about it) for engaging customers, having meaningful dialogue and ensuring customers are ‘happy campers.’
They rightfully boast about their program, “With Excellence+ we have a benchmark for constantly improving on the highest quality customer care in our industry. CACI professionals are dedicated to close customer interaction to head off problems before they occur – and ensure complete customer satisfaction.” Again, I would suggest CACI switch out the word “satisfaction” for “commitment” or “loyalty” or “care” as that’s really the goal – right?
3) Introduce and inculcate the concept of user experience into your customer relationships: Marketing and communications specialists who work with web design firms and ad agencies have likely been exposed to the concept of user experience (UX). In the design world, UX refers to a person’s emotions about using a particular product, system, or service. There’s a whole cottage UX industry for commercial products and services outside of Washington, D.C.
In the federal government services world, UX can simply be translated to knowing what kind of customer experience to expect from ABC Government Services Inc., being dazzled by ABC Government Services Inc.’s abilities, approaches and ultimately becoming a huge fan of ABC Government Services Inc. for the results, outcomes and successes it helped its government customer achieve.
In the government services industry, UX can be a competitive advantage. If implemented and executed right, UX can become one of your company’s secret weapons. If embraced and inculcated into your company culture, UX can become a strong brand attribute and a key differentiator.
How can you introduce the UX concept at your company? First, begin to have conversations with your company’s leadership about UX – explain what it is in the context of the government contracting business. Together, you can discover who owns UX and how UX is integrated with other critical business functions. Then, you can determine who in your company has a good grasp on customer engagement, behavior and expectations.
As Brian points out in his book, “Businesses must reimagine the future of customer relationships and not only vocalize it, but express it as a working charter. It requires nothing short of a culture shift to truly appreciate the customer for not only what they can do but also how they feel.”
The future is here. Be your company’s agent for change to transform your customer experiences. Your customers expect it.
Eileen Cassidy Rivera is president of Cassidy Rivera Communications. She is former vice president of marketing and communications at Cognosante. Previously, she was vice president of communications and investor relations at Vangent, a General Dynamics Company. Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.