Never underestimate the value of this Customer Journey.

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Jan Vašek-jetwingThere’s a lot written about the Customer Journey and touchpoints related to understanding the Customer Experience. Here’s one customer journey, a physical one, worth considering.

In a former life, I had suggested to my boss we conduct a review meeting with one of our largest clients. And, while it could be conducted virtually, I believed it would be more beneficial to conduct it face-to-face for a number of reasons. Seems like I’m not the only one who thinks that way. Here’s an interesting article on the subject by Steven J. Thompson, Senior Vice President, Chief Business Development Officer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Anyway, you should have seen my boss’s face when I suggested the idea.

Being the positive guy that he was, he immediately began listing reasons why it was not a good idea. The biggest being (which happened to have some validity), travel costs.

You see, this client was in Europe and we…were not.

That’s when he told me,

“We can’t afford to do a face-to-face
client review meeting.”

He went on to say with airfare and accommodations it would cost $6,000 or $7,000 for the two of us to go to a meeting in Europe.

I looked at him, after having heard his comment, and thought to myself, “But, ours is a global business. Besides, doesn’t he realize this client spends seven figures with us annually and is one of our largest pieces of business?” To me, spending four figures to protect and expand seven figures seemed like a pretty good investment. But hey, that’s just me.

So, me being quick to grasp things like the benefits of making a small investment in order to get a bigger return based on our rule of thumb for profit margin, replied to him,

“We can’t afford not to do a face-to-face client review meeting.”

As he wrestled with the whole spend money to make money concept, I went on to explain this was an excellent opportunity to show our appreciation for working with this client. To express how much we valued them and their business. It also gave us an opportunity to review work we’d done throughout the year. To measure the progress we’d made against previously agreed upon objectives.

We could address any issues that may have come up during the course of the year and how they were resolved and talk about lessons learned. We could also discuss new products and services we’d be offering soon, plus share some insights regarding the competitive landscape they would find of interest. In short, we could use the meeting to validate our relationship and quantify our contributions.

And perhaps just as importantly, we could observe their facial expressions, body language and other communication cues as they reacted during our meeting. Cues which can oftentimes be revealing. Click here to see what nuances venture capitalist, Will Price learned at a lunch meeting.

Now my boss always embraced good ideas…as long as they were his. Typically, one of two things would occur. One, the original idea would resurface later as his. Or two, after a few days of mulling it over, he would eventually (and reluctantly) agree.

He went with option two this time. Soon we would be off to Europe. To save money, we would fly coach. Well, actually, by we, I meant me. He flew first class.

Anyway, before the trip.

I confirmed a date, the attendees, got the client’s input on items they wanted to discuss and got the agenda approved. Pretty smart, eh? Ask someone what they want and then give it to them.

With that in place, I made some slides (speaking points only) which addressed the agenda items and forwarded them to my boss two weeks prior to our departure. I followed-up with him regularly to see if he had any input, questions, comments or whatevers.

Never heard back from him.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I did hear from him. It was after we had arrived in Europe and were in the cab on the way to the meeting. That’s when he reviewed the slides and started changing them.

I sat silently staring out the window as we drove to the offices of our seven-figure client, thinking, “If this meeting bombs, because my illustrious leader didn’t care enough to put some effort into this presentation, I wonder whose fault it will be?” (Actually, that was a rhetorical question. It would be the guy who was staring out of the cab window’s fault.)

To be fair, my boss was bright and made some good changes. But, it would’ve been nice to have had more time to digest and discuss his brilliant changes a little sooner than a few minutes before we arrived at the client’s facilities.

We finally get to the meeting (with our revised and unrehearsed presentation).

Our hosts were excited to see us. Because even though we had been working with them for quite a while, we had never met face-to-face (all the more reason to do it). So, in addition to the people we worked with on a regular basis, our client made it a point to introduce us to new people as well. (Hmmm. New people. New potential projects. I’d hoped that bulb was going off in my boss’s head.)

The meeting actually went well. We reviewed highlights of the year. Discussed where progress was made and cost savings delivered. Where we performed well and areas where we had slightly missed the mark. (You have to talk about warts if there were any. It helps to keep you honest and that’s what remembered.) In short, we spoke about things on the agenda, including new service offerings designed to help make their business better and importantly, what they had planned for the next 12 months. And because this was an on-site meeting where we had traveled to their facility, they graciously extended the length of the meeting as well. On top of that, they invited us to lunch.

To me, that was one of the best parts of the trip. Because I’ve always believed that barriers are lowered a tad during a meal and people allow you a privileged peek into their personal lives. This lunch was no exception. I learned about our hosts’ spouses, their kids, and their interests outside of work. In short, we just got to enjoy each other’s company.

Meeting afterglow.

Not too long after we had returned from Europe (I flew coach again, you know who flew first class), I received a call from one of my contacts telling me we were awarded a piece of business. A piece of business that would generate more than our company’s standard rule of thumb regarding the profit margin on the account. But even more amazingly, it was a no bid award…which didn’t happen very often in this particular industry.

Did it happen because we made an effort to visit our client in Europe? I like to think so. But, I do know our trip went a long way in demonstrating our appreciation for working with them.

“Face-to-face communication is the broadest bandwidth communication you can have in professional life.” Harvard Business Review

This was literally a customer journey. A journey to see the customer face-to-face. A journey that some companies may have a tendency to underestimate its value. But, make no mistake, the value is there.

Which leads me to ask, “Can you afford not to do a face-to-face client review meeting?”

A face-to-face Client Review Meeting is a good starting and stopping point in the Customer Journey. Here are 12 Client Review Meeting points to ponder.

1.Review meetings reinforce your credibility and reliability. They provide another channel to deliver a positive experience. One which will help to deepen your client’s trust in you and your company. To let them know they can rely on you to keep their best interests in mind. Jeanne Bliss, Founder and President of Customer Bliss, has some good insights regarding the power of a positive experience which applies to consumer and B2B environments.

2.You can’t eat lunch through your computer. Make every effort you can to conduct your meeting at the client’s facility. Virtual meetings are efficient and can be productive. Keeping cultural differences in mind, generally speaking, you can learn a lot more about people when you break bread with them and see their reactions to discussion points. Rene Siegel, President and Owner of High Tech Connect, shares her perspective here in her Inc. article.

3.Timing is everything. Agree on an appropriate timeframe with your client. You don’t necessarily need to conduct your review meeting at year end. In fact, it’s probably better to conduct it a few months before. Typically, at year end, everyone is focused on “making their numbers” or their facilities may be closed for holidays.

4.Frequency matters. Some companies conduct review meetings quarterly. Some semi-annually. Some annually. It’s up to your client and you to decide what makes the most sense.

5.You can’t meet with all your clients face-to-face. Nor should you. Start off with the largest clients and conduct virtually meetings with the others.

6.But, you can surprise some of your “B” and “C”-level clients. Do a face-to-face meeting with a few of them. Will it be a waste of time? Nope, because inevitably, you will uncover some hidden revenue opportunities in the process, which might even bump them up to an “A” client. Have some of your junior staff organize it. It’ll be a great learning experience. Get their bosses involved to act as mentors. They’ll learn from it too. Plus, everyone who participates in the process will see where it can be improved which will benefit your staff, your client’s company and your company.

7.And about those virtual meetings. They should still receive the same attention to detail and level of importance as an on-site meeting. Actually more, because while you might be able to see whose texting or sending emails, you won’t be there to make eye contact with them or walk around during your presentation to discourage it. So you’ll need to do whatever you can to ensure your audience is paying attention. That means agenda agreement, a “script”, interactive questions, visuals, and above all, rehearsals. Lots of rehearsals. Dr. Travis Bradberry has some other interesting statistics about distractions in this Inc. article.

8.Start early. Plan early. Whether it’s a face-to-face or virtual meeting. You should have your clients objectives clearly defined with quantified value metrics and outcomes well in advance of the meeting and have kept them updated regularly. Make sure it’s all client-relevant material. Suggest some “no cost” options along with options that cost. It’ll go a long way. Or as sales and marketing entrepreneur Kitty Scheperman states, “The review meeting should be part of an overall content and contact strategy. It should be prepared thoroughly. Most sales and sales management teams don’t use these meetings as an opportunity to develop and retain business.”

9.Invite the right people. From both sides of the table. Definitely make sure high-level people from the client and your company attend. Rob Brickle, Managing Director of BSquared Consulting provides some good advice in this article.

10.Don’t forget to conduct a review for your company. It works with clients and it’ll work for you too. Make sure you keep all your employees, in all departments informed about your company’s objectives, progress and values on a regular basis. You’re all in it together. And also don’t forget my Reminder # 2
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11.Follow-up. This is always a biggie with me. Probably not a bad idea for you either. Do a contact report within 48 hours of the meeting. Include action items, anticipated outcomes, timelines and responsibilities. You may even get more business as a result.

12.At the very minimum. If, for some reason, it’s impossible to do an on-site, or virtual client review meeting, at the very least (and make no mistake, it is the very least) make sure to send quarterly progress summaries. Want some good ideas about meeting and exceeding client expectations? Check out this Inc. article by Paul Schoemaker of Decision Strategies International.

Yes. I know we’re all busy and good Client Review Meetings can take a lot of time. Especially if it’s a physical journey. But, I can guarantee you it will take more time and cost more money to get a new client. And a lot more of both.

Bob Musial
Bob Musial is a business development coach, author of "Soft Skills. Hard Returns." and humorist who works with professionals to help improve their competency in getting, keeping and expanding business. He's easy to reach. Pretty easy to talk with too.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Great piece, Bob. I’m relentlessly curious about the steps in the customer journey and how they rank in terms of importance and ROI. Sure, technology has made it easier than ever to engage with our customers. But with the rise of automation, I wonder if face-to-face meetings are more valued than ever. I hope so. Interested to read more of your stuff.

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