When the Consultant Becomes the Client: Turning Our Customer Engagement Focus Inward to Improve CX

by Chris Frothingham

Reflecting on my early experiences working for a larger, more traditional consulting firm, I was taught the customer is always king (or queen!). But I quickly learned that not everyone gets to have an audience with royalty. We all assembled to support the customer, but often in siloed and hierarchical ways, which meant that typically only a few people at the top – a partner or a vice president – were in the room engaging with the client. As a result, multiple voices and perspectives were often lost.

We do it differently at Wheelhouse Group*. The customer is at the core of our culture, and we encourage direct interaction between our customers and team members at all levels. We connect to their mission, build long-standing relationships based on trust (and a good amount of humor) and most importantly, we deliver high-quality work based on a deep understanding of their needs.

So, when I had the opportunity to appraise our customer experience and engagement philosophy at Wheelhouse last year, I asked, “What is working? What are we missing?” I found engagement was happening and clients were happy. But I also found was that we hadn’t fully documented our “secret sauce,” and we ran the risk of not being able to deliver our signature experience as our company grew. High-quality customer delivery was evident, but without a consistent methodology, processes or tools, it would be difficult to maintain and scale that cultural norm without it negatively impacting CX.

Since we help our clients to define and deliver their ideal CX every day, we realized we needed to become our own client – it was only fair to apply the same CX approaches to ourselves. We started with a customer journey map to capture the unique lifecycle we share with our customers. We talked through scenarios to pinpoint our most important customer interactions. We discussed what we believed to be our customer’s mindset and goal at each stage and how we “show up” in little and big ways. (Tip: Determining customer mindset can be tricky, but perceived expectations are a good start until you’ve built trust and are able to validate with them). From there we were able to build out a comprehensive “playbook” that serves as guide for team members throughout the journey, stand up a resource center and roll out training.

The result of the effort was a holistic customer engagement model that we’re proud to share with our clients and have ingrained within every one of our client teams. Going forward, we will continue to learn and apply continuous improvements as we measure the positive impact it’s having on our customer’s experience.

Eight key takeaways we’ve found helpful as you’re taking on your own customer engagement journey:

1. Always be learning about your customer(s)

Revisit and validate customer mindset and goals as you grow the relationship. And, as we all know, no one customer is alike. Consider building out personas across your customer portfolio.

2. The plan is not the purpose

Putting it to good use is. Take the time to develop your team. Hint: the people in your organization have varying levels or familiarity with CX, and you’ll need to meet them where they are.

3. It’s everyone’s responsibility

Customer engagement is not a static process. Involve your team in the process of building (they have the best knowledge of the customer) AND implementing the plan. Every touchpoint along the journey is an opportunity to wow or disappoint. They may be weighted differently, but collectively they comprise the customer experience.

4. Start on a solid foundation

What principles or actions are prevalent and consistent regardless of stage in your customer journey? For example: Trust-based approach (I highly recommend: Be a trusted advisor | The Get Real Project), customer satisfaction outreach, communication, and measurement. This will help to standardize execution throughout the lifecycle.

5. Make it a key habit

There are likely best practices you and your team have developed at each interaction in the customer engagement journey. Capture, share, promote these good habits across the team and weave them into the fabric of how you operate.

6. Include CX and customer engagement in your cadence

Like yearly strategic planning, components of your customer engagement journey will evolve, as all relationships do, so plan to revisit and revise your map. Learn from the field, validate with clients, measure your success levels, test new methods.

7. Build a bonus room

If you’re an HGTV fan like me, you understand the concept of the bonus room. It’s that extra space (a new kid’s playroom or outdoor kitchen) that the owners didn’t expect as they renovated. Then, the big reveal and everyone’s thrilled! I think it’s great practice to look for opportunities to exceed expectations (tip: know your customer).

8. Enjoy the journey

Each customer journey will no doubt have challenges along the path – for your customers and your team. It’s how you choose to work together to overcome obstacles and achieve success that will lead to lasting, trust-based relationships and ultimately improve CX.

Please share some of your experiences! Conversations like this let us help each other and build better ways to support our clients.

*The Wheelhouse Group was acquired by The Cadmus Group, LLC in November 2022.