There are more than 32 million businesses in the United States. Sure, they span myriad industries and many of them are sole proprietorships (about 76 percent) but still: That’s a lot of brands competing for people’s attention. It is easy to see why successful firms are so focused on understanding and engaging with their customers—and then measuring how successful they are at doing so.
“Taking care of our clients at the next level is a massive strategic advantage,” says Anthony Marquardt, a managing director in the Denver office of modern global consulting firm Slalom. Being client-obsessed helps the company stand out in a competitive market—and, per Slalom’s core values, caring about customers is also just the right thing to do. “We’ve developed not just an expectation on client satisfaction but an expectation on what you’d seek from a true partner,” he says. “For us, culturally, focusing on client success is core to who we are.”
Slalom is an expert at forming these long-term connections. “The main way we measure success is referrals and repeat business. In an average year, those are about 90 percent of what we do,” says managing director Brian Lucyk. In other words: Customers keep coming back and trust Slalom enough to recommend the firm to others.
Here, Slalom Denver shares how its teams build lasting relationships with customers—and how you can too.
- Identify the need. Potential clients are faced with challenges and opportunities. The challenge is to bring the expansive expertise and ask the right questions to fully understand how success is defined. Before they sign on a new client, Slalom sits down with them in front of a white board. The team fully understands the challenges and discusses multiple ways of addressing them. At this early point, Slalom may not even be part of the solution—and that’s OK. “We’re driven by long-term client success,” Marquardt says. “If Slalom is the right partner, that’s fantastic. If not, we’re happy to provide advisory work.”
- Build a network of experts to respond. This will look different depending on what type of work you do, but Slalom has aligned its teams around seven major industries. “We’re fairly obsessed with understanding those industries and growing knowledge that helps them [our clients] innovate and deliver results,” Lucyk says.
- Ensure your clients are the number-one priority. A few years ago, Slalom launched a customer success team. “They’re the voice of our customers back into our organization,” Marquardt says. The group also provides added value by organizing an annual speaker series, quarterly knowledge sharing events, and networking opportunities for clients. (A recent event focused on modern data culture and how to use data to help your company succeed.)
- Be honest. Client expectations are a moving target, so being clear about the game plan from the get-go—and along the way—helps keep everyone aligned and allows for a symbiotic relationship to develop. Establish a dialogue about expectations, outcomes, and measurement from the start. You want to help your customer understand how you’re holding yourself and your brand accountable through their experience, and how you’ll be transparent about it along the way. If you’re honest with them, they’ll be honest with you—and you’ll both get the results you were seeking.
- Build trust. “Building trusted and sustainable relationships in Denver does not happen overnight,” says sales director Pat Reidy. “Establishing a lasting rapport with our clients goes well beyond quality in delivery. Our longevity and success relies on a humble and authentic investment in their own personal success.” You accomplish that, first and foremost, by being honest (see above) and by delivering what you said you would, when you said you would. Be reliable, credible, and empathetic. Above all, recognize that this process takes time; trust isn’t engendered overnight.
- Don’t be afraid to challenge your customer (respectfully, of course). In some situations it’s important to flex your expertise and explain why you’re suggesting a specific course of action. “We’ll have conversations with our clients that challenge their way of thinking and challenge our model and their model at a level most clients would describe as surprising,” Marquardt says. “They don’t get that kind of frankness or honesty with others they work with.” The caveat to all of this: It has to come from a place of caring and sincerity. The trust has to already exist.
- Measure your successes—and areas that need work. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken (or, at least, in need of some improvement). Slalom sends out an annual client engagement survey. It evaluates customers’ satisfaction with the firm in 10 thematic areas: six core expectations, such as delivering results and understanding their business, and four “transformational” categories (think: “bringing more” and “growing your experts and leaders”). It’s not about achieving a certain score; it’s about identifying where your business can perform better and provide additional benefits to your customers.
- Listen. That means not only analyzing the aforementioned surveys and applying what you learn from them but also involving customers in your work. At Slalom, for example, senior clients are invited to the company’s annual leadership meeting. The voice of the customer then becomes part of the overall company strategy, helping to guide the firm forward. What’s more: Customers who rate Slalom’s performance below a certain level are invited to meet with the Slalom team to share additional feedback and perspective. And checkpoints are built into the entire consulting experience so the team can ensure it’s meeting, if not exceeding, customer expectations from start to finish.
Slalom is a modern consulting firm focused on strategy, technology, and business transformation. We redefine what’s possible and create what’s next. Here, personal connection meets global scale. We build deep relationships with our clients in over 35 cities across the U.S. and around the world, while sharing insights across markets to bring the full breadth of Slalom’s expertise to every engagement. Our regional Build Centers—including one right here in Denver—are hubs for innovation, attracting top talent to rapidly co-create the technology products of tomorrow. We also nurture strong partnerships with over 300 leading technology providers, including Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Tableau. Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Seattle, with roots from day one in Denver, Slalom has organically grown to over 8,000 employees. We were named one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2020 and are regularly recognized by our employees as a best place to work. Learn more about joining the Slalom family at slalom.com/careers.