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What Does Client-Centricity Really Mean?

post # 77 — May 15, 2006 — a Client Relations, Strategy post

One of the most common and confusing terms in business today is “client centricity” or “client focus.” Many businesses claim to have it. Few are clear about what they mean by the term.

cover of David Maister's co-authored book, Thr

Charles Green, my coauthor on Trusted Advisor has a wonderful analogy. He points out that many companies have the client focus of a vulture – they pay close attention to what the clients are up to, but only in order to figure out the right time to pounce and tear at their flesh!

This is a very apt description of many company’s “client relationship plans” or client relationship management (CRM) systems. They are not really plans to build a relationship at all – they are just a list of activities trying to tell the clients about the wonderful things we can do for them. A sales plan is not a relationship-building plan.

But what could client centricity really mean if we were to take the term seriously?

I suspect that there are levels of client-centricity or client focus.

What follows is my attempt to describe increasing levels of client focus (and possibly of marketplace effectiveness.)

Level 1: We do a better job than our competitors at listening to customers and work hard at finding out what they like and don’t like about dealing with us.

Level 2: We have a better understanding (than competitors) of what the experience is like of being a client

Level 3: In designing our operations and activities, we focus on what the client wants to buy, rather than what we want to sell

Level 4: We have ongoing tracking methods (quantitative and judgmental) to assess the quality of the clients’ experience, as judged by the client.

Level 5: We treat those client satisfaction / quality metrics as equally important (if not more so) than financial scorecards in evaluating groups and people.

Level 6: We have provided experiential training to everyone who deals with clients on how to be a better counselor, helping them develop their interpersonal, psychological, social and emotional skills and ability to interact with others.

Level 7: We continually use our better understanding of the experience of being a client in order to enhance the quality of the experience for the client in dealing with us.

Level 8: We are able (and do) treat customers as unique, adapting and responding to each with a customized approach, rather than adopt standard methods of dealing with all clients.

Level 9: We have thoughtful, well-executed plans to invest (without fee) our own time and money in growing the relationship with key clients, earning and deserving their trust and future business

Level 10: We place a greater emphasis in our measure and reward systems on growing existing client relationships rather than pursuing new accounts. Relationships are more important then volume around here.

Level 11: Clients believe that if it is ever a trade-off, we will put the clients’ interests ahead of our own.


OK, reality time!

How well would you rate your company’s client focus on these criteria?

What have I left out or got in the wrong order?


Mike said:

David, this is a very nice list. It seems there are really two progressions built into the list: 1) moving from selling through solving customer problems to becoming a trusted advisor, and 2) a CMM-style capability maturity progression. Your levels provide tangible signposts for firms to know if they’re progressing along both continuums.

posted on May 15, 2006

Ed Wesemann said:

David, while I agree with everything on your list and even its order, I think you left out one major item.

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Like you, we do our share of law firm retreats and commonly observe client panels. These are a group of clients who attend the retreat and are asked to comment on various of the issues their relationship with the firm. Invariably, some partner stands up and asks what is the most important criteria for selection of a lawyer/law firm. The partner is typically fishing for an answer of “price.” But the answer is never price. It almost always is, “I want somebody who knows my business.” Every time we survey or interview clients they tell us “we don’t have legal problems, we have business problems.”

Knowing a business doesn’t mean just professional service issues where we can turn a buck. To me it means understanding their industry, their supply chain, the economics of their raw materials and the peculiarities of their customers. These are all things that can be picked up through a subscription to a trade magazine, walking around a factory floor or a careful reading of the annual report.

While we came across this in our work with law firms, I think it applies to every client/customer B2B relationship.

Best regards — keep up the thoughtful work.

posted on October 15, 2006