Methodology of Success In 2010, KSA Interiors, a small and somewhat anomalous interior design firm, embarked upon a journey to identify what made their methodology to project delivery unique. This process of identifying and reinforcing their strengths would force KSA to evaluate many of the ingrained cultural behaviors they had adopted as an organization; some of which needed to be reinforced, others ejected. One constant, however, would be the centerpiece of their evaluation. KSA’s greatest strength was its “Client-Centric” approach to serving clients. With this understanding, KSA worked to promote a methodology of success they like to call “Best in the World”. This ebook is an exploration of this process and provides an outline of their approach to achieving it.
Client-Centric Being a service firm and providing said service is not the same as serving one’s client. A Client-Centric approach establishes service to the client as the key value proposition and places all other concerns as secondary to this goal. Solutions must serve the client, interactions must serve the client, everything in and about your organization must serve the client. Far too many service firms have cultures that rely on the opposite approach. They have adopted a value proposition which places their own proprietary solution as the top priority and asks the client to sacrifice for the sake of their solution. This represents an unbalanced equation where the client’s needs are rarely considered to their full potential.
Client-Centric What the Client Actually NEEDS What the Client Wants What the Designer Wants A traditional approach focused on solutions may carry with it a A Client-Centric approach utilizes empathy to achieve both prescribed agenda which may not align with the clients personal service and inspire intuitive and appropriate needs. While a service focus alone may not bring enough solutions, forgoing any prescribed or external agendas. outside perspective to deliver appropriate solutions.
Nonnative Thinking& Integral Partners Service should come to mean that your clients have your commitment to consider every decision from the standpoint of their own organization. You should encourage your employees to act, feel, and make decisions as if they were the employees of the organizations they serve, not as outside consultants. The only caveat to this way of thinking is that in the end you truly are just that, outside consultants. The value of which lies in the fact that no matter how much we wish to think and act like members of our clients organizations, we are the ones who bear the ultimate responsibility of bringing nonnative knowledge and outside perspective to every problem we face. Think of it as a best of both worlds scenario, an objective, outside, nonnative mindset paired with the respect, accountability, and understanding of an integral partner.
Nonnative Thinking& Integral Partners Objective Expertise From an Integral Perspective & Understanding Organizational Knowledge Base Objective ExpertiseIn a traditional approach, employees typically possess knowledge and In a Client-Centric approach contractors can possess both native andthinking skills native to their organization. External contractors, by nonnative knowledge and thinking skills.contrast, utilize nonnative knowledge such as objective outside expertise.
“Best in the World” A better description of this approach is not to think in terms of the “best of both worlds”, as mentioned previously, but rather as the “Best in the World”. This premise is born out of a bit of insight gleaned from Seth Godin and his book “The Dip”. Seth explains the idea of “Best in the World” as being something quite relative. “The best in the world is a relative thing. It’s a selfish thing. It’s my definition, not yours”. This premise requires that you take the time to understand what represents a “Best in the World” solution for each of your clients as individuals. You must acknowledge that every client has an entirely different perspective on what they consider best. Most importantly, you need to understand that “Best in the World” does not simply apply to solutions, but that it also applies to each and every aspect of the design process. This ranges from client interaction and project delivery to communication styles and accountability. This empathic response to both developing solutions and maintaining relationships can lead to the true secret of business success: repeat business from loyal, loving, integral partners.
It’s all about love Love sounds like a funny thing to share with your clients, but it is essential. Love is the root of why your clients should want to do business with you. Marketing guru Mark Stevens wrote a smart book with a simple and unambiguous title, “Your Marketing Sucks”. In it he describes that there are only two reasons to commit to a purchase. You either buy it because it is cheap, or because you love it and are passionate about it. A “Best in the World” approach demands that you choose to be loved and to be passionate about your clients. What does it mean to be loved, however? How do you convey this overt emotion in a business setting? Jeanne Bliss states in her book “I Love You More Than My Dog”, that our decisions and actions tell the story of who we are. These decisions and actions speak louder than words and ultimately determine how or if you will be loved. Such great synergy since our decisions and actions are essentially how we provide service. It’s about the interactions. It’s about relationships. It is about what you do every day and you cannot fake it.
The perpetual emotionalenergy machine Providing unique and tailored approaches to serving clients is quite difficult. The amount of emotional energy required for genuinely learning, responding, and reacting to a client and their needs can be daunting. Why else would so many other companies in just about every other sector of the business world adopt a model which responds with a single monotonous customer service voice designed to be good for most everyone. Good however is not great, much less the “Best in the World”. Devoting the emotional energy required to understanding this simple fact and to finding what is the “Best in the World” for each of your individual clients is the only way you should wish to be treated and in turn should be your golden rule ethic as you approach your clients. Interestingly enough, the emotional reward for a job well done and the recognition for providing an empathic project delivery can often be the most valuable recharge to you and your teams emotional systems. Consider it a perpetual energy machine for charging up your own EQ emotional intelligence. It becomes a lot easier to share the love when you feel loved in return. Seek the love - Share the love.
How do I become“Best in the World” ? So how do you develop and reinforce a “Best in the World” approach? At KSA, we developed a simple outline which describes what it means to be the “Best in the World” in our approach to our clients. Before you can embark on this process, however, you have to acknowledge that for this to be successful you need to be willing to devote yourself and your team to the process while including each and every individual partner, team member, client, and vendor with whom you interact. Remember, what is best for me may not be best for you. The moment you try to apply one person’s “Best in the World” to another, you are no longer providing truly individualized service nor are you likely achieving empathic understanding of that client’s situation, organization, and or needs.
How to Become“Best in the World”1. The “Best in the World” is a relative thing2. Being loved is the only way to be3. We are loved via our actions and decisions (the services we provide)4. Good is not good enough5. KSA’s five keys to service are: Elicit-Empathize-Empower-Enthuse-Eject
KSA’s 5 keys to service:Elicit – Empathize – Empower – Enthuse - Eject The first step in our service methodology is to truly understand those we wish to serve. We have to identify their needs, goals, wants, and values. You have to think like them and share an identity with them. Once you are open and receptive to their world, you will then need to expertly elicit valuable information. At KSA, we have found that our preferred strategy is to immerse ourselves into our client’s culture. Our greatest successes have, therefore, come from teams which we have imbedded into our clients organizations for a variety of long and short term durations. Of course, full immersion into a client’s organization is not always possible or practical, so you may need to rely on other exercises, tools, interactions, or observations to extract valuable insight. Look for opportunities to gain perspective from your clients, spend time with them outside of the formality of a meeting. Schedule interactions designed to get them reacting naturally (or don’t schedule them…try just showing up). Do not just ask questions to get rote answers, seek understanding to gain perspective. Practice the “5 Whats” or develop your own methodology for eliciting an intimate understanding. (See the additional resources identified at the end of this book).
KSA’s 5 keys to service:Elicit – Empathize – Empower – Enthuse - Eject Once you have elicited information from your partners, it is time for you to take it to heart. When you can place yourself in the shoes of your client, you are more likely to respond with a heartfelt and pertinent solution. “Empathy” and the ability to “Elicit” go hand in hand. This is the thrust of the emotional effort needed to build a trusting and loving relationship with your client. If this stage is not engaged with the full passion of your organization, you cannot proceed beyond this step and achieve desirable results. Similar to the process of eliciting information, the ability to “Empathize” may require you to broaden your range of interactions with your team and clients. Weekly meetings do not beget empathy. Immersions into your partner’s culture is best, but if not possible, seek other tools to expand your interactions beyond the meeting room.
KSA’s 5 keys to service:Elicit – Empathize – Empower – Enthuse - Eject To effectively “Empathize” with your clients you need to “Empower” your team to take the initiative to truly care for and about them. They need the willingness and incentive to act in a self-directed and autonomous manner. This establishes the ability to respond to your clients requests in an instinctive and “Best in the World” manner. Empowered, self-directed, autonomous teams drive their own decision making, collaborate smoothly on behalf of their customers, and do not need permission to make something happen, especially if that something will build trust with the client. Your team needs to be motivated to apply autonomy to decision making and actions in order to improve client relationships and your ability to meet the client’s goals. This will not only improve your client relationships, it will also motivate your team. If you have not already, read Dan Pink’s, “Drive”. He tells it far better than I can. Just repeat after Dan,: “Autonomy- Mastery-Purpose!” Extrinsic motivation wins the battle for the creative mind every day. In the end, empowerment is the reward for all the emotional capital we are expending to begin with.
KSA’s 5 keys to service:Elicit – Empathize – Empower – Enthuse - Eject The fourth stage is to make your clients actively love you and to convert them from customers into proclaimers. Continuous, relentless customer service, is the key to turning customer satisfaction into “lasting consumer enthusiasm”. Richard Whiteley and Diane Hessan write in their book, “Customer Centered Growth”, about establishing “outstanding” interactions with your customers. They reinforce the idea that outstanding interactions with your customers make such an indelible impression that your service can become a brand in and of itself. Developing the perfect solution for your clients is not enough in and of itself. Especially if the way the solution was developed and serviced was not performed in a manner that built a loving, empathic, enthusiastic relationship. Enthusiasm is only born from the hard emotional work of building relationships. What good is a client who receives a great solution but is never interested in working with you again? What are the odds that a client with whom you do not have an integral relationship will get an outstanding solution to their problem? It is a self-perpetuating relationship. Enthused clients are not only more likely to work with you again because your solutions were empathic; they are also more likely to get empathic solutions because your relationship is so strong.
KSA’s 5 keys to service:Elicit – Empathize – Empower – Enthuse - Eject This is the simplest of the keys, yet probably the hardest to enforce and employ effectively. Simply put, once you place your focus on your client you need to eject those things which stand in the way of meeting their needs. Sometimes this means putting the client before your own organization and your internal needs. Sometimes this means determining what your client values most and abandoning other pursuits which could potentially be fruitful but not necessarily best for the client, or worse, at the expense of the client. How many beautiful structures exist in this world fail to serve the primary functions of their end users? They are “monuments unto themselves, in spite of themselves”. The difficulty in the “Eject” methodology lies in developing a proper balance. Throwing out everything to achieve your focus is as much a recipe for disaster as being inflexible and arrogant in your approach to your client’s needs. To ensure that you are on the right path, you must constantly verify that you are working towards “Best in the World” solutions and processes, while consistently ejecting the various inevitable missteps all along the way. Do not be afraid to ask your clients what it is they value in your services. Regularly debrief them. Be willing to uncover ugly truths or mistakes. Eject the processes that led to them and build a stronger more understanding relationship.
The relative mind “Best in the World” is a relative thing. It is a mindset, not a process. It is an attitude, not a policy. KSA chooses to employ a client-centric “Best in the World” approach, partially because this is our own best in the world and because being loved is the only reason to do business. Christopher M. Good, CID, ASID, LEED AP Chris is an Associate Principal at KSA Interiors, an award winning interior design firm located in Glen Allen Virginia. To learn more about KSA Interiors - visit their website: http://www.ksainteriors.com
Resources:Check out these resources, books, and other ideas to help you adopt the 5 key’s to “Best in the World”:Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. aka. “The D-School”Check out the bootleg-bootcamp for great ideas, thought starters and other tools and Design Thinking methodologies to allow you to elicit greatinfo from your team, partners, and clients.http://dschool.typepad.com/news/2010/12/2010-bootcamp-bootleg-is-here.htmlIDEOTry the IDEO Method Cards, a 51 card deck designed to inspire you to think from a variety of perspectives and approaches.http://www.ideo.com/work/method-cards/Also available as an iphone apphttp://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ideo-method-cards/id340233007?mt=8
Resources:Trouble eliciting?Practice asking “the 5 Whats”To get to the root cause of an issue you should practice asking “What” no less than 5 times.For example: ask a question and respond by asking “What do you mean by….” and continue at least 5 times until you reach the root cause athand.Need to check your focus and prepare to “Eject”:Ask Yourself: “Who is our customer?” “What are we selling?” “What are our customers buying?”Be prepared to learn that what your customers are buying is not necessarily what you thought you were selling.For more on these ideas & thought starters check out the book “Customer Centered Growth” by Richard Whiteley and Diane Hessan.“Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell.Read this book! The chapter titled “The locked door” provides great insight on interpreting the meaning of the things people say and do.Sometimes the explanations and rationale we apply to thinking which occurs within our subconscious can be misleading.
Resources:Need some more reading? Of course you do… try these great booksreferenced either directly or indirectly in the development of this methodology“Whole New Mind” & “Drive” by Dan Pink http://www.danpink.com/“The Dip” & “Linchpin” by Seth Godin http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/“I love you more than my dog” by Jeanne Bliss http://www.customerbliss.com/index.php“Your Marketing Sucks” by Mark Stephens http://msco.com/blog/“Customer Centered Growth” by Richard Whiteley and Diane Hessan http://books.google.com“Change by Design” by Tim Brown http://www.ideo.com/by-ideo/change-by-design/“The Design of Business” by Roger Martin http://rogerlmartin.com/“Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman http://danielgoleman.info/“Blink” and “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell http://www.gladwell.com/
ThanksThis methodology could not have been developed without the support the leadership and business development staff at KSA Interiors:Kim Schoenadel, CID, ASIDCameron Stiles, CID, FASID, LEED APLorri Finn, CID, IIDA, LEED APTamera SharpeSara Lowery Anderson