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Reflections on client experience in a world turned upside-down

Pardon the optimism, but the future looks bright – albeit unknown. A new-found closeness between colleagues and clients is blossoming as we digitally reach into one another’s homes and personal work-spaces. Learning about one another as human beings beyond professional titles. Sharing stories. Listening. Discovering what matters. Being empathetic.

By Maureen Thurston, Chief Experience Officer, Aurecon

I’m caught in a conundrum. As the Chief Experience Officer (CXO) of a company that thrives on the strength of its relationships with clients, how do I define what makes a great client experience when face-to-face interactions are denied? How do we design client touch-points when the ‘points’ no longer touch?

Professional service firms like ours were born during the industrial revolution, when barons of business sought out experts to advise them on better ways to prepare their taxes, craft competitive strategies, and build bigger buildings. However, in 2 months a 200-year old model was turned upside-down.                                                                                                      

All that was familiar is gone. Well established ways of working, interacting and engaging no longer apply. How do we facilitate ‘great client experiences’ when we are in lock-down?

Science fiction has become fact… the future has come too soon

I’m a BIG fan of the future. As a child of the 60’s I consumed TV shows like The Jetsons, Star Trek, and Lost in Space, they painted a picture of what might be and captured my imagination. I was to be the master of my destiny in my own flying car!

I love sci-fi but pandemics were once just a plot-line, now it’s a reality. COVID-19, forced the ‘future’ to come too soon. Like everyone else caught in the cognitive dissonance of recent events, fighting valiantly for normalcy, I’ve been hustling to equalise, busying myself and the team in delivering projects, trying to keep people motivated, protected and safe – while waiting for things to settle down. Alas without a time machine, our nostalgic notions of ‘getting back to normal’ is merely science fiction. 

Time to reflect, reframe and reset

Members of Fortune Magazine’s CEO Initiative recently gathered - virtually - to discuss how to respond to COVID-19. Their big takeaway was the crisis will provoke business innovation. The general consensus “we won’t return to normal soon” in fact, “we won’t return to the old normal ever.” To navigate the path ahead, these business leaders suggested that a simple organisational “restart,” won’t be enough, a profound “reset” is required.

These CEOs went on to say that incremental thinking will not get us to where we need to go. We need to innovate! I’m an optimist, so this is music to my ears – better to dance with disruption than be deterred by it. Re-framing a problem into an opportunity is intoxicating.

Our ability to create, our superpower.

To innovate is innately human. It’s begins with a mindset and progresses with a method. It is a disposition fuelled by discipline. Although COVID-19’s speed to impact is unique, this degree of disruptive change is not unprecedented. From the steam engine to the internet there have been countless catalysts that have innovated and elevated us into a new norm. What we have now is an opportunity to make things better!

Between stimulus and response there is a space.

In that space is our power to choose our response.

In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor Frankl

There is much to learn from Dr. Frankl, Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning where he describes how he survived the horrors of Auschwitz by choosing to rise above it. Like Frankl, our legacy is fuelled by the choices we make between the stimulus and the response’. That ‘space’ is an object of our design.

It has become clear to me that our imposed isolation is a physical condition, it does not have to become a psychological one. Be it debilitating or liberating, it’s a choice. In spite of our need for physical distancing, these last few weeks have brought us closer together. We share a common circumstance (stimulus). Our opportunity to converse in more meaningful ways is unprecedented. Our chance to create memorable experiences, unparalleled. Our ability to leverage networks to innovate, unlimited.

Creating a new space for Diversity and Inclusion (D&I)

As the CEOs suggest, it’s time to reset. Franz Johansson, author of the Medici Effect agrees. He writes about the strategic purposefulness in creating intersections (spaces) where innovation can thrive. In the 14th century the Medici’s invited artisans, scholars, tradesmen and bankers to ‘intersect’ in Florence. It was good for business. And the renaissance was a result.

What if COVID-19 became the catalyst to reframe diversity and inclusion from corporate compliance to corporate innovation policy? Any business that dares to dance with disruption knows the value in embracing different partners. Innovation thrives on diverse thinkers and inclusive leaders.

Read More on Optimism and Innovation

As our isolation drives digital connectivity the internet levels the playing field, challenging traditional definitions of accessibility/disability. Monitor to monitor human equality advances. What better way to celebrate diversity and inclusion than to replace regulatory mandates with the strategic decision to position D&I at the intersection of innovation.

Back to the beginning

I began with one conundrum. I’ll end with another. I have a hunch we’re on the threshold of a renaissance. COVID-19 will give birth to a new age of digitally enabled humanism. As a Chief Experience Officer how do I reinvent my role to ensure ‘exceptional client experiences’ are the norm in this new world order?

Pardon the optimism, but the future looks bright – albeit unknown. A new-found closeness between colleagues and clients is blossoming as we digitally reach into one another’s homes and personal work-spaces. Learning about one another as human beings beyond professional titles. Sharing stories. Listening. Discovering what matters. Being empathetic.

Each interaction makes an impression, creates a moment and a memory. To become a loyalty-led company, the human experience must be our strategic imperative. So, as CXO perhaps the best thing I can do is to remind everyone that it’s the ‘little things’ that count. A small thoughtful gesture, a kind word, assurance that we’re in this together. It’s actually easier now than ever before to create meaningful touch-points because we’re gaining valuable insights every day we digitally connect.

As we shape our choices. Our choices shape us.

Thoughtful consideration, reflection and intentionality is happening in the spaces between the stimulus and the response; the design and the delivery. In a COVID-19 world, the way in which we respond has never carried more relevance for the future, nor more hope.

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