One of the 44 executives I interviewed for the book, Steve Osborn, Founding Principal at CE Solutions, Inc., spent the most time talking about what it means to deliver exceptional service to clients — and how that helps you build your business. This post is an excerpt from my interview with Steve.
Jim: Steve, you’ve been very methodical and intentional about what you do to ensure your folks deliver great client service. Could you tell me about that?
Steve Osborn: Absolutely. Happy to do that. The idea behind starting my firm 19 years ago was based on four foundational principles: strong relationships, mutual respect, integrity, and ethical practice. It’s how we operate and make decisions daily. It’s how we have grown the business and determines everything we do, from the hiring process to who we do business with – I’m very much a relationship person. I’m very interested in the business of the business, as well as the profession of structural engineering that we serve.
As a result of being a relationship person, I’m also a very caring person, and I want to be able to take good care of the people that entrust us with their projects. I can’t over-emphasize how important real effective communication is in our business. It involves keeping our clients informed of the progress that we’re making on their projects regularly. I don’t like when our clients have to contact us and ask about the status of something. I like being proactive in keeping them informed. It’s important to me that we hire people with similar characteristics because I feel those are the kind of things that are difficult to teach someone. It’s also about doing business with people we know and trust — people who care about and respect us as well.
Jim: Can you give me an example?
Steve Osborn: Sure. We’re proactive in terms of providing regular updates on the projects. Before they ask, we give it to them. We get nice feedback and are complimented all the time about that. Clients say, “We always ask that of somebody, but we don’t always get it.”
Another good example is the level of completeness of our documents. We produce and deliver them in the timeframe that we promise. We get complimented all the time about coming to progress meetings which are intended to discuss 50% completion, and we bring documents that are 75% complete. The clients notice that.
Another thing we’ve done is deliver projects ahead of schedule. We’ve delivered projects two to four weeks ahead of schedule — and sometimes when we’re prime, it allows them to put it on an earlier bid letting. In one case with one of our institutional clients, our project was scheduled for a bid letting towards the end of the year, so it was jammed. They had a lot of projects going on in that bid letting, so they were worried about getting good competitive pricing. We were able to deliver the project several weeks ahead of time, which put it on an earlier letting — which had less competition for projects going out. As a result of that, they felt they got better pricing.
Jim: That’s a great example of an outcome a client gets from that kind of service.
Steve Osborn: In a follow-up, even the client commented when we did that. They said that this is unheard of. They had never experienced that before with somebody, so I felt like it set us apart. It was kind of surprising that nobody has done or offered that. I remember them specifically saying, “Nobody does this. This is incredible.” It was a nice thing to hear.
I tell my staff all the time — “You never know where your opportunities will come from. Just go out there and be sincere. Be yourself. Don’t be shallow. Don’t be artificial. Don’t just go through the motions. You have to be real. You have to be who you are.” That’s why we consider those characteristics during the hiring process. We try to hire people who truly care.