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How Services Firms Can Drive Successful Client Engagements 2023 How Services Firms Can Drive Successful Client Engagements 2023
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How Services Firms Can Drive Successful Client Engagements 2023

author - Warren Whitford
Warren Whitford
author - Rebecca Hammond
Rebecca Hammond
author - Sam Eaquinto
Sam Eaquinto
October 4, 2023 | Read Time: 5  minutes

In 2022, KLAS interviewed 27 HIT services firms with broad market experience, asking them about their best practices for driving successful client engagements. Drawing from those insights and correlating them with the KLAS performance data of high-performing firms, this study—part of KLAS’ Vendor Excellence series—looks at four critical areas firms should evaluate to ensure successful engagements: measurement of outcomes, sales and contracting, internal hiring and training, and engagement execution.

Measurement of Outcomes:
A Continued Client Relationship Is Not Best Indicator of Exceeding Client Expectations

Over one-third of firms say that having repeat engagements with a client is a key indicator that the firm is exceeding client expectations. However, top-performing firms are not included in this group; instead of using continued working relationships as a measuring stick, they look at other key indicators like partnership, evangelism, communication, account management, and execution. Healthcare organizations want to move beyond a transactional vendor relationship to a partnership where the firm’s end goal is not simply renewing the contract. One services firm respondent said, “The things that determine whether we exceed expectations are partnership, communication, and the client feeling that they always have us to go to. Client success has less to do with the shorter-term engagement and more to do with knowing we can always be counted on for help.”

key indicators of exceeding client expectations as reported by services firms
overall satisfaction and services firms top indicator of exceeding client expectations

Sales and Contracting:
A Well-Defined Methodology Helps Services Firms Strengthen Engagement Execution 

KLAS asked participating services firms how they craft a strong methodology for solving clients’ problems. While some explained their approach with clarity and in great detail, others struggled to define their methodology—these firms tend to receive lower ratings from clients in areas like engagement execution and money’s worth. One firm executive explained, “We need to listen and understand the scope of work up front. Us listening is paramount for project success. We have to document and understand exactly what the customer is looking for and be very direct with what is and isn’t in scope. Success starts up front with how we engage, listen, and manage expectations. Those things are critical. We document everything and get everyone to sign off. Then, depending on the type of project, there are stage gates and milestones to check along the way. Even with staff augmentation engagements, there is still an element of follow-up.”

Additionally, firms who use a strategic selling approach (i.e., the representative advises and consults with the client to discuss problems and build solutions) see high client satisfaction across many metrics, like overall satisfaction, quality of staff/consultants, drives tangible outcomes, exceeds expectations, and strength of partnership. Clients of these firms tend to feel more loyal to their firm, though this doesn’t necessarily reduce their perception of being nickel-and-dimed.

engagement execution and services firm methodology

Internal Hiring and Training:
Services Firms with Job Shadowing Programs Are More Likely to Exceed Client Expectations

When firms have their employees participate in job shadowing and on-the-job training beyond just the standard onboarding process, it can positively impact the client experience; in general, firms that incorporate job shadowing are more likely to exceed client expectations. Further, clients of these firms are more satisfied with executive involvement. One firm executive shared, “Typically, we hire somebody that has experience, and we give them somebody to shadow. The training is more standardized and prescriptive for onboarding specifics. But after that, the hiring manager assigns somebody to work with the new hire and shadow them throughout the process.” Most firms also offer team- or project-specific training; however, organization-wide training can contribute to higher client satisfaction with engagement execution. Firms with a niche focus are more likely to have organization-wide trainings, thus having more opportunities to strengthen engagement execution for clients.

exceeds expectations and shadowing mentioned as part of onboarding process

Engagement Execution:
High-Performing Services Firms Typically Assign One Owner to Be Client’s Primary Contact

At services firms, a client relationship can be owned by one or more of the following people: a delivery team member, an account manager or customer success manager (CSM), a sales representative, or an executive. Clients who are assigned a single contact owner—as opposed to multiple contact owners—are typically more satisfied with the engagement execution and executive involvement and are also more likely to feel they received their money’s worth. Client satisfaction varies depending on who their main point of contact is:

  • When a delivery team member is the main point of contact, the client tends to be less satisfied with quality of staff/consultants, the firm’s ability to drive tangible outcomes, and the strength of the partnership.
  • When an account manager or CSM is the main point of contact, clients often report greater money’s worth and solid tangible outcomes.
  • When a sales representative who typically isn’t involved in delivery or ongoing account management is the main point of contact, clients report lower money’s worth and less satisfaction with the firm driving tangible outcomes.
  • Having an executive as the main point of contact can foster a stronger partnership with clients. However, no other areas of the client experience are positively impacted, and some clients even report decreased satisfaction with the firm’s strategic expertise.
engagement execution and number of contact owners

About This Report

KLAS regularly interviews HIT vendors and services firms about their practices to better understand what drives vendor and firm excellence. The resulting data—shared via reports, webinars, and one-on-one calls—examines vendor/firm practices and customer satisfaction, reveals how vendors/firms are impacting their customers’ experience, and suggests how vendors/firms can better aide their customers. Previously published insights include strengthening customer success programs, driving sales and retention, ensuring customer success during the pandemic, and improving upgrades.

For this paper, KLAS interviewed 27 HIT services firms and asked them the following questions:

  1. What are the sales expectations for those who are client-facing? How do you avoid the perception of being too salesy?
  2. What is your approach or strategy to turning down business when it is not a good fit? How often does this happen?
  3. How do you craft a strong methodology, process, or approach to solving client problems? How prescriptive (customized) are you?
  4. What is the training and onboarding process for your employees?
  5. What specific traits or qualifications do you look for when hiring? Is healthcare industry experience required?
  6. What is your process for placing consultants on jobs? What do you provide to clients for consultant selection?
  7. Who owns the client relationship in your organization? How often do executives meet with clients?
  8. What percentage of your projects have a designated project manager?
  9. What tools do you use on consulting engagements?
  10. What are your typical deliverables? Do you provide interim deliverables as the project progresses?
  11. How do you measure the success of the engagement? What are the incentives for achieving these measures? When in the project is the client’s perception of value actually recognized?
  12. What does exceeding expectations look like for you?
  13. What factors make a strategic partnership? How do you differentiate yourselves? How are consultants encouraged to be strategic?
  14. How do you get feedback from clients about consultants’ knowledge and skill set?
  15. What is your approach when previous clients call for insights and advice?
author - Sarah Hanson
Sarah Hanson
author - Jessica Bonnett
Jessica Bonnett
author - Sydney Toomer
Project Manager
Sydney Toomer
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This material is copyrighted. Any organization gaining unauthorized access to this report will be liable to compensate KLAS for the full retail price. Please see the KLAS DATA USE POLICY for information regarding use of this report. © 2024 KLAS Research, LLC. All Rights Reserved. NOTE: Performance scores may change significantly when including newly interviewed provider organizations, especially when added to a smaller sample size like in emerging markets with a small number of live clients. The findings presented are not meant to be conclusive data for an entire client base.