Best Practices: Culture

By Charlie Carr

6 steps for improving your family business culture (Hint: start with your customers)

Is Client Delight a catalyst for boosting your business's income, or is it merely a whimsical term for how you already serve and satisfy your customers? Over 25 years ago, I implemented a Client Delight program at a private bank, yielding substantial increases in revenue and net income. The concept of Client Delight remains evergreen, though it is seldom discussed in contemporary discourse.

What Constitutes Client Delight?

The dictionary defines delight as "something that provides immense pleasure or enjoyment." Consider this scenario: You dine at a new neighborhood restaurant, and when asked by a friend for your thoughts, you respond with "it was quite good" while describing your meal; you were satisfied. However, if you can't wait to recommend the restaurant to your friend, eagerly sharing your dining experience, then you have experienced delight. In our former practice, we surveyed clients on a 10-point scale, classifying those rating us at 9 or 10 as delighted, and those at 6-8 as satisfied. One caveat: soliciting customers to provide a "9 or 10" rating renders the results meaningless, making the above scale ineffective.
In the private banking industry, research indicates that over 90% of new business originates from referrals, and a delighted client is six times more likely than a satisfied client to make referrals. This research often prompted staff to inquire: How do we go about delighting our clients?

Strategies for Delighting Clients

Investment managers would assert that their clients solely concern themselves with investment returns, and, to delight them, they must outperform the market. If the market delivered a 7% return this year, and the manager achieved 14%, the client likely experienced delight. However, in most cases, the manager's performance fell within the range of 6% to 8%. How, then, can they delight the client?
Other bankers might suggest that, since their clients are affluent, they should provide Super Bowl tickets. While this would indeed delight most clients, it is expensive and impractical for serving a large client base.
Delight must commence by getting the fundamentals right. If you run a restaurant, it must maintain cleanliness, ensure consistent food quality and taste. In the case of a manufacturing company, products must consistently meet high-quality standards, and sales and service must remain accessible, friendly, and responsive. However, stopping at this point will merely lead to satisfied clients. As Ken Blanchard writes in his book "Raving Fans," "Your customers are a revolt waiting to happen. They're only satisfied because expectations are so low and because no one else is doing any better." Delighting customers demands more.
The distinction between delighting businesses and satisfying businesses often lies in subtleties. Do waitstaff remember you from one visit to the next? Does the service representative greet you warmly, take an extra moment to appreciate your custom? Does the service feel personal or institutional? Is the performance consistently outstanding? Are they proactive?
Each industry possesses unique attributes, necessitating a team discussion to determine what delight entails. In our former industry, we emphasized that delight revolved around relationships. Is the banker proactive, or does the client always have to initiate contact? Do they know their clients, including personal details such as hobbies, educational background, and family updates? Can clients trust that their family will receive proper care in their absence? Is the banker overly focused on sales, or does the relationship hold greater importance?
We encouraged bankers to set a daily goal for each staff member: to "wow" at least one client. This could involve a handwritten note, proactive outreach, inquiring about a recent family event, or similar gestures. I requested that they share these "wow" stories, which proved remarkable. Staff members competed to devise unique (and generally cost-effective) methods for wowing clients.
I remember one team delivering a bag of crayons and coloring books to a client who was looking after their grandchildren for a week. Some offices consistently provided the receptionist with the names of visiting clients, enabling personalized greetings upon arrival. Teams sent numerous thank-you notes and initiated conversations by discussing the client's favorite animal, rather than jumping straight into business matters.
In nearly every large company we've encountered, across various industries, some individuals grasp this concept and execute it effectively. However, right next door, there may be someone who doesn't comprehend it. For those doing it right, the challenge arises when their client requires support from someone else within the organization and encounters anything less than delight.
We found that one indicator of how effectively a business or group delights its clients is how they talk about their clients. If they complain about clients or mock their behavior around the watercooler, that negative attitude inevitably permeates client interactions. Leaders should be especially vigilant in promoting positive discussions during meetings and countering negative sentiments about clients.

Creating a Culture of Delight

If your business aims to instill a culture of delight, whether as part of your strategic planning process or as a standalone initiative, consider these tips for effecting change:
1. Leadership: Leadership must champion, establish, and continually reinforce this culture. If leadership does not wholeheartedly embrace and embody it, a culture of delight will remain confined to isolated pockets within your organization. This commitment should be ongoing, not temporary.
2. Master the Basics: Address frequent complaints and rectify fundamental issues. If your products have a 30% failure rate, customers spend excessive time on hold, or your website is confusing, a culture of delight cannot take root.
3. Delight Your Staff: Convince your staff to delight clients by valuing them as highly as your clients. Show your staff that they are just as essential.
4. Involve Owners: In family businesses, ensure that owners are part of the leadership team, actively engaged in the process. If not, find ways to delight owners beyond distributing checks.
5. Gamify Delight: Encourage staff to devise creative ways to delight clients. Solicit and share these stories across the organization.
6. Track Results: Demonstrating the impact of these efforts on staff and leaders will motivate ongoing commitment. A culture of delight should yield increased staff retention, higher client retention, new client referrals, revenue growth, and more.
We emphasize referring to this concept as a culture of delight rather than just a delight program. Your culture encompasses shared attitudes, values, and practices that define your organization. It reflects how you treat others and act in various contexts. By adopting delight as part of your culture, you'll assess and enhance every aspect of your business, including interactions with staff and clients. 
Charlie Carr, CFP®, is President of Big Canyon Advisors LLC, which provides advisory services to family businesses and family offices (
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