I am often disappointed with customers’ low expectations of IT consulting firms. Personally, I like to frequent businesses that care about their customers, care to do it right, and offer something that memorably improves my life, one experience at a time. If IT consulting firms were evaluated by the same measures of quality, consistency, and positive customer experience as the restaurant industry, most would be lucky to have 2 stars and would be losing market share faster than Subway.
Some IT consulting firms are like fast food joints. There are only two reasons you go there: You can’t afford to do otherwise, or you’ve decided to enjoy the short-lived pleasures of junk. Their uninspired offerings are mass-produced by low-cost workers in a factory somewhere in the world. They woo you in with a dollar menu but upsell the super-sized version. By the end of the experience you feel a little ashamed that you were duped again, and you definitely feel like shit. Unless your goal was to be less healthy this year, you’ve got some serious work to do to reverse the effect of consuming their offerings. While you may walk away from doing business with them, regretting the experience altogether, in the back of your mind, you know you’ll probably be back again.
Small IT consulting firms are like diners. The good ones have reasonably priced, medium portioned, relatively satisfying offerings. They do a few things in a special way and they feel a bit more intimate. Your favorite waitress, whose customer you’ve been for years, knows your kids’ names and brings your order just the way you like it. When the waitress leaves and you’re not a fan of the new one, you find another place to get home fries and 2 eggs over easy, and they taste just like the old ones. The not-so-awesome diners are constantly turning over waitstaff, get your order right some of the time, overcharge you on occasion, and act like they are doing you a favor while serving you mass-produced frozen food. They make you wait before delivering something utterly bland, then disappear, leaving you to pay the bill with a disinterested cashier. While you intend to never go back, you find it hard to tell which diner will be good or bad. They all look the same on the side of the highway.
The biggest IT consulting firms are like the high-end Brazilian steakhouses with the big logo on the outside of an expensive building in a prominent location where you always feel safe and enjoy being seen by people you know. Once you are seated by the intelligent and charming host, smiling, uniformed halfwits never ask you what you want, they just interrupt your conversation and try to sell you an endless variety of appetizing meat. A dizzying volume of oblivious young adults, who all have their sights set on the host’s job, stuff you with empty calories while taking drink orders. Between orders, they fill the time doing very little, while someone else does the more complex job of mixing the same boring cocktails with watered-down liquor and an enchanting garnish that distracts you from the sameness. By the time you walk away, which is always much later than planned, your belly is a bit nauseous and your wallet a whole lot lighter. You’re no closer to your goals for the year but you had a good time and you’ll almost definitely do it again. However, next time you’ll come in with a better strategy – you’re not falling for that bread trick again and you’ll ask them to bring out the actual meat more often. Good luck getting more value the next time around! They have a system and it’s more focused on their shareholder value than giving you your money’s worth.
But when you get really lucky, you find that gem. That spot that has been around for years but is constantly innovative. While not a fit for some, you love it. They are passionate about what they do and care about making their customers feel valued, carefully curating a memorable experience. Every aspect of your encounter was thoughtfully executed without being pretentious. From the front of the house to the back, everyone is knowledgeable, giving you their honest opinion about which choices are best and which choices are not. The whole experience is exactly what you expected with some small, subtle additions that delight you. They’ve replaced the empty calories with a mouth amuser from the chef before you even order. Sometimes you order off the menu, at times with substitutions, but the fixed price chef’s menu is usually the way to go. When you make the simple choice between the meat, fish or veggie option, the chef creates something special. The waitstaff are on point, always executing a flexible yet carefully orchestrated strategy, interrupting at just the right moments to bring you course after course of perfectly prepared morsels that excite you and your guests, allowing you to spend most of your time on the most meaningful things. And the best part? It costs a hell of a lot less than that Brazilian steakhouse. It’s a special place you excitedly anticipate going back to when the occasion is right.
Expect more. Personalized, curated, one-of-a-kind experiences do exist – in dining and in IT consulting investments. What will you ask for in your next engagement?