Responsiveness to client needs. Even when not particularly reasonable in their needs, an effort must be made to accommodate the client. They may need to have a service tweaked or modified to meet their need and they will appreciate the responsiveness. When having a project that is already staffed and parameters change, skill sets must be changed to accommodate. It may impact you financially, but the solution must still be delivered to the client. You might get called in to replace another provider and have a great opportunity to be responsive when the competition was not. There have been many times where we have staffed a project quickly to replace a failed attempt with the right skills and it leads to more business.
As part of my interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Archie O’Leary, Vice President of Sales for Arbour Group, a global provider of regulatory products and services for the life sciences. He has served in this capacity for 15 years and has worked with over 250 firms in the pharmaceutical, medical device, biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, and diagnostics segments.
Archie has significant experience with the interpretation of requirements for software compliance as stipulated by regulatory authorities. He has practical experience with regulatory topics that include 21 CFR Part 11, Risk Management, Cloud Compliance, Supplier compliance, and procedural controls.
Archie has an MBA in Marketing & Finance from California State University, Long Beach, and has served on several advisory boards for software development companies.
Thank you so much for joining us Archie! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve been involved in sales for over 30 years. 15 years with Arbour Group and prior to that 15 years in Manufacturing. Almost all my career has involved sales or Information Technology, so I’ve seen how customers react from a sales standpoint as well as a delivery point of view. I got my start in labor relations after college. My first job was investigating grievances that employees and union officials filed, and I learned how to do investigations and write up reports. Following that, I received an opportunity to work for a packaging company where I took a position in which I was educated, finance. I was there for several years until an opportunity came up to work in IT. I thought it would be an exciting change to head IT projects that are today referred to as ERP projects. I was a Program Manager for implementing ERP systems and it was eye-opening in learning all the moving parts. From there I became involved with the Sales process, so I’ve seen the process from both the implementation and sales perspective.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
From time to time when you are working as a team to get things accomplished in an IT project, you want it to proceed according to plan and make sure milestones are reached. It’s happened several times where there’s a concern when something isn’t moving along and one of the dependencies was something you had responsibility for or something that a colleague was working on. As it turns out, it can be funny when you end up being the problem, however, you learn from that. It teaches you to be aware of the whole landscape, how to be patient with people, and to make sure all the bases are covered. It reminds you when working as a team to ensure things go according to plan.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I worked with a colleague named Bill Harrington that worked in a different area but also in a sales capacity. He helped me to a large extent with defining a selling methodology that included making sure that time is being spent appropriately, working on the right thing, helping me show value to clients, and how to make you indispensable to the client. That is simply done by focusing on their problems as opposed to focusing on what you are selling.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?
Perhaps it’s become cliché, but the customers are the reason you stay in business. Every business needs customers to succeed because happy customers are paying customers. The easiest way to maintain customer satisfaction or to maintain customers is to make sure they’re satisfied with your product or services. That is accomplished by providing products and services that are beyond their expectations. It’s important that you set up an expectation, achieve it, and occasionally exceed the expectation. It’s essential to circle back with the client in terms of any additional products or services that assist in their success.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
The disconnect can occur when you are successful in maintaining a customer, but you end up taking them for granted. If you have an ongoing business and things are going well, you might not realize when a disconnect happens suddenly. You might not be paying attention to requirements or might have ignored a small problem that has grown to a larger one. Whoever is responsible for the client relationship can be busy with other projects so it can be difficult to make everyone happy all the time. When something does go wrong it can also turn into an opportunity. Clients appreciate not only the service you provide but also how you solve problems. If you can solve a problem for them, it can make the issue an opportunity to exceed expectations.
Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?
The competition puts pressure on the existing service provider and in any kind of business development. More than likely you’re replacing somebody, or you might be the one who gets replaced. Just another reason why surveillance over the customer relationship is essential. It doesn’t have to be frequent, but it does need to occur on a regular basis. If there are resources at a client site, they can assist in being additional eyes and ears to receive feedback so you can be proactive when problems occur. Cost improvement pressure by most organizations who have Cost Reduction Continuous Improvement Optimization Processes is another factor. They need to ask what is being done, if there are better ways to execute, and if there is a more cost-effective way of doing business.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
We were working with a large pharmaceutical company providing resources to conduct Information Technology compliance activities that included validation, quality assurance assessments and audits. We were given an initial project that another supplier executed poorly. It was a test to evaluate our services and they were pleased with our well-trained resources, how we followed processes that were predetermined, and they appreciated the ease of the project execution.
Did that Wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Consequently, we received follow-up business and now we are in four different areas of this large organization represented by different skill sets of employees for almost a decade.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Reliability of your product or service needs to be what is advertised. There is an assumption the services you provide are delivered by people who have the requisite skills to succeed. In our business, it relies on having a proper background and training. As a regulatory IT compliance business, we submit resumes and perhaps hold an interview for the client to meet the resource. However, once the person is on-site, they need to produce what is expected as advertised. Additionally, the deliverables we produce are consistent with expectations and are following Standard Operating Procedures or an Industry Best Practice. They also must be consistent among consultants so that clients receive that reliability.
2. Responsiveness to client needs. Even when not particularly reasonable in their needs, an effort must be made to accommodate the client. They may need to have a service tweaked or modified to meet their need and they will appreciate the responsiveness. When having a project that is already staffed and parameters change, skill sets must be changed to accommodate. It may impact you financially, but the solution must still be delivered to the client. You might get called in to replace another provider and have a great opportunity to be responsive when the competition was not. There have been many times where we have staffed a project quickly to replace a failed attempt with the right skills and it leads to more business.
3. Problem-solving is an opportunity to enhance the client experience. Everyone gets along when things are going smoothly, what really makes the difference is resolving issues successfully. You will be remembered and become a trusted advisor. When performing FDA compliance testing, we have specific methodologies, processes, and timeframes. We are dependent on the systems integrator to bring certain prerequisites to the engagement. Sometimes the configuration of the software is not what it should be and needs to be resolved. Instead of waiting for it to be fixed, we are proactive with the integrator in solving the configuration issue together. We add great value by greatly shortening the time of the problem resolution.
4. Flexibility is applied with projects or ongoing staff augmentation engagement. Things change and a client may ask you to help them get through a situation. Your help may sometime affect your revenue and must be considered. If you can show you have the flexibility and work with the client to adjust staffing levels or stop and start a project, they will greatly appreciate the effort. Many small changes occur that require flexibility. When larger changes occur, they can be greatly appreciated. An engagement with a client can begin in one location and then they decide the project site will be at a different location. We have had to change the logistics by reassigning resources, find new resources, and perform the cross-training within short timeframes. A client will remember this flexibility and it will help form a relationship of trust.
5. Creativity with client engagement to get better results. The project may get done faster at less cost with fewer resources and will “wow” the client. Commonly clients have budgets and timelines. Assistance with creative solutions will create a better experience for all parties involved. On several occasions, we’ve been asked to provide resources for an ongoing effort or process. From change control, risk assessments, or audits, we’ve provided resources creatively to access issues beforehand and benefit the client. We were involved with a client for an audit of Information Technology software providers. Through proactive discussions we discovered their goals, the number of audits needed, and the timeframes. It benefited the client if they simply gave us more responsibility for the audits being executed. It shortened their timeframes because they did not have an adequate amount of resources, and it gave us more work to do. Our Managed Services approach allows us to creatively provide additional help when clients have resource restrictions.
Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?
You want to make sure you have consistent contact with the client so that you have the necessary feedback. You can rely on the customer to tell others of your services, but it’s a good selling strategy to ask them to introduce you to other parts of the organization. If you provided them a “Wow” experience, they will be happy to because they already have faith you will produce results in a different area, and it will make them look good.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The movement that I would like to see is awareness of how fast things are changing in technological innovation. It is happening at a frightening speed as more people have access to the Internet. Processing power used to double every seven years, now it is doubling every three years. The world is going to change even faster and that will have a significant impact on skills required for jobs. When robotics in manufacturing were replacing people, there were concerns that robots were taking jobs. Now there are more jobs in maintaining and programming the robots. Innovation and technology have affected this landscape. Awareness in education to meet the quick change in technology will better prepare us for success.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!