Jason Friedman, CEO of Creative Realities, a branding and customer-experience consultancy in New Jersey.
Matt Greenslade Jason Friedman, CEO of Creative Realities, a branding and customer-experience consultancy in New Jersey.

Jason Friedman’s early career in theater and as a concert roadie gave him insight into managing complex logistical and performance-based tasks. So he knows better than anyone that positive experiences don’t happen by chance. The 36-year-old is founder and CEO of Fairfield, N.J.–based Creative Realities (CRI), which has consulted on “experiential marketing” since its start in 1997. As Friedman tells his clients (many of whom are architects and other designers), great service isn’t about adding to your overhead; it’s about building a service mentality into your business structure.

How do we start adding value?

Understand clients’ expectations and set them on a formal basis: “This is what is going to happen when you work with us.” Be deliberate about it. These things don’t happen by accident; it’s with intent. We talk about the “wow” factor—a surprise of an elevated magnitude. To wow your customer, you need to set expectations at a certain level, and then you need to overdeliver.

Ask, “What is going to make our clients love us?” It’s not the architecture—they can go anywhere for that. It’s all the stuff beyond. Getting a cool design is not a surprise for the client. That’s why they hired you.

An example?

Build a system. Commit to returning phone calls within four hours. To do that, you need to have somebody checking your voice mail, transcribing it, and sending it to a group distribution list—you keep everybody in the loop and there’s lots of collaboration.

And be proactive: Don’t let clients know a deliverable will be late at the deadline. People set their schedules based on the agreed time. It results in frustration, anger, and no loyalty if they can’t depend on you.

And the message is?

Reliability. Your buildings are reliable. Your employees are reliable. Don’t have misspellings on your drawings. It’s not difficult or complicated.

Another example?

Have someone sit in the meeting and do quick sketches that are presented to the client at the end of the meeting. Show visually—“We heard you.”

That’s not a given, but it’s not unheard of …

Have someone take notes during every meeting on a tablet PC and send it at the end of the meeting—from the same room. It’s handwritten, but you have them right away. Then, e-mail the handwritten notes to an assistant at the office to type up, and send them to the entire distribution list within an hour.

But meetings can take a lot of time …

Control the process. Send weekly updates via e-mail with an action item list for the week: Here’s where we are, here’s what we’re working on. Have a weekly scheduled call—block out the time—but if you’ve covered all the items, let the client cancel it. Most weeks, they will.

When can an architect ask for extras?

If the perception in your customer’s mind is that you’re overdelivering all the time, they’re going to say yes when you ask for an extra. There has to be a perception of value for everything you do.

You may not charge, but don’t ever do anything for free. If you do something, send an invoice with a credit and a $0 balance. That makes you a good guy. If you don’t send that, they don’t know that you’re a good guy.