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Adam Roy of Qlarion: 5 Things a Business Should Do to Create a Wow Customer Experience

An Interview With Orlando Zayas

Understand both the specific project goals and the broader business objectives. To deliver superior customer experiences and build lasting customer relationships, it’s not enough to simply know what the customer wants to buy. You also have to understand what they’re trying to achieve. What do they want to do with the product or service today? More importantly, what are their aspirations that the product or service will help them achieve?

As part of our series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Roy.

Mr. Roy has over twenty years of experience in management and information technology consulting and currently serves as the Qlarion Chief Technology Officer responsible for all services and solutions. Primarily, his clients have been the Federal, State, and Local Governments. He has served as a program and project manager leading the development and delivery of enterprise information strategy, analytics and data solutions using analytics and data management technologies. He has also led pilot design and implementations, case studies, requirements gathering and development, technology policies, and stakeholder management.

Focus on customer success — because your customer’s success is the surest way to success in your own business. Give every customer a cyclical experience of continual feedback and improvements so that you can develop true empathy and build a lasting relationship.

Thank you so much for joining us! 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?

My career has shifted back and forth a bit, but it has been a somewhat deliberate path. I focused on finance as an undergraduate, though I’ve never held a finance job. I first went into technology as a business analyst, and then on to management consulting. Now in my current role as CTO of Qlarion, I’m focused on technology again.

Throughout my career, my finance background helped me understand how technology and business fit together. My management consulting work helped me recognize the value of the big picture and gave me a global understanding of the right way to get things done. The other roles in my career have taught me how technology and data analytics can empower government agencies. All come together in how I am helping Qlarion and our government customers today.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or takeaways you learned from that?

In one of my first projects in management consulting, I was responsible for producing best-practice guides for government agencies. These were high-visibility documents that were distributed to large numbers of people.

I reviewed the documents carefully, as did the customer, before we produced thousands of copies. In one iteration, after it had already been printed, we discovered an unfortunate, recurring typo. This typo turned a commonly used string of words into a not-so-friendly-for-work phrase.

I learned important lessons from that — not just that we need to be careful in everything we do, but also that we need to own our mistakes and fix them. We took responsibility for the error, even though the customer had approved the documents. We quickly resolved the issue at our own expense. My management was understanding, emphasizing that mistakes happen — and that you own them, fix them, and move on.

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?

There have been so many people who helped me along the way. In my earlier management consulting career, several leaders each taught me something different and valuable about client service and business. I’m still in touch with those individuals, and they are some of my most valued relationships.

Later in my career, I had to quickly learn data management and data analytics. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without guidance. The person who recruited me into Qlarion was a longtime friend, and he helped me understand how this world works, how to manage a successful project, and how to be creative in problem-solving.

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?

Of course. To start with some context: Qlarion operates in a business-to-government (B2G) environment, which is a bit different from business-to-business (B2B), and different yet again from business-to-consumer (B2C). However, when it comes to delivering great customer experiences, there are many lessons that apply across all environments.

For example, many of the projects we work on are initiatives that can take a year or two to deliver. A lot can change along the way. The economy, the latest technology, the customer’s operating environment, their leadership — all of these factors are dynamic.

Earlier in my career, I was always focused on getting to the finish line as fast as possible. However, that doesn’t work in a situation that evolves over time. Instead, you need to focus on delivering what’s important to the customer at that moment — all while keeping the end goal in mind. If you can do that iteratively, you can constantly adapt so that you’re meeting their needs in the short term, while also working towards reaching their long-term objectives.

To achieve this, you need to have constant touchpoints with the customer. And it is critical that each and every touchpoint delivers something of value. These regular touchpoints serve as opportunities to demonstrate to the customer how you are benefiting them in a tangible way, as well as provide you with opportunities to receive customer feedback that will allow you to iterate and improve as the operating environment and customer needs evolve over time.

I refer to this process as customer success — and as I detailed earlier, it’s the same in a B2C environment as it is in B2B or B2G. It’s giving the customer a cyclical experience of feedback and improvements where you’re developing true empathy and building a lasting relationship.

Customer success is absolutely necessary for business success, whether you’re a brand serving consumers, a vendor serving government agencies, or even a government agency serving citizens. When your customer is successful, you too are successful.

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 main problem is short-term thinking. Companies are under pressure to get a deal done, squeeze the most profit out of every sale, or deliver quarterly financial results. So they make decisions that boost sales in the short run but don’t serve their customers, and thus don’t build their business, in the long run.

Several years ago, we realized that this short-term thinking isn’t how we want to do business. We wanted to apply a longer-term perspective — all while knowing we will be able to leverage our ability to iterate over time as our customer’s needs change — and really invest in nurturing the highest-value customers that would drive lasting success.

If we invest in building relationships with the right customers, they become sticky and deliver even more value over time. This gives us opportunities to qualify additional good customers, who also become sticky. That’s a solid foundation for a successful business.

To achieve that, we start by heavily qualifying customers upfront to make sure they conform with the model of how we want to do business. That’s necessary for any business. You need to identify and target customers that are a good fit for your brand values.

The hardest part of that approach is that sometimes you have to say no to “easy” revenue. We might invest $100,000 in responding to a request for proposal, and the prospect might come back to us and say, “We have $200,000 that we’re ready to spend with you tomorrow.” But we might determine that the customer isn’t a good fit for our business in the long term. At that point, we have to decide whether we want to grab the short-term profit or recognize that we’re better off investing our resources in customers that will deliver higher value in the long run.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “wowed” by the experience you provided?

A couple of years ago, we helped the Virginia Department of the Treasury select a data management platform for their enterprise. The organization has only a few hundred employees, but it is home to 12 lines of business that manage tens of billions of dollars of the Commonwealth’s budget — money that has a significant constituent impact.

The department didn’t yet have a sophisticated data analytics capability. If the state legislature had a budgetary question, the department might need two weeks to assemble the data and respond. Clearly, that was not an ideal situation, and it was imperative that we deliver quick results.

We divided the project into three phases, with the goal of delivering tangible results within 90 days. We started by building data analytics dashboards for four of the 12 lines of business inside that three month period.

We then needed to show our progress to the state treasurer, who was leading the initiative. Instead of having our company present on our progress, we asked the leader of each line of business to present. The business owners got up in front of the treasurer and said, “These are the tools we now have, this is how we’ll use them, and these are the results we’ll get from them.” The magic in this was that members of our customer’s organization became advocates of the services we were providing, and they clearly articulated the value within the context of their line of business.

The key is that we didn’t just build the tools and hand them over. It was a collaborative and iterative effort. Each line of business could see clear improvements, and all lines of business could build on lessons learned from one another.

And by the way, the next time the state legislature had a budgetary question, the department answered their question in 12 minutes instead of two weeks.

Did that wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

The Department of the Treasury was our first big customer in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The project won the Excellence in Virginia Government Award from the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University. The Department of the Treasury became an enthusiastic advocate of our brand. Based on our success with that first initiative, we’ve now served at least a half-dozen other customers across the Commonwealth.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should know in order to create a wow! customer experience.

We’ve developed a methodology to ensure success with all our customers. Our Customer Kickoff Process is designed to give the customer a tangible return on investment, or ROI, ideally within the first 30 days of the engagement. Here are five elements that contribute to that success:

1. Identify an executive champion. In a B2G or B2B market, you need to engage, right from the outset, the primary decision-maker who controls the budget. And you need to re-engage that person iteratively throughout the process. The parallel in a B2C environment is finely targeting your market so that you’re reaching the consumers most likely to give you wallet share.

2. Deliver tangible results within 30 to 45 days. Successful customer relationships are strengthened over time, but you have a narrow window in which to make a first impression and build an initial connection. Our Customer Kickoff Process includes a checklist to be completed in the first 30 to 45 days of an engagement. We actually call these “Wows!”

3. Present your Wows! to the executive champion. We did a project with the Virginia Department of Health to upgrade their statewide IT system. When we completed our analysis of their needs, we didn’t settle for a status-quo solution. Instead, we recommended an outside-the-box approach that would deliver greater data insights, higher value, and create an immediate “Wow!” moment. And when we presented to the project’s executive champion, they literally did say, “Wow!”. The long-term result? At the end of the last calendar year, the customer dramatically increased the size of our engagement.

4. Understand both the specific project goals and the broader business objectives. To deliver superior customer experiences and build lasting customer relationships, it’s not enough to simply know what the customer wants to buy. You also have to understand what they’re trying to achieve. What do they want to do with the product or service today? More importantly, what are their aspirations that the product or service will help them achieve?

5. Sustain the customer experience through regular touchpoints. Customer experience isn’t a one-and-done situation. You have to maintain the “Wow!” moments over time. For us, that means quarterly customer-success meetings where we review with the executive champion what we’ve done and what we’ll do next.

It’s also a time for listening. We want to understand how their priorities are changing and what they’re concerned about. Often that requires humility. We naturally feel pride of ownership in a project, but ultimately, it’s the customer’s budget and the customer’s business. We need to consistently listen so that we know when to pivot to deliver the next “Wow!” moment.

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?

When we identify a strategic account, we establish an agreement at the beginning of the relationship that if we perform well for them, they’ll act as a referral for us. We then invest in the client accordingly, going above and beyond to earn that referral.

The truth is, if we’re truly focused on customer success and on the principles we’ve put in place — of delivering what’s important to the customer at that moment and having constant touchpoints that deliver value — then referrals happen naturally. When you focus on truly serving customers, they become ambassadors for your brand.

My particular expertise is in retail, so I’d like to ask a question about that. Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

I think I’m like many consumers in that I try to identify products that work well, last a long time and deliver value for the cost. Of course, the quality of the product is only one aspect of my experience with the brand. I also want a smooth shopping process and excellent customer service when I need it.

In addition, I look for a brand to be part of the community it serves. Let’s say I want to buy a surfboard. I want to know the company supports the surfing community and that the surfing community is an advocate of the brand.

To succeed, whether you’re Amazon or a direct-to-consumer company or a retailer trying to compete with those models, over the long term you need to deliver on all of those facets of customer experience. If you deliver at a low price but with poor quality, deliver decent products but with lousy service, or provide a nice shopping process yet lack a presence in your target market, your business will suffer. To win in the long term, you need to excel in every aspect of customer experience.

There’s a parallel in the market my company serves. When targeting government agencies, we compete with much larger rivals, from legacy IT providers to global consulting firms. In many cases, these competitors can deliver a solution that will work. However, they’ll charge a lot more and won’t be as responsive to changing needs. Additionally, they won’t give the customer a high level of attention, because they represent only a small fraction of the vendor’s business. Yet there’s a mentality in government agencies that you can’t go wrong by selecting one of these established vendors.

We’ve learned to address that mindset directly. We emphasize that our solution is best-of-breed, our cost is lower, our business model is more responsive, and we’ll deliver a high level of attention, because every customer is high-value to us. In other words, we’ll excel at delivering on every aspect of customer experience.

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.

Qlarion has developed a set of data analytics technologies and methodologies that address the substance-use crisis in our country, and this is one of my passions. The Qlarion Substance Use Disorder analytics framework provides cross-functional data and analysis to help government leaders respond to the opioid crisis and other challenges related to substance use.

We implemented this approach for the Commonwealth of Virginia as the Framework for Addiction Analysis and Community Transformation, or FAACT. FAACT enables the sharing of formerly isolated datasets among the department of criminal justice, state and local police, private healthcare systems and other organizations. It’s generating insights into factors that contribute to opioid abuse so that government agencies can respond in ways that make a tangible difference.

One thing unique about our approach is that it’s community-based. It leverages state-level data, but it’s focused on individual communities. So communities are empowered to make better decisions specifically relevant to the struggles in their community, stem the tide of drug addiction, prevent drug overdoses, and save lives. At the same time, the technology and framework are scalable, so I’m truly hopeful that we can extend the benefits nationwide.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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