Better RFP Responses & Management
Keep ’em Smiling

Keep ’em Smiling

Today Seth’s blog builds on a tippy canoe.

The 16-foot canvas Prospector canoe made by the Chestnut Canoe Company
is not the fastest or the lightest or the cheapest canoe
but it is an elegant canoe.

I’ll have to take his word for it. I’m an occasional kayaker, not a canoeist.

Practical elegance doesn’t mean that the canoe will never capsize.
It means that the thing we built was worth building,
and it left the user feeling better, not worse, about their choice.

“Practical elegance doesn’t mean that the canoe will never capsize” or, as the vernacular has it, “Shit happens.” How can we make our clients feel good about choosing us even then?

Too often, “customer service” has come to mean “answer the phone and give a refund.”

Having recently bought a laptop where they quite reasonably changed-out the graphics card (due to obsolescence) but also quietly added a touchscreen I didn’t order/want and omitted software I *had* paid for, it took me hours on the phone to get to someone who could give me a refund for said software. And you know what? By that time, that was the minimum acceptable response: Necessary but not sufficient to make me feel good about having chosen them.

Customer service begins long before something breaks.
It’s about a commitment to the experience.
Creating delight before it’s expected.
Building empathy and insight into the interactions that people will choose to have with you.

So what’s the lesson for Proposal Land where we usually have clients, not individual customers? It’s the same thing. We have to commit to the experience, whatever that means to the client’s representatives:

  • Weekly instead of quarterly reports?
  • Reports pushed to emails instead of having to be pulled off a portal?
  • Follow-up phone calls to see if there are any questions about those reports?
  • Quarterly briefings on the contract’s key performance indicators?
  • Phone calls to check in when things are humming along as well as when something goes wrong?
  • More contact with our senior executives, signalling that the whole company cares?

And when we do have individual customers (aka end users) in the client’s organization — say, deployed members of the Canadian Armed Forces on a camp-services contract, or client employees accessing relocation services for a job-driven move, or retirees trying to get the right dagnabbed tax withheld from their pensions — then we must figure out how to treat them as valued customers rather than nuisances.

And when we figure out what that takes — hiring people predisposed to this mindset, training people to enhance their skills, recording data about interactions, soliciting and using customer/client input, including measures of the desired behaviours in our quality inspection sheets — then we document that and talk about it in our proposals, along with the client kudos that will naturally come our way.

Of course this takes effort.
So do all the other things that go into a product or service.



  1. Jim Taylor

    I keep returning to the concept that we have relationships with persons, not with abstract entities (corporations, clients, customers, governments, churches, institutions, etc.). Years ago, the U.C. Observer was printed by RBW, a giant outfit in Owen Sound. They assigned one person, John Jackson (yes, that’s his real name), to be liaison with the Observer. It enormously simplified our own operations to ask “What does John need to know about this” or “What does John expect from us” compared to guessing the needs of a vast corporation.
    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim T – An excellent point. Organizations (even clients) are made up of people. Not that they don’t have institutional constraints but they’re still people, and best thought of that way.

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