Re-engineering the Consultants
The Challenge of Remote Consulting
by Simon Ricketts
The author is a Director of Warwick Insight Ltd - a strategy consulting service that has developed a range of remote consulting products and techniques to assist in the provision of strategy consultancy to growth companies.
Warwick Insight Ltd, Creative Strategies
The emergence of the Internet as a serious B2B marketplace has caused many companies (and even industries) to re-evaluate the value that they offer to their customers, and other markets that they could serve. As a result the consulting industry has profited handsomely from such strategic deliberations as it guides its clients through the necessary analyses, thought processes and implementation.
Even so, the consulting industry has been rather slow to consider how the Internet and communications technologies generally could impact on their own industry. In many respects the Internet has championed the customer, giving rise to new value expectations and a degree of market transparency and reach that has no parallel. This must at some point enter the consciousness of the consultant's clients.
Enter Remote Consulting - delivering consulting advice through means other than face-to-face. But more importantly, remote consulting addresses the relationship aspect of consultancy projects that is very often dysfunctional from a customer value point of view.
During the life of a project and as the relationship develops, the consultant loses objectivity and the willingness to challenge and therefore offers decreasing value to the client. Conversely, the client develops a dependency on the consultant that is very profitable for the consultant.
The advantage of remote consulting therefore is to reduce this effect, enabling the customer to pay only for those elements of consulting that deliver real value, and forcing the consultant to apply value engineering thinking to his/her own offering.
What Needs to Happen to make remote consulting work?
There are some fundamental differences in the way that remote consulting delivers value to clients, most particularly:
- The service must be designed to offer the client emotional reassurance without a face-to-face relationship.
- There is a degree of truncation to the consulting process - it forces a strong focus on the real value delivered through all elements of the service.
- As a result of this focus, communications are far more direct, and therefore a mix of media should be used to soften this effect.
- There is more self-help on the part of the client as they cannot rely on the consultant as a 'resource' within the client organisation.
- The consulting style is more likely to be a mixture of mentoring and catalytic styles rather than prescriptive due to distance from the client
To deal with these differences, mechanisms must be found that deal with the key issues:
- Giving the client tangibility of the service from a distance.
- Evidencing a different value equation - otherwise why should the client buy remotely rather than face-to-face?
- Consistency of service delivery will be critical as the consultant cannot 'cover up' service inadequacies through the relationship.
- Service recovery must be absolutely watertight, and ways designed in to ensure that there is enough warning of impending problems.
The Consultancy Practice
So how are consultancy practices going to adapt to this new medium?
- The most important issue is cultural - can they take a true customer orientation and sense the customer's needs from a distance?
- The clients' emotions need to be managed from a distance, as the nature of consultancy is intimate and emotional for the customer - the service must address this.
- The back office needs to be supportive, and we anticipate a more modular approach to consulting with 'mass customisation' techniques.
- Lastly, communication skills are critical as the potential for misunderstanding using remote channels is great.
To conclude, remote consulting offers the most likely means whereby the consulting industry can overcome its poor public perception and deliver real value to its customers. Firms that have real capabilities and can manage the distance issue have nothing to fear and everything to gain.
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