Consultants must offer top B2B customer experience to thrive

21 July 2022 7 min. read

Major challenges for the broader economy mean demand for consultants around the world is spiking – but to capitalise on that, firms need to stand out from the competition by offering improved customer experience. Chris Nichols, Microsoft Dynamics Consultant at Columbus UK, argues that consulting firms need an integrated system to manage project activity in one place and provide full visibility across every operation. 

According to Benchmark International research, the global management consulting market is forecast to be worth $973.67 billion by the end of 2022, as demand for consulting services reaches a new post-pandemic peak. But even this positive outlook for the industry brings a new set of challenges for consultants to manage more projects and successfully plan for prospective business opportunities.

In today’s competitive market, customer expectations in the B2B market are rising in line with new levels of consumer-facing levels of B2C customer service, and the increased importance of CX means consulting companies need to provide quality service where projects are not only delivered on-time and on-budget but also exceed client expectations. For the 80% of the market that still relies on insufficient spreadsheets, it will be a struggle to deliver the level of CX that customers now expect without future assistance from digital technologies.

Consultants must offer top B2B customer experience to thrive

With 70% of all projects failing to fulfil the demands of project stakeholders, the odds are starting to stack up against the less tech-integrated. Consulting firms need to update their disparate ERP and PSA (Professional Service Automation) systems with more integrated solutions, such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 Project Operations, to provide a connected view of all ongoing project and business operations for seamless project progress and future planning. Here are four crucial ways digital integration can help consulting firms improve project delivery, competitiveness, and business longevity:

Heighten results with resource optimisation

A successful project is one that is delivered on time, on budget and to the customer’s expectations – and effective resource management is key to fulfilling these criteria. With the right integrated system, consultants can see which resources and employee skills are available and needed at any one time, and remove siloes to ensure disparate teams are connected to each other, regardless of their location. This allows consulting firms to streamline employee scheduling and task management to increase productivity for both the operational and administrative parts of the business.

With integrated solutions, such as D365 Project Operations, consultants can gain a greater level of global transparency, which allows resource managers to easily book people from different countries with the right skill set for specific projects. This not only saves time, money and resources but allows for a reactive shift whereby businesses can use the technology to deliver the information straight to the necessary individual and ensure projects are delivered within the right timescale to meet and exceed customer expectations.

Value consultants’ time with automated billing

Time is the greatest financial asset and consulting organisations need to ensure they are making the most of their employees’ time. Billable hours are a crucial source of revenue but are often subject to human error as mistakes in logging work hours are common, meaning the true value of worked hours is misrepresented. On top of this, it is vital that the valuable time of employees and their expertise is optimised rather than being wasted on non-billable activities, such as simple administrative tasks.

All-in-one ERP and PSA systems can greatly improve the use and value of your consultants’ time – increasing efficiency and driving profitability. Time and expense management tools can forecast remaining effort for each project activity task, record costs, and automate billing and invoicing.

Integrated systems with subcontracting release capabilities can have major benefits for consulting firms. For instance, sales team can raise a subcontract in the system, send over to the finance team to automatically manage and update the portal for subcontractors to bid for work and input their timesheets. Subcontractor details also appear on a universal resource scheduler, which allows businesses to compare skills and costs between internal resources and subcontractors. This ensures that projects remain within budget and satisfy customer expectations.

Balance between current operations and long-term growth

The growth in consulting demand means business is booming, but with many companies stretched beyond international borders and across multiple industries, management becomes increasingly complex. Consulting organisations can become overwhelmed by the complexities of current projects, with the 2021 Project Management Report citing 59% of project managers today running between two and five projects, meaning firms can often struggle to balance their time between working on current projects and planning for future ones. Shifts in customer budgets and project scopes create additional complexities and have the potential to impact project timelines and team productivity.

To overcome these challenges, it’s important for companies to gain a deeper understanding of upcoming projects, from expected costs to schedules, risks and revenue. An integrated ERP and PSA solution that brings together key areas of a project-centric business can provide the full visibility of clients and projects necessary to make informed decisions – helping companies nurture existing customer relationships and develop new service offerings.

AI-driven recommendations and forecasting capabilities, for instance, can highlight project risks such as unmet milestones, over-budget projects and unpaid invoices. This helps mitigate any future problems and ensure that companies deliver projects in the most efficient way possible to suit customer needs.

Improve customer experience with greater accessibility

Following the rise in consumer-facing service offerings, increased customer expectations have infiltrated the world of consulting as clients now expect to receive similar levels of service. On-the-go and on-demand information have become the new standard. Customer autonomy is one key way consultants can address this new challenge with technological assistance. For instance, firms can use integrated systems to give customers the ability to check up on project progress via a user-friendly dashboard and automate certain manual activities to simplify and accelerate the overall process.

But even beyond this required level of autonomy, customers expect more transparency, accountability, higher quality of work and faster delivery. In other words, they want a better customer experience.

With an integrated ERP and PSA system, features such as AI-driven suggestions can track customer interactions and preferences, allowing consulting businesses to tailor communications unique to the customer. This intelligent functionality also helps consultants manage project KPIs on a regular basis and report them back to the customer to set accurate expectations that enhance the customer experience.

Live up to great customer expectations

Competition is fierce in the consulting industry and customer expectations will only continue to grow. A business’ ability to manage the different elements of project operations including resources, time scales, budgets and subcontractors will determine how successfully they can deliver on these new expectations.

Consulting firms need digitally advanced systems that seamlessly integrate the many layers of management required to fully control and oversee consulting projects in order to deliver the highest quality at the right price and the right timeframe.