My first boss in the AEC industry was one I knew quite well: my father. He received a degree in industrial engineering and then became a Professional Engineer in the HVAC industry. Over the years, he built three companies, integrating MEP engineering with architecture, structural and civil engineering, and then eventually working to launch a design-build firm.

Throughout it all, he was always quality-driven. Always. When you hired a Don Butcher firm to design (or build) your project, you knew you were getting quality.

He always stressed the importance of quality throughout every aspect of the businesses, and to reinforce it – lest it not be front and center of our minds at all times! – he brought in memorable sayings and gave us signs for our workspaces. One such sign was about the client: PMCE, which stands for Positive Memorable Customer Experience. He didn't coin the term, but it has been interesting in recent years to see "PMCE" enter the Customer Experience or Client Experience (Cx) vernacular. Perhaps he was ahead of his time, as he was promoting PMCE in the 1990s!

No Chipped Paint

Although PMCE stuck with me through the years (my Dad retired in 2006), he had a second mantra, one that told more of a story, and was thus more easily remembered: "No Chipped Paint."

At company staff meetings he would tell the story of Walt Disney visiting a park with his children, who became excited when they saw a carousel from a distance. But when they approached it, they were very disappointed to see that the horses were old, with their once-shiny paint chipping off.

When Disney conceived Disneyland, he wanted to make sure that the disappointment that his children felt at the carousel would not be repeated in the new park. There would be no chipped paint.

For years I had an 8.5" x 11" piece of paper hanging in my office with three words: "No Chipped Paint."

It was a mantra around the office. If a mistake was made with a drawing or design or client communication, it was viewed as chipped paint. If a client was unhappy or dissatisfied for any reason, there was chipped paint. I can remember my Dad saying, "No chipped paint on this, okay?"

He wanted our clients to have the "Disney experience." Maybe not the wild-eyed wonder of a child entering Disneyland or Disney World for the first time, but nonetheless a satisfying experience that met – or even exceeded – the clients' expectations.

Three decades after I was introduced to the concept, I still catch myself randomly referring to something as "chipped paint" on occasion, and of course people today often look at me with a quizzical look and say, "Huh?"

All Horses Jump

A few years ago, I decided to conduct a bit of research and found that there is even more to the Disney story. There are actually multiple versions of it – one version tells of Walt Disney experiencing the chipped paint as a child. He had waited in line to jump on the carousel, only to be disappointed by the experience. However, the one I've seen referenced the most has Walt Disney regularly visiting a park on Sunday afternoons, with his two young daughters. They are enamored with the carousel, its beautiful paint, its bright colors, and the calliope belting out music as the horses go round and round.

Upon approaching the carousel to ride it, however, the Disney family is disappointed to find that not only do the horses have cracked and chipped paint, but only horses on the outside "jump" up and down. The horses on the inside of the carousel are bolted in place, preventing any movement. Their perception of the carousel from a distance is merely an illusion.

Walt Disney never forgot the disappointment of that experience, and his unofficial vision for Disneyland became "No Chipped Paint. All Horses Jump."

Whichever version of the story is correct, the end result is the same: Disney had an unsatisfactory experience and vowed to never let that happen when he was in charge.

Apply that to the experience that clients have with your firm. Is chipped paint a regular occurrence? Do all your horses jump, or are some bolted to the floor? In other words, if your clients' experience is the carousel, what is the ride like for them?

Are you delivering as "promised" – by the language you use in marketing materials, business development, proposals, and project management – or are all the little things taking away from the overall experience?

Do you truly deliver the experience – not just the work, because delivering a project is far more than just having a "deliverable" – in a way that continually meets or exceeds the expectations of your clients? Or is it merely an illusion, leading to unhappy clients – who become former clients, and warn other prospective clients about the experience?

If your paint is chipped and all your horses aren't jumping, perhaps it is a time to revisit your client experience program and take a page from Walt Disney. One coat of paint won't cut it. You need to walk through your park daily to make sure no paint has chipped over the past day, and to ensure that all the horses are still jumping.