In March each year since 2005 the Client Choice Awards have celebrated truly outstanding professional service firms, and now for the first time are also celebrating outstanding professional practitioners.
In this post Keith Dugdale, one of Australia's leading consultants on how teams and organisations improve the trust they have with their clients, captures the insights of three of the outstanding professional practitioners who won 2015 Client Choice Awards. They share their views on what it takes to be voted by clients as the best of the best.
From Keith's interview with with Graeme Jennings of Accru Page Kirk & Jennings
Keith: Congratulations on the award, Graeme. Tell me how it all came about?
Graeme: It was a real surprise. The first I knew that the award existed, let alone that I was being considered for it, was when I received the email saying I was a finalist. Personally, I’ve always operated with the client being my centre of focus, but the award is really about what the whole firm does and not just what I do. It’s nice to get my five minutes in the sun, but it’s a really good recognition for everyone in the business.
Keith: It’s great to hear that the whole firm works with the same ethos. Did they all get a kick out of your win?
Graeme: Absolutely. They even surprised me with a balloon festival in the office!
Keith: So tell me a bit about your history and how you got to where you are.
Graeme: I started life in Deloitte back in the early 1980s. In those days relationships were all new, and working in audit you had to learn how to talk to people. As the firm grew larger and merged they made a decision that with their processes and cost structure they could not afford to keep the smaller clients, especially with the way the client relationships had to be nurtured. So I made the conscious decision with two others from Deloitte to leave and start our own practice where relationships were the focus. And here I am over 25 years later still doing it. Very often with the same clients from when we started.
Keith: Tell me a bit about what you mean by relationships being the focus?
Graeme: To really build trust with a client you need to always add value. What that means to me is you need to be always thinking about AND: ‘And what else can I do to help?’
That help is rarely anything we would charge for, but it’s something that really helps that person. They pay me for doing their tax return and preparing their financial statements, but the greatest value may be when I give them an insight that helps their business or their life, or when I connect them to someone who can help in a different area.
Keith: Could you give me an example?
Graeme: To be able to truly add value I need to really understand that client’s world. It would be presumptuous of me to walk into a business and just assume I could help them. I may have insights based on other similar businesses, but I have no understanding of what is happening in that person’s world – what is happening in their family, the business trends, work-life balance etc. Until I understand all that I cannot provide real value. Yes I can do their tax return and financial statements but that may not add value.
From Keith's interview with Grant Holman of Wood & Grieve Engineers
Keith: Congratulations Grant on winning the Client Choice Award. What do you put the award win down to?
Grant: I would have to say the team. I probably got named because I’m the office manager and as a result I naturally get the most client exposure, but the award is the result of the ethos in the firm. Here at WGE, it really is all about our clients.
Keith: Tell me a bit about that ethos.
Grant: Coming to work for WGE was my first job as an engineer. I applied for a few roles but some of the firms I applied to were looking purely for technical experts. WGE, on the other hand, were looking for someone different, more rounded, which I felt was more me.
Keith: In what way?
Grant: Throughout university and before I joined WGE I had several jobs in hospitality and the like, so I was possibly more attuned to the ‘human dynamic’ than some people – and that fitted the WGE culture, which I thrive in. After a year the firm gave me an opportunity to help the recently established Melbourne office at a very early stage in my career. That is part of the culture here – everyone is given the opportunity and support to get involved and do things outside their technical role – and is then rewarded accordingly.
Keith: Can you tell me a bit more about that culture?
Grant: We have three pillars in the business. Exceptional Service, Great People and High Performance. Everyone understands them and lives them – which I think largely comes down to the fact that we know each other really well, we go out of our way to help each other out, so we all feel accountable for the livelihood of our business and it being the best it can be.
Keith: Is there anything else in particular that you do to make sure your pillars are ‘adhered’ to?
From Keith's interview with Mark Woolley from McInnes Wilson
Keith: So what do you think is behind your success?
Mark: I think there are two main things. Firstly, the whole firm has a BD centric culture. Even our new graduates have clear BD expectations in their KPIs. Secondly, the nature of my work means that we have to provide exceptional service to our clients. We don’t have time to keep in contact through having coffee and the like between matters given the sheer volume of client numbers, so everyone in the team knows they have two responsibilities: to provide exceptional service when working on a matter, and to be on the front foot when it comes to door knocking and building relationships.
Keith: Whilst that approach may seem common sense to you, that attitude is actually not common in professional services. What do you put it down to?
Mark: If I look back a decade or so, we had leadership in place who recognised that relationships had to be our differentiator and that BD was everyone’s responsibility. I have been here since I graduated from University and this was drummed into me from day one. We also recognise as a firm that different divisions will have boom times and difficult times over any given period, therefore we all work together to help each other out. I also suspect that only about 20% of what I do is actually about the law. Most of my conversations are about the client’s business and industry. Providing commercial ideas and advice are critical.
Keith: I see many firms, when times get tougher, falling into the trap of focusing on responding to RFPs even when they have little or no chance of winning (sometimes even at a loss). What is McInnes Wilson’s approach to bidding?
Mark: Generally speaking we only bid if we have the right relationship before the RFP is issued. There are exceptions but they are rare. We need to focus on relationships before any RFP is issued. That whole proposal process is so painful, expensive and demoralising. We should only get involved in it if we have a relationship with the client and a very good chance of winning.
Keith: You’ve talked a lot about the importance of client service, and mentioned response times as being a key aspect of this, but what else would you say are the three things you do that you think create exceptional client service?
Mark: Firstly, I would say taking the time to understand a client’s business and the importance of how a transaction fits into the success or otherwise of that business. Second, it’s consistency of service across the firm. For example, I need need to ensure they experience the same response from my team as they do from me (or in fact from all divisions in the firm if they need to be referred for work). And lastly I’d say being available. Some client’s just need to talk issues through and emails/letters won’t work for them!
Keith Dugdale picKeith Dugdale is a best-selling author and managing director of The Business of Trust, a consultancy that helps people and organisations measure, build and manage the trust they have in their relationships with other people and organisations to grow sales.
Beaton Research + Consulting is delighted to be associated with Keith Dugdale as member of the Beaton virtual community through his posts on Research. Reveal. | The Beaton Research Blog.
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