beaton has just published the Finalists in the 2018 Client Choice Awards. The winners will be announced at the Awards dinner in Melbourne on 14th March.
People often ask us how firms win, and what differentiates winning firms … if you are interested please read on.
How firms win
The firm with the highest score for client service in their professional category wins, as rated by clients who have used their services in the last 12 months, in beaton’s annual quantitative benchmarking study beatonbenchmarks, now in its 16th year.
That is the simple answer.
The more complex and valuable questions are HOW do they win? And WHAT do they do that differentiates them?
We asked the CEOs and CMOs of 2017 Client Choice Awards winning firms how they won.
There were four consistent themes. Each theme has “specific ideas” on which beaton has expanded, based on our knowledge of the winning firms.
1. Clients first / Client-centricity
“Clients first” – prioritising clients’ needs and interests ahead of partners, staff, profit
“Focus on our clients” - an example is that every meeting agenda, for every function has clients as the first agenda point (possibly after safety for consulting engineers)
“Client focus” – is the opposite of internal focus. How much time do your practitioners spend communicating with clients vs. internally? This is a key challenge for any firm going through a structural change e.g. merger, when clients more often than not notice a loss of focus and this causes a dip in our beatonbenchmarks tracking data. Similarly, a new CEO who is client-focused, motivates practitioners to “get out to see our clients” and walks the talk causes an immediate jump in our tracking data.
“Put yourself in the client’s shoes” – in order to understand fully the client’s business, issues and needs, so that you can discuss options and share your experience in their specific area of need. This also enables you to match service and communication expectations.
“Long-term relationships” – managing, developing and evolving the client relationship for the long-term – through peaks and particularly troughs.
One more point – clients first does not mean working to serve a client at the expense of the firm. Earning sub-optimal profit from the relationship or expecting the firm’s staff to tolerate rudeness is not acceptable – or sustainable in the long-run. Firms have the right to say ‘No’, just like clients do.
2. Excellent client service experience … consistently
“Keep our clients happy” – understanding what is important to each client, meeting/exceeding expectations and seeking and acting on client feedback. ‘Keeping’ recognises that each client will at times be less happy and that this requires real-time checks and actions.
“How we interact with clients” – most things come down to better communication and being easy to do business with – more face-to-face and telephone, less email. Consultative, engaging, open style. Reliability and responsiveness.
“Delivering exceptional value” – links back to putting yourself in the client’s shoes to deeply understand what is important and valuable to the client (and what isn’t), then co-developing the best commercial approach. beatonbenchmarks tracking data shows that clients across the professions rate the value they receive from their firms as increasing each year. This is not about reducing pricing. An example of these trends for the legal industry can be seen in the chart below:
“Innovation” – everyone is talking about innovation, and there is a great deal of activity and positioning. The key is linking innovation to what each client needs and values. beaton has just completed research on how clients view innovation and what they expect from firms in law, consulting engineering and accountancy to help unpack innovation in concrete, practical terms for both firms and clients.
“Consistency” – is the differentiator for client service experience. All firms deliver excellent service, but beatonbenchmarks research shows that they also deliver average and poor service. Inconsistency, whether in an office, a service line, or across a large client, drags a firm down. Within the limits of privacy law, beaton’s Dissatisfied Client Diagnostic is able to pin-point from where the lowest scores are coming, what characterises these clients, and with what they dissatisfied.
Winning firms are the most consistent and have the smallest proportion of dissatisfied clients. The beatonbenchmarks chart below demonstrates the variability in consistency of client service across Australian engineering firms.
3. Client feedback and action
“Client feedback” and “Voice of Client’” – are the cornerstones of client focus and service excellence. The range of options for measuring feedback from clients includes:
At relationship and project (transactional) level
Type of feedback i.e. qualitative and quantitative
Benchmarking and tracking
Method i.e. DIY and external supplier
KPIs e.g. Net Promoter Score (NPS) and open-ended comments on the relationship.
“Client listening” means having an independent person listening to the client, not talking, asking very few questions, not seeking to resolve issues.
“Action feedback” because client feedback has no value to your client unless you action it quickly. Our beatonbenchmarks research shows that winning firms are reducing their dissatisfied clients to less than 10%. Best practice is now mid- and post-project surveys and resolving issues for dissatisfied clients quickly. Our beatondebrief service is being used successfully by firms for this purpose.
4. Leadership, Purpose and Culture aligned to clients
“Great staff aligned to the same purpose for clients” – the leaders of winning firms articulate their firm’s purpose for clients using clear, simple, short sentences. Their staff are motivated by their purpose for clients; and great, motivated staff deliver excellent results. beaton is currently exploring the correlation between staff NPS and client NPS.
“Bring our purpose and values to life with our clients” – purpose and values need to come off the firm strategy page and performance review forms and be lived and breathed with clients: every interaction, every day, everybody.
“Our service to our clients reflects our internal service” – how can you be reliable with your client if a colleague on your project team is unreliable as a team member? The firm that scores the highest rating for reliability for clients will have the highest internal service reliability. Ditto for responsiveness, ease of doing business and other service attributes we measure.
“Leadership” – the biggest factor for winning firms is having the CEO making clients her/his top priority and personally advocating for everything written here.
At first glance these comments seem obvious and easy to replicate. In fact, most firms would claim that they already do these things.
However, what differentiates each of the winning firms is that they ‘walk the talk’, consistently.
What does your firm need to do to win?
Paul Hugh-Jones is a partner of beaton. You can also connect with Paul on LinkedIn and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out these links for more insights on this topic:
A tale of two cities: Do you know your dissatisfied clients? in Research.Reveal. the beaton research blog, August 2017, by Shanan Kan, beaton’s Product Manager
Transactional versus relationship NPS surveys: Why the difference matters in Research.Reveal. the beaton research blog October 2016, by Grant Hollings, beaton’s Research Manager
Hear the voice of clients, the keynote address by my colleague, Dr George Beaton, at the 2017 Client Choice Awards gala dinner in which George likened feedback to breathing oxygen
Why overall client service consistency matters so much in Research.Reveal. the beaton research blog, May 2016 by George Beaton, beaton’s Executive Chairman