In Today’s Q&A on Research.Reveal. Paul Hugh-Jones talks with Fraser McNaughton, Chief Marketing Officer at Grant Thornton Australia, about his experience designing and implementing a CX program and the important role CX plays in professional services.
This is part of an on-going series exploring how professional services firms are thinking about and approaching areas of strategic interest.
Fraser, thank you for sharing your thoughts with subscribers to beaton’s Research.Reveal. blog. I am looking forward to exploring how you think about the strategic drivers, program development, opportunities and challenges, and impact of culture in managing CX.
Q: Why is CX such a strategic focus for professional services?
A: For me there are a few reasons, Paul. Most importantly, we operate in a hyper-competitive environment and if you don’t truly understand your customers, you can’t possibly react to their needs and wants in a timely or effective manner. No longer can businesses take for granted the loyalty and relationships we have with our customers, we’ve got to be focusing on continuous improvement. Knowing the things that matter most to our customers is key: those little things that make us brilliant in their eyes or conversely, those moments of pain that they endure. Doing more of the magical things, celebrating them internally, and removing or reducing the pain can have a major effect on client loyalty, as well as revenue growth.
A distinctive CX is a differentiator for firms. As we know, it’s not easy to differentiate our services from our close competitors, especially those compliance services where clients see little value. Developing a unique or signature way in how we deliver those services will make a business stand apart from others, leading to further revenue growth opportunities.
Comment: So, the strategy behind CX is to drive client loyalty and revenue in a competitive market by identifying and removing points of pain and effort and delivering moments of magic. Fraser, I’d be interested to talk more with you about signature interactions at another time.
Q: What are the key learnings from designing your CX program?
A: For me personally it was mainly about gaining insight on the sheer amount of customer and prospect interactions we have. From how our customers become aware of us, why they choose us as their advisor, how we deliver the service, to how we interact with them on an ongoing basis, it was truly eye-opening. While we’ve always had a very active client feedback program, going so much deeper with clients through independent customer interviews, internal partner interviews and other data analysis gave us such an in-depth view of the experience our customers have with us. Thankfully, there were many positives. But there were also quite clear areas in which we needed to improve. The key for us was truly understanding the customer’s journey with us, and where we needed to focus as a priority.
Through the journey mapping process, one thing that stood out for me was understanding the client’s emotional journey with us; it was the first time we had measured this. Seeing words like ‘confident’, ‘engaged’ and ‘delighted’ is a real boost and very much worth celebrating. However, at the other end of the scale, when clients comment that they are ‘frustrated’, ‘disappointed’ and ‘angry’, it really makes you think “What are we doing to make them feel like that, and how can we change it?”. Quite often the solution is small, simple and zero-cost improvements that have to be made and often – deep down – we knew those were issues already. Visually seeing the clients’ emotions in the journey map really helped us change the conversation internally and begin to take steps to remedy those pain points.
We used an independent consultant to help design our program and conduct the research externally and internally. That was extremely important because they ensured impartiality through the whole process; what we heard internally was confronting for some. I very much appreciate the challenging conversations we had with our consultant when going through the design process. This personally took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to think differently.
Comment: Thanks for sharing the journey mapping process, including the emotional journey component. It is good to hear how you successfully combined your own client feedback with independent research and external, objective expertise.
Q: What are the opportunities and challenges in successfully implementing a CX program?
A: There are many opportunities, revenue growth being top of the tree for me. When clients are demanding more and more from their providers and advisors, proving value is key. If you can provide an enhanced CX that’s got to have a positive effect on your top and bottom lines. Other opportunities are engaging with your people – what makes them proud to be part of your firm and what CX elements do they think would improve the way you showcase that to your clients? Understanding that and discussing internally is powerful and motivating and can only have a future positive effect on client relationships.
Challenges? The biggest is getting partner time to focus and support CX initiatives. As we know, the time demands on partners are huge, so you need to help clear the clutter and provide space for them to engage on CX. My experience in the work we are doing with two service lines is that once our partners understood the value, their eagerness to participate and make positive change is massive.
For any CX program that you may run, I believe it’s very important that it’s not seen as ‘just another marketing initiative’. CX needs to be owned by the business and in effect every person in our firm has a role to play from the moment a client steps into our office through to the completion of the engagement and onwards. The challenge is to try and get all our people singing from the same hymn sheet, so having ‘fee-earners’ and ‘non-fee-earners’ at various levels championing the cause is imperative.
Comment: I like your insight that whilst CX must be led by partners, every person in Grant Thornton has a role to play … and that showcasing positive CX elements makes people proud of their role and the firm. Also, beaton’s experience reinforces your point on CX lifting the bottom line, as minimising pain also reduces associated write-offs, lost clients and negative word-of-mouth.
Q: How do you measure success for the client and the firm?
A: In several ways Paul. As mentioned, we have an active client feedback program where we measure our effectiveness at the end of every engagement. As a metric we measure NPS and CXI (client experience index), the latter being the overall score of 5 CX questions asked within our client survey.
With our key clients we undertake regular CEO and Executive engagement sessions which focus on their overall relationship experience with us.
We also use – and here comes your plug – the annual beatonbenchmarks surveys to understand how we are being viewed against our closest competitors.
Comment: Thanks for outlining your measurement framework so clearly Fraser, that’s very helpful for anyone looking to set up a CX program and measure / track performance on KPIs. And thanks for the plug too!
Q: What role does culture play?
A: CX is one of the four pillars of our 2020 strategy, so it is something that our people have very much lived and breathed for a while now. As mentioned, our people experience (PX) no doubt drives our client experience, the links are plain to see. If our people are enjoying working at GT and enjoying the work they do, then it absolutely has a positive effect on CX. As we all know though, the opposite also happens, so it’s important to understand that early and rectify, wherever possible.
I’m also very lucky to work closely with my counter-part in People and Culture and we’re united in how we engage our people around the alignment of PX and CX. Our CEO also leads from the front on CX – no doubt his #1 priority – which is hugely important in terms of how we enhance our overall customer experience.
Comment: Great to hear the alignment of CX and PX, which is key to success. This needs CEO leadership which you have, plus a collaborative and strategic relationship between the CMO and Head of People and Culture. As with brand, we can talk about Customer brand and Employment brand … but there is only one Firm Brand.
Q: Last word: Philosophically, how does Grant Thornton think about CX?
A: We can always improve, and we will always strive to improve. We understand that we can’t take our current clients for granted, we’ve always got to have their needs and wants top-of-mind and react and deliver accordingly. At the same time, we also understand the need to focus on how we attract new clients through a differentiated and signature service delivery model; we are currently investing in this.
CX is top-of-mind for us, however we will need to invest more to bring CX to life throughout every service we offer.
Comment: Thanks for sharing your valuable CX insights and experience Fraser!
In coming months Today’s Q&A on Research.Reveal. will feature the views of other prominent thought-leaders from a cross-section of professional services firms. Each will be asked to explore their views in areas of strategic interest.