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Is your firm set up for Client Excellence?

​William Gibson captured an essence when he wrote 'The future is already here – it's just not very evenly distributed'.

Spot the pattern and ask yourself how many of these dots connect for your firm: Client decisions no longer based purely on expertise? High levels of competition? New entrants emerging with innovative offerings? Core services being commoditised in a buyers’ market? Constant price-down pressure from clients who seem to want more for less? COVID amplifying all this?

Faced with these dynamics, professional services businesses are having to respond and adapt quickly. The fundamentals of a successful firm of highly satisfied clients plus an engaged workforce have never been more important than they are today. Satisfied clients represent profit growth, cross-sell opportunities, referrals and recommendations. An engaged workforce is a critical enabler.

Many, if not all, firms claim to offer an excellent client experience, but our research indicates clearly that this is not the case. Can your firm confidently demonstrate that ‘excellent client experience is how we do things around here?’

At beaton, we are fortunate to work with some great businesses who were successful before COVID and remain so now.

The purpose of this piece is to share some of our views and insights into what defines a firm that not only claims – but also delivers – on the promise of excellent client experience.

There are some features from firm leadership that we call cornerstones. In our view, these are the must do’s to enable a firm to live and breathe excellent client experience

What are those cornerstones?

1. A well-formed view of the organisation’s strategic imperatives, informed by market and client evidence against which to track performance and progress.

  • Are the strategic imperatives clear in your firm?

  • Once strategies are defined, is there deliberate focus placed on the measurements (KPIs) that will inform progress and achievement?

  • Are strategy setting and ongoing performance measured against facts/data or overly influenced by opinion/anecdote?

  • Or more worryingly, does the loudest voice at the Exec table influence decisions regardless of the facts?

2. An Executive team that understand the commercial value of gathering and using client feedback. Leadership aligns with the evidence that client feedback represents ROI and is much more than a ‘hygiene factor’ of doing business. (read about recent evidence published by Hinge)

  • As an Exec team does whether your key clients are satisfied or not, feature on your monthly agenda?

  • Is client satisfaction a KPI for Leadership?

  • Do you have client insights and tracked measurements available at the touch of a button that tells you this?

  • In short, is client data the oxygen of your business and a basis for your decision making?

3. Recognition and understanding of Client Experience (CX) as a term and a concept, i.e. shared understanding that clients choose you as an individual practitioner and as a firm based on many aspects of their experience with your firm and with your competitors, either directly or by reputation. Clients’ decision-making and firms’ ability to influence clients run far deeper than the traditional BD and marketing approaches.

  • Is Leadership clear on what CX means for the firm and its clients?

  • Does everyone in the firm know the part they need to play? From Receptionist to Graduate to Senior Partner to Accounts Payable Officer, is everyone equipped with the appropriate knowledge, mindset, skills and discipline to deliver excellent CX?

  • Alongside other key functions like People and Culture and Finance, does someone with the title “CX” (or equivalent) sit at the Leadership table?

As the term ‘cornerstone’ suggests, the environment, culture and organisational norms that enable excellent client experience to develop and be sustained rely on these features.

But of course, getting the leadership house in order is not the panacea.

What else exists in those firms that consistently achieve excellence?

1. Systematic initiatives to address the skills, behaviours, processes and technology required to:

  • Achieve the firm’s strategic imperatives (e.g. improve contribution margins on certain work types or client types, improve bid:win ratios, improve CX),

  • Define and enforce accountabilities across the firm.

2. Robust change management and internal communications expertise and processes such as ADKAR to maximise the chances of sustained firm-wide focus.

3. Client measurements that pervade the organisation. i.e. client data that is consistent, frequent, transparent and accessible to all of the firm so that:

  • Staff are motivated to do better and/or feel recognised for their work

  • Issues are resolved promptly by those that can

  • Successes are celebrated

  • Accountability for client feedback is widespread across the firm

  • Talent is attracted to firms by high performing client service cultures and reputations.

We live in an 'experience economy'

Products and services are differentiated by the entire end-to-end experience.

Consider why half of all pizzas delivered are now Domino’s and not Pizza Hut’s. Is it because the pizza is so much better? Or is it because we benefit from Domino’s massive investment in the experience from placing the order to delivery to your front door?

It may cause fear to compare a pizza with legal services, of course. Still, we cannot escape the reality that regardless of the product or service, as consumers, we have far higher expectations than ever before. The product or service is only one factor in what enables those expectations to be met or unmet.

Our observations indicate the firms that consistently outperform their rivals, especially in these challenging times, understand this. They know all of the above. And they practise it.

If the cornerstones are in place, it bodes well for whatever challenges lie ahead in this increasingly competitive world.

And, if not? It's time to connect William Gibson's dots and put your cornerstones in place.

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