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How professional services firms can better support their clients affected by COVID-19

To help professional services firms better understand how they can support their clients during the COVID-19 pandemic, beaton surveyed the clients of professional services firms in Australia and New Zealand. The survey covered clients of firms delivering services in Accounting and consulting, Built and natural environment, and Legal and related fields. Our purpose was to understand if clients were happy with the support they received from their professional services firms, and what their professional services firms could be doing differently to be better business partners in response to COVID-19. We present some highlights of the findings in this post.


Clients were asked to indicate the level of impact that COVID-19 was having on their organisation. In each of the three professions surveyed at least 70% of clients indicated some level of negative COVID-19 impact. Furthermore, at least 40% of clients said that COVID-19 had had a moderate to large negative impact on their organisation (Figure 1). On the other hand, one-fifth to one-quarter of clients reported a positive or no COVID-19 impact.

Figure 1 – Impact of COVID-19 on clients


Clients were then asked what their professional services firms could be doing differently or additionally to be better business partners during COVID-19. At least 30% of clients for each profession said that their main professional services firm could be doing “nothing” additionally or differently to be a better business partner (Figure 2). For clients of legal and related services firms, this number rises to 41% of clients. This indicates that for a sizeable proportion of clients, their main professional services firm was doing all that could be expected to help their clients cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Figure 2 – % of clients stating their main professional services firm could do “nothing” differently or additionally to be a better business partner during COVID-19


Conversely, this also means that 70% to 59% of clients stated that there are areas where they thought their main professional services firm could be doing something additionally or differently to be a better business partner during COVID-19. There are four main themes in the open-ended comments for the Legal and related services profession.


1 - Responsiveness / proactive

With the social and business environment changing and evolving due to COVID-19, it is vital that law firms proactively keep their clients informed. Clients want their law firm to be responsive to changes and proactively reach out to them with assistance, information, and guidance.

2 - Advice

Law firms must continue to deliver market-leading advice to their clients irrespective of the difficulties caused by COVID-19. The advice must be commercial and explicitly tailored to their client’s area of need.

3 - Communication

Clients want regular, consistent and concise communication from their law firms. Firms also need to adapt their communication to the virtual environment and embrace the virtual world's technological opportunities.

4 – Cost consciousness

As many clients are experiencing financial stress due to COVID-19, law firms need to improve their cost consciousness and consider a fixed price fee structure to give clients more cost certainty.

There are four main themes in the open-ended comments for the Accounting and related services profession.


1 – Communication

The virtual environment offers new ways to communicate and collaborate with clients, from virtual meetings and webinars to online learning sessions. Accounting firms need to adapt their communication to remote working and make use of new opportunities.

2 – Advice / information

Clients want advice from their accounting firm on the various government measures designed to help and support businesses survive and recover from COVID-19. Accounting firms are vital in assisting companies in understanding and leveraging this government support.

3 – Responsiveness/proactive

Clients want their accounting firm to be proactive and responsive. Clients want their firm to approach them proactively to ensure that they know and meet any requirements for government support.

4 – Client focus/understanding

Accounting firms need to show that they are focused on their clients. They can do this by showing understanding and patience with clients and showing their clients that they know how their clients operate and their commercial goals.

For the Built and natural environment profession there were also four main themes.


1 – Advice

Clients need the ability to call upon expert and innovative advice. The advice provided needs to be future-orientated and incorporate changing social demands resulting from COVID-19.

2 – Price /cost /fees

With many clients feeling financial stress, built and natural environment firms need to be sympathetic to how this affects their clients and offer flexible, transparent and competitive pricing options.

3 – Communication

Built and natural environment firms need to make better use of online tools to ensure regular dialogue with clients. Clients need to feel that they have not “fallen off the radar” and receive critical information.

4 – Responsiveness

Clients need their built and natural environment firm to be proactive and responsive. To feel certainty, clients need their firm to be responsive to changing client needs and be proactive in showing that they are on top of client projects and requests.

Overall there are similarities between the three professions. Expert advice is paramount, whether about support schemes offered by the government or about specific projects. Communication needs to be responsive and proactive. With the business and social environment changing quickly, clients don’t want “radio silence” from their professional services firms. Dialogue between firms and clients must continue and adapt to the virtual environment. For the legal and built and natural environment professions, there was also a greater emphasis on examining costs and fee structures. With many businesses feeling financial stress due to COVID-19, clients want more certainty and transparency around pricing.


Author

Grant Hollings is the Research Manager at beaton.


Details of the full COVID Impact Report and how to download it may be found here.

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