Creating a Client-Centric Firm

Exceptional client service is a critical, yet increasingly rare, differentiator in an era where technology has reduced direct interactions and enabled global competitors to enter local markets.

2 Minute Read

The scarcity of truly outstanding client service enables the firms that deliver to stand out sharply from the competition, charge more for their services, and keep client attrition down. It seems obvious, so why don't all service firms do it? 

Most firms actually do profess a client-centric ethos... but when asked about the tangible actions they take—be it in their hiring practices, established programs, or workforce incentives for client-centric behavior—the answer is usually silence. And that silence signifies well-meaning intentions that lack substance. Given the pivotal role of client relationships in business success, leaving client satisfaction to chance is a missed opportunity.

To truly put clients first, businesses need to understand their clients’ pain points, actively seek feedback and monitor trends, have a comprehensive understanding of the market, and bring personalization to the process:

1. Understand Your Client. Of course, you have to understand what your clients see in their future and what they will need along that journey, their current pain points and unrealized opportunities, and their values. For corporate clients, this requires a deep understanding of your clients’ industries, including the specific headwinds and tailwinds they are facing. With this information, you can tailor and iterate your services (and refocus your marketing efforts) to address specific and relevant needs while delivering value. Tips:

- Conduct Industry-Specific Research: (1) Industry Conference Agendas: By examining the topics chosen for sessions, workshops, and keynote speeches, you can quickly identify what industry leaders are focusing on and tailor your offerings to address these specific concerns, making your services more relevant and valuable to clients in that industry. (2) Regulatory Changes: Staying abreast of regulatory changes affecting your clients’ industries provides critical insight into their future challenges and needs. For instance, if new data protection regulations are introduced in the healthcare sector, firms operating in this space will likely need to adjust their processes and systems to comply.

- Create a Client Advisory Board: (1) Diverse Client Representation: Ensure your board includes clients from various sectors you serve, of different sizes, and at different stages of growth to gather insights across the spectrum of business challenges and service expectations. (2) Structured Feedback Sessions: Organize bi-annual meetings where board members can share their feedback on your services, discuss industry trends, and suggest improvements. (3) Pilot Programs: Proposing pilot programs for new services can elicit valuable feedback from the board before a broader rollout and help refine your offerings to better meet client needs and expectations.

- Analyze Client Data for Insights: (1) Service Utilization Trends: Analyzing data on the services your clients use most and least (including those gaining speed or losing traction) can reveal important trends. (2) Feedback and Satisfaction Metrics: Collecting and analyzing feedback through surveys, feedback forms, and direct communications can highlight areas of strength and opportunities for improvement.

2. Communicate Clearer and Align Expectations. Clear communication with clients isn’t just courteous—it’s commercially necessary to maximize and retain revenue. It starts with articulating your value so you aren’t competing solely on fees to win the work, and

then having a comprehensive intake process where open discussions about budget constraints and project scope set the stage for a partnership built on clarity. Transparent conversations regarding value, budgets, and expectations ward off the write-offs and disagreements that erode profitability or, worse, cause clients to seek alternative providers. Tips:

- Define Scope and Deliverables Precisely: (1) Use of Clear, Concise Language: When drafting scope documents or proposals, avoid industry jargon and legalese that may confuse clients. Instead, opt for straightforward, concise language that clearly outlines what will be delivered, by when, and by whom. For example, instead of “end-to-end solution deployment,” specify “implementation of XYZ software by [date], including configuration, training, and post-launch support.” (2) Incorporate Examples and Case Studies: Include brief examples or case studies of similar projects you've completed. This helps set realistic expectations and gives clients a tangible understanding of what they can expect. For instance, if you're proposing a marketing strategy overhaul, reference a past client who experienced a measurable increase in engagement or sales as a result of your work. (3) Iterative Review and Sign-off Process: Implement a process where the scope and deliverables are reviewed and signed off by the client before the project commences. This could involve a kick-off meeting where the scope document is walked through in detail, and any ambiguities or uncertainties are clarified and documented in a revised version that is formally approved by the client.

- Regular Progress Updates and Milestone Reviews: (1) Establish a Reporting Rhythm: Agree with your client on a schedule for progress reports and updates that matches the pace of the project. For fast-moving projects, weekly updates may be appropriate, whereas monthly updates may suffice for longer-term initiatives. (2) Use Project Management Tools: Leverage project management tools that allow clients to see real-time progress against milestones, foster transparency, and help them to see how their project is advancing in real time. (3) Milestone Review Sessions: Apart from regular updates, schedule formal review sessions at key milestones to discuss the project in more depth, review work completed, and align on adjustments if necessary. It's also a chance to celebrate successes and reinforce the value your firm is delivering.

3. Empower Externally-Facing Teams. Equip your client-facing teams with the knowledge, tools, and authority to address client needs effectively and with personalization. Encourage a customer-centric culture throughout your organization, empowering employees to go the extra mile to exceed customer expectations and allowing for flexible ways to solve issues or say “thank you.” By fostering a culture of empowerment, you allow your employees to deliver exceptional experiences. Tips:

- Comprehensive Training Programs: (1) Skills and Knowledge Enhancement: Develop a training curriculum that covers soft skills like communication, problem-solving, and empathy. For example, a training module might focus on teaching your team how to effectively listen to client concerns and use probing questions to get to the root of their issues, ensuring that solutions are well-targeted and comprehensive. (2) Role-specific Training: Tailor training programs to the specific roles within your client-facing teams. For instance, partners might receive advanced training in negotiation and relationship building, while support staff may focus on troubleshooting specific client interactions.

- Decision-making Autonomy: (1) Guidelines for Autonomous Decision Making: Establish clear guidelines that outline the boundaries within which team members can make decisions without needing higher approval. This could include limits on discounts, the ability to make promises regarding turnaround times, scope of work adjustments, or even small but thoughtful gifts. For example, you might allow team members to offer up to a 5% discount to resolve minor client dissatisfaction issues on the spot. (2) Empowerment through Resources: Provide your teams with access to resources and tools that enable them to make informed decisions quickly, including real-time access to client history, project details, and any previous feedback or issues so everyone can make decisions that are aligned with both client needs and company policies. (3) Training on Decision-making Frameworks: Equip your team with decision-making frameworks that guide them in evaluating options and making choices that best serve the client and the company. This could involve training on cost-benefit analysis, risk assessment, and prioritizing client needs in complex situations. Real-life case studies can be used to practice applying these frameworks in a controlled environment.

- Recognition and Reward Systems: (1) Performance Metrics: Develop performance metrics that specifically recognize and reward client-facing team members for positively impacting client satisfaction; metrics could include client satisfaction scores, resolution times for client issues, and feedback from clients on team member performance. (2) Public Recognition: Implement a program for publicly recognizing employees who go above and beyond in serving clients to reward the individual and also set a benchmark for others. (3) Tangible Rewards: Beyond verbal recognition, consider tangible rewards such as spot bonuses, gift cards, extra time off, or professional development opportunities for team members who demonstrate outstanding performance in client service.

4. Bring Accountability to Satisfaction and Retention. Often, and surprisingly, the critical “relationship partner” role is left undefined and it is assumed those who hold relationships understand how to maintain and enlarge their accounts. Instead, firms can give real responsibility and authority to individuals for client satisfaction and retention. Tips:

- Assign Roles and Responsibilities: (1) Define the Role: Clearly define the role of relationship partners or account managers to encompass all aspects of client engagement, from onboarding through to ongoing service delivery and problem resolution. Relationship partners should act as advocates for their clients within the firm, ensuring that services are aligned with client needs and expectations. (2) Provide Training: Provide relationship partners with training in client relationship management, including communication, negotiation, and conflict resolution skills, to enhance their ability to maintain and bring more revenue into the firm. (3) Portfolio Management: In larger firms, consider how you can connect relationship partners that serve the same industries, business types, or specific challenges to ensure they are bringing the knowledge of the firm with them in helping their individual clients be more successful.

- Develop Client Health Scorecards: (1) Scorecard Metrics: Include a variety of quantitative and qualitative metrics on the scorecard, such as project delivery success rates, responsiveness to client inquiries, client satisfaction scores, and frequency and resolution of client issues. (2) Regular Review and Action: Schedule regular reviews of client health scorecards with team members supporting each client to identify trends, highlight areas of concern, and develop action plans to address any issues.  (3) Transparency with Clients: Share relevant aspects of the health scorecard with clients during regular review meetings to demonstrate your commitment to their satisfaction and provide an opportunity for open dialogue.

- Incorporate Satisfaction Metrics into Performance Reviews: (1) Performance Review Criteria: Integrate client satisfaction and retention metrics into the performance review process for all client-facing employees. (2) Balanced Scorecard Approach: Use a balanced scorecard that includes financial performance, client satisfaction, process efficiency, and learning and growth metrics. This ensures that employees are recognized for contributing to client satisfaction and retention, not just revenue generation. (3) Incentives and Rewards: Align incentives with satisfaction and retention goals, from bonuses and recognition for team members who achieve high satisfaction scores or successfully renew client contracts and consequences for consistently poor performance in these areas.

5. Measure and Track Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Establish relevant KPIs to track the success of your client experience initiatives. Monitor metrics such as client satisfaction scores, retention rates, and referral rates. Data-driven decision-making enables you to make informed adjustments and continuously enhance the customer experience. Tips:

- Select Relevant KPIs: (1) Understanding Leading vs. Lagging Indicators: Leading indicators are predictive measures that signal future events or outcomes, while lagging indicators measure results after an event has occurred. Incorporating both types ensures a balanced view of performance and the ability to anticipate changes. For example, a common lagging indicator is client retention rate which, while critical for understanding historical performance, it doesn’t offer immediate actionable insights to prevent client departures. (2) Incorporating Both for a Balanced Approach: Use leading indicators to adjust strategies proactively. For example, if the number of proactive client meetings decreases, it might signal a need to enhance engagement efforts before it impacts satisfaction and retention. Simultaneously, track lagging indicators like retention rates to evaluate the long-term success of these strategies.

- Regular Review and Adjustment of KPIs: (1) Scheduled KPI Reviews: Conduct review sessions where your team assesses the effectiveness of current KPIs, discusses what’s really happening behind the numbers, and decides on any necessary adjustments. (2) Involving Stakeholders: Include feedback from key stakeholders, including client-facing staff and clients themselves, during these reviews. (3) Adjustment Process: Develop a structured process for adding, removing, or modifying KPIs based on the review sessions, including criteria for evaluating the relevance of KPIs, such as alignment with strategic goals, measurability, and ability to influence through actions.

- Integrate KPIs into Decision-making Processes: (1) Actionable Insights: Ensure that the insights gained from KPI tracking are translated into actionable strategies. For example, if the leading indicator of client engagement sessions shows a decline, implement specific initiatives to boost engagement, such as targeted outreach or special client events. (2) Performance Management: Incorporate KPI performance into individual and team performance evaluations to ensure everyone is focused on activities that directly contribute to improving client satisfaction and business outcomes.

Conclusion

In today’s competitive and fast-paced landscape, standing out requires more than just delivering services; it demands a commitment to crafting extraordinary client experiences at every touchpoint. Maior helps firms to redefine excellence in client service in a way that makes sense for their teams and highlights their unique strengths to ensure resonance and success. Connect with us for a consultation and learn more about how to separate yourself in the sea of sameness.

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