Differentiating your firm through Client Service

“Client service has the potential to set you apart, differentiate you and give you the competitive edge, but also to ruin your reputation and position in the market.”

Client service has a lot of definitions and means different things to different people. Doing the basic right to keep the client happy might be enough in a retail and wholesale business, but for professional service firms, client service plays a whole different role. Client service has the potential to set you apart, differentiate you and give you the competitive edge, but also to ruin your reputation and position in the market.

Professional service is all about the client’s experience when delivering core or supplementary services. We have had the privilege over the past few years to work with and interact closely with many firms across different industries. It is easy to remember a great experience! From the first phone call or email, to the first office visit or personal meeting – a great experience makes you want to go back or tell someone about that moment of truth. A bad experience, on the other hand, damages a hard earned trust relationship and jeopardises loyalty built up over months or years. When it comes to client service – it is all about creating and protecting (at all costs) the experience!  When a client interacts with a firm, the only thing they will remember is the last experience they had. Was the experience exceptional and memorable, unpleasant, frustrating and utterly forgettable?

There are two factors that will influence the client’s experience: 1) Interaction with staff during the service delivery process, and 2) the quality of supplementary services, e.g. the general accessibility to the offices, hospitality when hosting the client, sharing of information during the service delivery process and accurate invoicing, to name but a few. These all contribute to the overall experience the client will have. You might be great at delivering core services like legal advice, financial advice, etc. but poor at delivering the supplementary services that add value to your core service and the overall experience. Getting it right, gives you the most valuable differentiating factor – client loyalty.

Creating a great client experience requires an extraordinary effort by all in the firm to ensure that clients’ needs and expectations are aligned with a strong dedication to exceptional service, client-centred procedures, the firm’s values, and culture. Here are six ways to differentiate your firm by creating and protecting the experience that will keep a client loyal to your firm:

Recruit the right people
In the book, Good to Great, Jim Collins said, “People are not your most important asset, the RIGHT people are.” Most firms do a poor job when hiring people. Spend more time recruiting the right people who share your firm’s values and passion for serving clients. The more compatible staff are with your own values, vision and ethics, the more likely they are to create an experience that the client will remember.

Set performance standards
Outline the behaviours you expect from your staff; tell them your requirements for how professionals should act, speak, and respond to client’s needs and requests. One way to do this is to develop a list of client service commandments that outline attitudes and actions you want your high contact staff to demonstrate.

Sustain on-going training and reinforcement
Good client service skills are not natural for most people. Effective client service training must be reinforced and taught on a regular and recurring basis. Training can set the standard, change behaviour and create accountability.

Specify incentives for good client service behaviour that enhances the experience
Employees want to be paid well, but they also want to be treated with respect and shown appreciation. The high contact staff have the greatest impact on creating excellent client experiences. Reward those who exceed the standards and provide development for those who do not.

Survey your clients and reduce your defection rate 
On average, businesses lose 15-20 percent of their clients each year to their competition. All firms encounter this defection rate, but few do much about it. To improve client retention, conduct regular surveys amongst your top clients to evaluate specific criteria set out by the firm. This requires the clients to make an evaluation based on those specific criteria. Allow staff to see the results of these surveys and use it as a motivator to improve service levels and the overall experience.

Seek out client complaints with enthusiasm
For every complaint you receive from a client, there are at least ten other clients who visited your firm who have the same criticism – they just did not bother to share their bad experiences. A portion of those ten people might just take their business to your competitors. View these complaints as a golden opportunity for improvement.

 Do everything possible to create and protect the client experience! You will be glad you did – and so will your clients. 

For more information contact Tobie vd Merwe at tobie@succeedgroup.co.za

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein.