Creating a culture of excellent Client Service

“Client service requires a particular understanding amongst all staff that client service builds trust, strengthens client relationships and ultimately forges a deep sense of loyalty to the firm – mere clients becomes active partners.”

We have seen over the years that professional services firms have an excellent chance of establishing a strong competitive advantage by offering, delivering and maintaining exceptional client service. In today’s competitive environment, firms often make the mistake to assume that everyone in the firm is committed to the delivery of client service to differentiate the firm. Client service requires a particular understanding amongst all staff that client service builds trust, strengthens client relationships and ultimately forges a deep sense of loyalty to the firm – mere clients become active partners. Teamwork is therefore key.

A pro-active way to approach client service is to establish a client service team within the firm. This team is tasked to promote client service, along with active client relationship management. Their focus is to lay a platform to improve existing client relationships, institutionalise best practices for client development, and instil a culture of business development among all professionals. Their aim is to get buy-in from all staff and establish an unmatched service culture. Client service teams are typically made up of a small group of professionals and other supporting staff who work together to analyse the clients and develop a detailed action plan to solidify relationships, expand the work the firm does for clients and improve the overall delivery of legal services. Here are five key client service best practices that client service teams can implement in any professional services firm:

Listen to the client
Soliciting client feedback is one of the easiest ways to improve client relationships, but it is often an effort that is glossed over as unnecessary. Client feedback does not need to be a complicated affair. Three simple questions provide a wealth of information: Were you satisfied with the service you received? What did we do well? What can we do better in the future? If the feedback is positive, a fourth question can be added: Would you be willing to refer new business? Client feedback, whether formal or informal, is the single most valuable investment a firm can make in marketing and business development. 

Understand the clients
Understanding the trends, drivers and needs that impact client behaviour is the first step in moving from being a service provider to a trusted advisor. Analyse the industry trends, business strategies and goals of the clients. When working with individual clients, look at the demographics of the clients. Consider the issues and challenges clients face and the impact those factors may have on their needs. As a trusted confidant, you position yourself for more business. 

Business processes matter
Competition has never been greater and consistently providing excellent services is no longer a way to standout. It is a minimum requirement. How a firm works is the key to demonstrating added value to clients. Creating formal business processes sets the foundation for two client service essentials: communication and value-based billing. Evaluate the work the firm does; create a business process that details each step of the process and document it. Explain it to all clients. Provide them with timelines for deliverables and updates. This way you can manage expectations, avoid miscommunication and focus on the work at hand. Once business processes are in place, it becomes much easier to analyse pricing structures and provide clients with alternatives beyond the billable hours. Value-based billing provides clients with more confidence and pricing predictability. 

Appearances count
Relationship management touches every aspect of the business – from how the phone is answered to how invoices are compiled. Create a client service policy for the firm and make sure every person on staff understands their role in relationship management. Appearances go beyond courtesy alone. The premises, staff appearances, stationary, even the firm’s website, creates a certain perception that will strengthen credibility. 

Better communication
Communication starts with a clear explanation of the work a firm does. It continues throughout the engagement and beyond. Learn how the clients like to communicate and then communicate that way. Some people are most responsive by phone, others by email or SMS. Instead of forcing clients to adapt to the firm’s particular communication style, make an effort to adapt to the client’s style and preference. By doing so, the firm will be recognised as being more responsive. It is important to maintain consistent, ongoing communication with clients during and after the engagement. This can be as simple as a quarterly check-in to see how clients are doing or through a sophisticated marketing program. Regardless, maintaining awareness with clients is the key to future business and great referrals.

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.