Examples of Client Service Models
Client-facing firms recognise that Clients follow a cyclical model over their procurement lifetime. Many firms have developed their own Client service models often in a cyclical format, as shown in Figure 1.1. These outline the cycle of gaining interest, through evaluation, purchase, usage, repurchase and loyalty. Client-facing firms manage Clients through such cycles and know at which stage they are with each Client.
An Orchestrated Performance
Many of us enjoy well-performed music. When a large orchestra - or even a quartet - plays beautifully, there is a feeling of satisfaction in the players and their audience. We can think of the analogy of a professional services firm being the orchestra and the Clients its audience. If your firm, as the orchestra, delivers with everyone integrated, playing their harmonious parts, the result for the Client - your audience - will resonate accordingly. Your managing partner or CEO becomes the conductor of the various sections of the orchestra. Now of course not all Clients will meet the managing partner or CEO, but the prindples of stewardship drill down to all practices within the firm. Consider the situations where the musicians are not playing in harmony and its potential impact on the audience. Think about situations when some parts of the orchestra have to share the stage with newcomers and integrate their performance. Clearly continuous practice is necessary for teams of experts to behave in a coordinated way. This approach requires dedication to the understanding of Client requirements. They tend to prefer an orchestrated, joined-up, harmonious approach rather than dealing with often unconnected soloists.
Characteristics of a Culture of Client Orientation
There are many factors which underpin a Client-oriented culture. In this section we will look briefly at its key elements of: sector focus, Client-facing processes, Client satisfaction, Client relationship management and Client-related performance objectives and highly engaged employees. Each of these will be expanded upon here and in later chapters. These elements form the basis of Client orientation.
Experience has shown that the more oriented a firm is towards its Clients, the more successful it is likely to become compared with firms that focus primarily on their services. When purchasing decisions are about to be made, it is usually evidence of a firm's sector or market knowledge in depth that tips the balance in the Client's mind when all other aspects, such as reputation, technical skill and cost, are perceived as being similar. The trend within the larger and medium-sized professional services firms is to create multi-disciplinary sector or market-focused teams that can operate globally, regionally or nationally - as relevant to the Clients' requirements and size of firm. In today's competitive arena for professional services, having a Client-centric commercial strategy is most likely to bring better results than strategies that are further removed from Clients.
For a truly Client orientation, it is essential to have processes that work for the Client rather than for the firm. Employees need to understand that Clients are always seeking value propositions from their suppliers. So, rather than working in often isolated departments, it is important for fee earners and support staff to meet regularly to discuss potential opportunities with Clients and interact, ideally in cross-functional teams, to constantly add value to the Client experience. Internal communications such as intranets can help bring together otherwise separate parts of a firm. This Client-centred approach can provide regular updates on progress towards the firm's goals. Employees must also understand how the firm differentiates itself from its competitors. Many firms have deliberately organised their office space to facilitate cross-practice contact and to encourage the sharing of information across their artificial boundaries.
Client satisfaction is the extent to which the firm meets or exceeds Client expectations. Client satisfaction information provides essential feedback to employees, however it is gained. Active listening to Clients is a skill that is not fully developed in many firms, with latent needs often going unfulfilled. Structured surveys can help people to understand how the firm is doing, and regular, less formal, contact with Clients can also pick up additional messages about the firm's performance and opportunities for further work. Engaged employees want to know how their firm is performing in the eyes of its Clients. The quality and effectiveness of Client service that they deliver is often what sets firms apart. Many firms regularly benchmark their performance with Clients against their competitors and peers to establish their market position. Enlightened firms measure Client satisfaction through formalised surveys and quickly take remedial action when needed. It is also important to have in place a Client recovery strategy and process for situations where satisfaction is below expectations. Client satisfaction is covered in more detail in Chapter 4.
Client relationship management
A further element in Client orientation is to create a Client Relationship Management (CRM) process that requires everyone to play their part in keeping the information on each Client and the status of the firm's relationship up to date. Having a CRM philosophy stresses the importance of sharing information about Clients and this helps to break down the artificial barriers that sometimes exist within and between a firm's departments and practices. The best CRM programmes are supported by systems and technology to enable rapid data searches and relationship status report outputs. With the rise in use of social media channels, many organisations have started to develop a social CRM strategy to enhance Client relationship development. This recent phenomenon is discussed further in Chapter 14.
A key element in achieving Client orientation is to align employees' competencies, behaviours, development, appraisals and reward processes directly to the attainment of Client-facing objectives. KPIs that reflect Client orientation are critical to ensuring that employees know where they stand and what is expected of them. Until employees are developed, appraised and rewarded for their performance with Clients, the firm cannot expect to close the loop on Client orientation. Internal recognition of Client service excellence provides an ideal approach to developing a Client orientation.