Making a Difference to Clients

Enlightened professional services firms make a point of highlighting and rewarding outcomes of superior Client service, featuring the little things that make a difference. In many firms, stories are rife about how people went the extra distance to exceed Client expectations. These stories are published internally and occasionally externally; they are often used when inducting new employees. A Client orientation culture surely needs to be a top business priority, with supporting objectives and qualitative targets that reflect a Client orientation. These are more likely to result in the appropriate behaviours than targets which do not directly impact on Clients.

Recognising Service Excellence

Many firms link employee reward and recognition to Client loyalty as shown by the metric of Net Promoter Score. This increasingly important commercial indicator of Client satisfaction is discussed in Chapter 4. Over time this measure helps to align employee performance towards Client-focused activities. If people can empathise with what Clients experience, they will have a better understanding of what is expected of them when dealing with Clients. To assist this some firms have discussion groups to map and experience the Client 'journey'; these are often extended to include Client panels that are very often willing to give their feedback if they believe that they will receive better service. There are a number of external awards recognising excellence in Client service; attaining these can be a useful source of differentiation, especially if the firm has won the same award over consecutive years.

The Importance of Regular Contact with Clients

Due to the project nature of most Client engagements in professional services firms, there are often many slack periods when the firm is not carrying out an assignment or dealing with a matter with a particular Client; for example, a patent lawyer who acts for a company may only be required at the onset of each new product development in the Client or for renewals. An accounting firm's audit Client will encounter the team when the work is carried out, with a lull in between financial periods unless queries arise. Leaving Clients 'unattended' in slack periods may create dissonance in how they feel about the firm. However, Client-centric firms are always finding ways to keep in contact with their Clients through all available communication channels, regardless of whether there is a current assignment.

The importance of this regular contact with Clients ensures that the firm is aware of developments and issues arising in the Client's organisation and sector. It provides opportunities for dialogue aside from the work stream and can provide an array of new contacts and highlight situations that may lead to other lucrative work engagements. More importantly, regular communication contributes to Client relationship development.

The Increasingly Mobile Client

The multiple channels and technologies available today, including the more recent and pervasive social media, enable the rapid transfer of information and often complex data while people are on the move; this rapid increase in mobility has transformed the communications landscape, and many professional services firms have invested significantly in mobile technology using social media to keep in touch with Clients and prospects. In fact, many Clients now have more technological power in their hands than many of their suppliers!


The First 100 Days

Scott Barnes was elected CEO of business advisers Grant Thornton UK LLP in 2008. He presided over a firm structured to serve large corporate entities, small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and public sector bodies. In 2007 the firm had merged with Robson Rhodes. Within his first 100 days, he set an ambitious target of doubling profit per partner by 2012 and simplifying the complicated organisation structure. His vision was that the firm would be the leading player in its chosen markets. He made his toughest decisions to restructure the firm within his first six months of tenure. He felt that this was essential to take the firm forward.


'A balanced scorecard1 approach and process was introduced, with four blocks of priorities. These covered Clients, finance, markets and people, with just a few key targets set in each area. An example in 'Clients' is to increase the level of measured Client satisfaction in the highest scoring zone from 60 to 75 per cent. An example in'finance' is to double the profit per partner within five years. An example of "markets" will be to increase share of public sector revenue by 20 per cent in five years. An example of "people" is that all employees will have a formal, agreed personal development plan within three months.'

Scott believed that having a few objectives in each area was easy for everyone to take on board. 'The targets applied to every part of the firm. People who were not immediately Client facing were set objectives to support those who were. It was necessary to improve internal communications so that everyone knew how the firm was performing in the four scorecard areas. Regular meetings are still held to review progress in all priority areas. This improvement saw a higher level of employee engagement than ever before. All available channels are used, blogs, intranet, office visits by board members. A set of values was established and a "CLEARR" acronym was launched - standing for collaboration, leadership, excellence, agility, respect and responsibility. These values are constantly used in recognising the firm's talent with awards for outstanding Client service and so on.[1]

Growth Aspirations

The UK firm has achieved continuous growth since 2008 and now, to keep up the momentum and partner/employee motivation, has an ambition of being a £500m revenue organisation by 2015. The firm has increasingly centralised around Client service, and has won numerous awards in a variety of fields from auditor of the year, through best tax team to employee engagement. A series of road shows to discuss opportunities were held around the country involving half of the partners.


Scott believes that the biggest challenge for his firm is to create more resilience in its business model aiming for £500m with a large proportion of recurring or predictable income, rather than have too many spikes of activity. As we exit the recession we are aware that there will be a war on talent and recruiting the best will be challenging.'

In 2013 Grant Thornton UK was voted 'Global Firm of the Year' by finance directors and CFOs in the British Accountancy Awards. In 2014 Grant Thornton International was voted Best Managed International Firm in the MPF Awards for Management Excellence.

  • [1] The Balanced Scorecard, attributed to Drs Kaplan and Norton, is an approach to communicating actionable strategies. It includes a mix of hard (quantitative) and soft (qualitative) factors.
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