The Root Causes of Failure in Client Service

From experience, three simple answers are apparent: lack of common goals, poor or unclear communication internally and between the firm and Client, and the level of effort a Client has to make to ensure that their needs are met. We will take each of these in turn below.

Lack of common goals

Often no clearly defined goals have been set detailing what are the Client service objectives. There can be a wealth of different internal responses to the concept, but unclear objectives such as 'We must respond quickly to Client enquiries' are not sufficiently defined. What is meant by a response? What does 'quickly' mean? Many firms use 'SMART' objectives to greatly clarify the position: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. Have we defined the required standards? Who will do what, how, when and why? For example, 'The Client service function will contact by telephone the person making the enquiry within three hours to provide the answer requested or to seek further information' is much better than having no policy for this situation.

Far too frequently, no clear service goals are set and communication is poor. This leaves the door open for different interpretations within different parts of the firm. It also leads to Client confusion.

Poor, or unclear, communication

It is the role of management to set the corporate goals for Client service standards. With robust research, these can and should be based on matching Client expectations where this can be done profitably. Exceeding expectations can only be justified where perceived added value can be demonstrated and a commercial return obtained. If these goals are not clearly communicated and regularly reinforced, changes of personnel or new internal processes and informal networks can all too quickly create mixed messages, leading to an erosion of the original sense of direction and its replacement by a variety of divergent ideas.

Level of client effort

If your firm is easy for Clients to deal with on any matter, then the level of Client effort required is much lower than if the Client has to expend considerable energy and time to work with the firm or sort out an issue. Whilst it is not easy to quantify the value of how easy it is to do business, many firms have not taken this factor into account when monitoring Client satisfaction. Almost all the details so far should have provided an illustration of what needs to be done to set the right objectives.

Dealing with the Loss of a Major Client

If a major Client decides to terminate a relationship it is important to discover the reasons for their decision, if it has not already been obvious from Client satisfaction reviews. Here are the most common reasons:

• Poor service quality and delivery.

• Fees becoming uncompetitive.

• Too many changes of relationship manager.

• Mergers and acquisitions leading to relationship changes.

• Lack of contact at the appropriate level.

• Lack of value added services.

• Regulation requiring supplier rotation.

• Lack of regular contact.

The loss of a major Client can clearly affect a firm's market reputation. Effective media relations and internal communications within the firm may limit the damage, but such a loss may signal the need for an improved risk assessment to be carried out for major Clients. Retention strategies can then be devised and implemented for those Clients at most risk of defection.

Targets and Metrics for Client Satisfaction

Client satisfaction surveys typically ask about the non-financial aspects of doing business:

• the firm's overall performance in meeting a Client's requirements;

• the quality, performance and behaviour of the firm's service delivery team;

• whether the Client would continue to use the firm and its other services;

• whether the Client would recommend the firm to others (the Net Promoter question);

• how easy it is to deal with the firm.

The recent Client care research shows that many firms monitor survey results by:

• overall performance;

• service delivery team;

• recommendation;

• sector;

• sales office.

Further examples of targets are shown from the Client Care Survey in Table 4.3 below. It is interesting to note that nearly 40 per cent of respondents had no formal targets and only 25 per cent used an advocacy metric such as the Net

Promoter Score.

Table 4.3 Targets Set by Professional Services Firnis for Client Satisfaction

Overall satisfaction


Service delivery metrics (i.e. responsiveness)


External advocacy by Clients for the firm (Net Promoter Score, etc.)


Office (i.e. London)


Line of service (i.e. audit, litigation)


Client industry group (i.e. banking)


No formal targets set




Other areas


Source: Client Care Survey 2013.

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