In our previous piece we identified some of the challenges facing accountants in practice in delivering service excellence to their clients and why this is so important in today's highly competitive market place.
In this piece we explore some of the key drivers of service excellence and how you can manage client expectations in these areas.
Build effective working relationships
This is where we stand or fall with many clients, particularly when considering the relationship with the assignment partner and the assignment team. Where the relationship is good, and the "chemistry" is right, the client is happy. Partner and staff continuity is a particularly important aspect of this - it demonstrates the value of getting close to your clients and then staying close to them.
Clients want to feel that they are valued by those organisations that supply them; they want to feel you are always acting in their best interests.
Great relationship development is as much about what firms do outside of client transactions as it is about what they do when the client actually trades with them. How effective the time you invest in your clients is will depend partly on the policies and processes and partly on the skill and attitude of the people within your organisation.
Ensure that every department who has any contact with clients is clear on your client strategy and the part each department plays in delivering it.
The advent of social media has meant accountants need to be more versatile than ever before in matching our contact strategy to our clients' needs and wants. Our preferred means of communication with clients, which for most firms remains the letter or email, will no longer necessarily match our clients needs. Find out how your clients like to be contacted, let everyone in the service team know this and Ensure your channels of communication match the preferences of your clients.
Recent research in this area has shown that over two thirds of SME clients identified the telephone as their preferred method of contact, with about a third favouring email.
Accessibility and responsiveness
We must be seen as accessible and responsive at all times, irrespective of what other commitments there are. This involves:
- returning calls;
- responding to letters and emails;
- dealing with queries
within a realistic timescale and generally keeping the client informed of the current "state of play". It is worth noting that recent research into our marketplace indicates that 90% of clients receive a response to their queries within one day, and 56 % within 3 hours. A 'holding' response is acceptable as long as a deadline is given for when a more complete answer will be provided.
Ensure your 'access' systems are in place, updated (e.g. 'out of office' and voice mail messages) and offer alternative contacts where appropriate.
Meeting deadlines and keeping your promises
Meeting deadlines plays a vital role in developing the level of trust on which successful relationships depend so strongly.
Avoid agreeing to or imposing unrealistically tight deadlines on ourselves which cannot be met. Seek to do the reverse, under-promise and over-deliver. This creates a most positive impression in people's minds because it is so rare.
Where you know you cannot satisfy a commitment you have made to a client for whatever reason, flag it up to them as soon as you know. Don't delay and always offer a solution.
Doing this well is not really about skills, it is about having people in your business with the right attitude who adopt a conscientious approach in all that they do.
Technical excellence on its own is not enough. Any advice given must also be understandable if it is to be accepted and valued by the client.
This is particularly important with written communication, given the inherent limitations when using this medium to communicate with our clients.
It is worth noting from recent research that while 70% of clients agreed that their adviser was an expert in their field, only 12% had any awareness of their specific professional qualifications or of what they meant. It is worth considering whether it is more valuable to link fees to qualifications or to the softer elements of service which tend to engender higher levels of satisfaction with clients.
Clarity over actions and outputs (including fees!)
Your focus should be on making it as easy as possible for your clients to do business with you.
Outputs cover many areas such as actions and plans, fees, processes and procedures.
You need to agree with every client for every piece of work the core fee for the work to be done, how the work will be presented and when it will be delivered. Also agree what is included and what is not included, and how additional fees outside of the core fee will be billed.
People generally want to know where they stand, what they are buying, how it will be delivered to them and what it is going to cost.
Your business should adopt a simple process for ensuring that you are easy to deal with and ensure that everyone involved in the process of providing the product or service is aware of how it works.
Satisfied clients will pay for good advice as long as you keep them informed on the financial aspects of your relationship
Value for money
Clients do value high quality service and are willing to pay for it. It is achieved by:
- demonstrating a true understanding and appreciation of the client's business, their goals and values;
- giving clients more than they are expecting, thereby adding value to the transaction;
- providing proactive advice which is constructive and commercial;
- thinking first and foremost about the client's needs.
We will explore 'Getting clients feedback and setting service standards' in the next blog.