By Tony Vidler
Go the extra mile?
While I would be the first to say that an area of opportunity for professional services firms to excel in comparison to their competitors is oddly enough in…uuhhhm… “providing service”…the answer to getting to more clients on the “satisfied” side of the line is not necessarily in putting more effort or resources into delivering more WOW factor.
To explain what I mean by this we need to step back and think about what this whole “service” thing is about. I suspect that as a profession we have re-interpreted what “service” means, and how we use the word and what we mean by it is different to the expectations of the fee-paying-customer.
To the customer the concept is simple: “service” means that in return for consideration (or payment) they will receive benefits, or assistance, in a particular area.
To professional services firms, it often means something different. It is more often than not thought of as as how we go about delivering technical expertise, or how we maintain ongoing communications with customers who have transacted with our firm in the past.
There is a fairly large disconnect between these two interpretations. One party believes service to consist of support and assistance which is proactive in nature and focused on delivering value. To the other it is about doing a job to a certain standard and then staying in touch until more of the job needs doing.
That difference in interpretation and expectations goes a long way towards explaining why professionals feel that they are providing excellent service, yet the clients rate it as something substantially less than “excellent”.
Meeting the reasonable service expectations of our clients has quite an impact upon the profitability of our business, and the ease with which we can leverage growth. It has been tested repeatedly over the years, and countless studies highlight the correlation between:
There is no doubt that there is a direct relationship between our clients being satisfied and their loyalty to us or our business. There is equally no doubt that if we establish the right level of satisfaction and loyalty then a greater number and quality of introductions to other future prospective clients follows.
When we get right down to it, we would have to accept that as “service providers” our interpretation of what service is or means doesn’t actually matter. if the clients who are paying the fees and putting food on our table feel anything less than “satisfied”, then we have missed an enormous opportunity and we must look to ourselves to fix it.
The fix may involve lifting the actual service standards in customer care, or communications, or anticipation of client needs.
However, the fix may also be about managing expectations better.
That disconnect which leads to dissatisfaction is a reflection of the mismatch between customer expectations and our service delivery. Our service delivery might actually be executed at precisely the standard that we set out to achieve of course, but if we didn’t manage the customer expectations adequately then there is room for dissatisfaction.
This is the primary area to look at in lifting satisfaction levels with clients. Before racing off to invest in more corporate gifts or run another client appreciation evening, think strategically. Have we put in place a mechanism for managing the clients expectations to begin with? Have we educated them on what they can expect in the way of valuable assistance, or what that even means?
If we have not done that, then it doesn’t matter how we try to address service levels, as the client expectations will continue to evolve and lift with each improvement we introduce as no parameters have been set for what is a reasonable and valuable level of professional service. The first step to lifting service levels is therefore to define what the acceptable professional standard is, and the second step is to figure out how the clients understanding of those standards can be managed.
Get those 2 steps right and we have a very good chance of having more clients on the “satisfied” side of the fence than on the ambivalent (or worse) side.