Client service tips for lawyers and accountants
Many years ago, I was asked to deliver a conference speech on ‘how to deliver good client service’ to an audience of lawyers and accountants. As preparation for a meaningful session, I spoke to three clients of advisors in the audience to find out what they really wanted, in terms of good client service, from their lawyer and accountant.
In the course of doing my research, it was interesting to hear what clients really want – and guess what? There were no surprises, as what clients want from their accountant and lawyer are broadly similar. We all want our professional advisors to be:
- accessible & responsive,
- pro-active and taking the initiative,
- giving value for money,
- initiating timely conversations – particularly around fees,
- always personable and speaking our language, and
- technically excellent.
Times have changed clients’ expectations
Whilst these principles of good client service still hold true, what has changed is that our clients now have different expectations on how they will be delivered. Let’s look at this in a little more detail.
This used to mean you were easy to get hold of via the phone or in person. However, these days this may mean you are easy to get hold of via your client’s preferred social media channel as well as by phone / Skype / face to face etc.
This throws up some dilemmas for a professional advisor. With social media blurring people’s professional and personal worlds, how easily do you want clients to find you on social media? That may not be a problem if you are a company and commercial lawyer, but what if you offer the more contentious and hard-hitting types of services such as litigation, family law, insolvency? In fact one of my network told me that her husband, who works for a housing association, regularly has to take out injunctions against ex-tenants because they are harassing his family online.
The challenge for any professional advisor is to get the right balance of accessibility for their clients without compromising their right to a private life and family security.
In today’s always-on society, with the potential to be working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it’s understandable if clients expect a swift response at any time of day. We fuel this expectation by answering emails late at night, or being prepared to take calls in the evening after normal working hours.
The question is, what is right? Well, it depends. It depends on the service level expectations you set with your clients and how well you manage their expectations about responsiveness. Let’s take a real example here. One of my clients has two different service levels for the turnaround of year end accounts. The clients on the ‘budget’ package have a slower turnaround for year accounts than those on the ‘premium’ package. This suits her clients, because she is very open about the turnaround times, and they know that they are getting exactly the service they are paying for.
Proactive and takes the initiative
The internet makes it so easy to learn information that sometimes clients can be one step ahead of their professional advisors. They start to wonder why the advisor hasn’t mentioned new information. They may not recognise the expertise that a professional brings. Information isn’t the same as understanding and having information doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to get a budget update from the BBC. (This is a true example!)
The challenge here is that being proactive and taking the initiative takes time. Time which usually isn’t allowed in billable hours’ targets or the project’s budget. I am not saying that your firm’s business model is wrong, but something needs to give. To truly deliver the service that clients want and expect means that, unless we are selling ourselves as the equivalent of Tesco Value beans, we need to raise prices to make it affordable.
Value for money
With so many advisors openly displaying their prices on their websites, plus easier access to more professional advice, it has become common for clients to shop around to get the best price for the service. It is what it is. It means is that we, the advisors, need to be proactive with our clients to ensure that they are getting the service they expect, and that they realise it! We can’t assume that they see the value.
No surprises around fees
This expectation has not changed, and is unlikely to!
I was speaking with PracticeWeb about similar research around accountancy clients. Their findings matched ours. Being personable and easy to do business with is now an absolute essential for advisors. Become difficult to work with and your clients can find someone else very easily – AND are prepared to do so. Being personable is no longer an optional extra.
Given clients’ increased access to information and knowledge, they probably expect a deeper level of technical excellence from their advisor than previously. This is partly backed up by the 2012 FT Effective Client Advisor relationships report, which found that 67% of clients want to work with an advisor who understands their world and speaks their language, and 40% will go one step further and say that an advisor who is an expert in their type of affairs is in their top 3 buying criteria.
Are you assuming what your clients actually want?
Now, none of this is really news, so what is the point of this article? Well, most of us think that we know what our clients really want, and how to deliver good client service. One of my clients thought they did – and in broad terms they were delivering very well on client service. However, after doing this exercise, they realised that they had been ASSUMING that they knew their clients views, but hadn’t actually asked them. I am sure that they are not alone. How many of us actually ask our clients what they want?
Do you (and your practice):
- Have processes and systems to regularly ask for informal and formal feedback (ideally using a impartial third party)?
- At the start of a new client relationship, ask the client:
- How they like to be communicated with – are they an e-mail or phone person? What social media channels do they expect you to use and communicate on?
- What do they consider to be excellent client service?
- Relay a client’s preferences to all the members of the team involved on the account – even new trainees?
Remember that it is 7-14 times easier to get more work out of an existing client than from a new client – and a reputation for really looking after your clients is one of the best ways to generate referrals for you and your practice. So, it really does impact your bottom line if you are able to truly deliver great client service. Read more about the seven ways you can sabotage client service if you are not careful!
How do you find out what your clients really want?