You can grow your practice the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is to deliver such great service to clients that they want more from you and your team, as well as becoming your unpaid sales force. However, despite our good intentions, we often succumb to one of the 7 deadly sins of client service. Which one is your guilty secret?
1. Building great working relationships
Of course, we all know that for great client service, you need to have a good working relationship. Very simply: fail to get a good relationship or have the wrong type of chemistry, and your client will be unhappy. But, what do you do consciously or unconsciously to develop that relationship? Or do you just leave it to chance whilst you get down to business?
2. Accessibility and Responsiveness
How accessible are you to your clients? Or are you deliberately difficult to get hold of? Think about when you have personally bought a service. What did it feel like when you couldn’t get hold of the service provider? How frustrating was that? It is just the same with your clients. They want their professional advisor to be willing and helpful at all times, irrespective of what other commitments they may have. Fail on one of these aspects and your ability to deliver a service to a client is deemed to be failing. Accessibility and responsiveness involves:
- returning calls and texts,
- responding to e-mails, letters, messages and faxes, and
- dealing with queries,
all within a realistic timescale as well as keeping the client informed of the current ‘state of play’. For example, if you are out at court all day, leave a message on your voicemail to explain to any callers where you are and when you will be picking up and returning calls. Realistically, your clients don’t expect to be your only client. However, they do expect to be able to know how and when to contact you. If you are going to be on leave, then what arrangements can you put in place so that a team member can step in for you?
3. Meeting Deadlines
To your clients, it’s often the simple things that determine perception of good client service. Not meeting deadlines is a great way of eroding trust in a relationship. If you need to renegotiate a deadline, then it is better to do it sooner rather than as it looms closer.
4. Technical Excellence
Technical excellence and the receipt of error free products are taken for granted by most clients. Clients do not expect any technical errors in their work. In the mindset of a client, technical errors = poor quality work = poor quality service.
5. Understandable Advice
Technical excellence on its own, however, is not enough. Clients want to understand what has been written and not feel like they need a translator to read anything from you. Do you use your client’s language when you speak to them? For example, a lawyer may talk about a dispute resolution team; whereas the client knows this as litigation.
6. No surprises
Billing clients is one of the major areas where client service can fall down. It is amazing how many clients are willing to accept a higher fee than initially proposed if you keep them informed of how much is already on the clock, and where unanticipated costs are appearing from. Most difficult conversations about fees at the end of an assignment can be prevented by an on-going dialogue throughout the engagement. It is essential to:
- Always give a clear indication of expected fee levels in advance and agree billing arrangements.
- Always tell clients what they are being billed for – a bill simply stating “For professional services rendered” without further explanation is only likely to raise questions in the client’s mind.
- Bill on a timely basis – a client is unlikely to remember how valuable a service was if it was provided 6 months ago.
- Never send an unexpected bill – always inform the client in advance.
7. Value for money
Clients are no different to everyone else – they expect to receive value for money. Good service is inextricably linked to value for money, in the mindset of a client. However, particularly if your fee level is high, asking a client if they have received ‘value for money’ is a bit like asking a dentist’s patient if they enjoyed the experience of being in the chair! That said, many patients do appreciate the service their dentist provides and the same is true for professional advisors in general. This appreciation is achieved by:
- a true understanding and appreciation of the client’s business,
- giving advice which is constructive and commercial, and
- thinking first and foremost about clients’ needs.