The following is an extract from an article called “From messing around with databases to real client relationship management” which I had published in PSMG magazine:
So. The mismatch between this unholy trinity (marketers, fee-earners and clients) is understood. But what do we do about it?
- Change attitudes – Take time to understand the prevailing attitudes and engage the partners in constructive dialogue about the issues, opportunities, challenges and options. Start from a place of psychological safety and common purpose. Promote a “it’s not about us, it’s about the client” attitude.
- Undertake research – Do desk research and then go out and actually speak to the clients and hear, in their words, what good relationship management feels like. Select three key behaviours and build a training/communication programme around it. Make the key ideas stick. Own them.
- Build a simple account plan – Use the client research to build an account plan and help the partners identify a series of action for the short term to improve relationships. Aim for quick and easy wins.
- Produce a blueprint and service map – Develop a systems approach to understanding how core services are delivered, then structure workshops around them and find ways to improve or innovate. “Micromanage the client experience”.
- Provide relationship, account management and sales training – Avoid badgering partners to undertake audits, research, visits and other activities when they lack a basic understanding of the processes and are ill equipped with the necessary tools, skills and confidence.
- Capture best practice – Identify those partners who get it right. Help them articulate what they do for others to learn.
- Conduct compatibility assessments – Ensure that the partners, staff and other clients that clients come into contact with are well matched. See the work of Martin and Pranter.
- Scan for weak signals – Watch like a hawk for innovations and new demands. Listen attentively to your most challenging and “difficult” clients. What one or two demand today, the rest will expect tomorrow. Be at the front of the wave.
- Examine critical incidents – Look at experiences that have a disproportionate impact on client perception and satisfaction – both negatively and positively. Be aware of the impact of transaction specific and cumulative satisfaction. Update your service recovery procedures.
- Coach the relationship partner – Do research and immerse yourself in the client’s business. Work with relationship partner, share your insights, ask tough questions and get them to think about the client in an holistic way. Attend client meetings.
- Empower your people – Everyone in the firm can delight (or disappoint) clients. Services are evaluated as a series of processes which, while frequently intangible, leave concrete impressions and memories. Use a tool like Servor to assess the contribution of employees to service culture. Give staff encouragement to take the initiative. Mirror and match relationships to help secretaries and assistants forge friendships with their client side peers.
- Stay close to clients – Research suggests contact at least 10 times a year. Monitor clients online by setting up alerts to flag changesto the relevant partners. Help them use this information proactively.
- Review your client’s costs – Set up a regular monitoring system and call them up to suggest ways that they can work differently to save money.
- Categorise your clients – Use one of the many models (eg Fred Reichheld’s Net Promoters Score (NPS) to measure customer advocacy) to categorise your client relationships, focus your attention and concentrate on the actions that promote clients to deeper and closer relationships.
- Understand where the client perceives value – It isn’t always what you charge for. Some clients indicated that they would pay for account management or executive briefing services. Invite clients to talk about “what we most/least value about our legal/accountancy/property advisers”
- Ban email – Force busy people to really interact with their clients by picking up the phone. You glean far more information from a quick phone call than from a series of lengthy emails – plus you get a chance to develop a personal relationship
- Talk about the future – Step away from the day to day and schedule a chat with your client to talk about the future. Their future.
- Collaborate – Find ways to develop mutual benefits and increased profits. It will deepen your understanding of their business and bring you into contact with different executives. You will be positioned in a more commercial light.
- Add value – Find creative ways to add value. And it’s not always big or expensive ways. One firm provided an admin resource to help during a busy period. Another provided introductions to potential customers.
- Analyse client lifetime value – Look at the numbers. Assess how much profit is generated over several years and correlations with satisfaction and relationship metrics.
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