A key part of my work is interviewing the clients of my clients to find out how satisfied they are with the service provided. Generally, I am really pleased to hear that the various lawyers, accountants and surveyors are doing a really fabulous job creating good, strong relationships where they have a deep knowledge of the client’s industry and organisation and manage to constantly anticipate their needs and adapt the service accordingly.
But now and again I get to interview a “lost” client to hear what went wrong. And it breaks my heart that it is often complacency that has led to the end of what was once a productive and profitable client relationship. And the really sad news is that the client’s needs don’t change that much – it’s just that someone, somewhere forgot to take a more proactive approach to managing the relationship.
So some of the most common issues I hear about – and that you can easily guard against – are as follows:
Get in touch with new appointees – fast
When there is a new person appointed you should get in touch – and fast. New people may have a different brief, they may be more senior, they may not be as knowledgeable about your area of expertise, they may have their own pet advisers, they may want to radically change things or they may be under pressure to make big changes or to save costs.
In addition, in sales terms the change of an inhouse person is called a “trigger” – something that increases the chances that an organisation may be more open to approaches from new advisers. And most sales-savvy firms will watch the appointments pages.
It doesn’t have to be brain surgery to add real value
Whilst all professionals focus on the high value of their professional and technical expertise, often clients are challenged by a range of more mundane and administrative tasks. Offering to help with such lowly tasks – even if they are sometimes outside the direct area of advice or expertise – can be really valued.
It is only be having regular and informal chats with your clients will you see their role and responsibilities in the round – rather than through the narrow focus of your area of expertise.
Don’t leave it to the juniors
Sometimes we get caught between a rock and a hard place. The client is super-sensitive to fees so you juggle things around and put a less qualified or more junior person onto the front line to save them money. Good solution.
But occasionally it means that the overall relationship gets neglected. Whilst the junior person is fine for day to day work, someone senior must maintain regular contact at a senior level and ensure that the client feels that they are taking an active interest in their work.
Get major clients onto framework or fixed price arrangements
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. When tendering for new clients firms go to extraordinary lengths to examine needs and work levels and come up with appealing pricing structures that reward loyalty, encourage volume work and “lock in” important or large clients. So why wait til the client puts the work out to tender before you do this?
Rather than adopting a “if it’s not broken don’t fix it” approach be more proactive and get out and talk openly to clients about fees. One firm I am working with at present regularly reviews the clients’ costs and drops them a friendly line to explain how they can improve their procedures in order to save costs in the future.
Talk before you tender
Increasingly clients need to put work out to tender. No matter how good they feel their existing advisers might be. Many feel it is part of their duty to their shareholders.
But whilst some firms will simply address the points in the written invitation to tender document others will be more proactive and get out there and really engage with the client to learn about the reasons for the tender, those involved in the decision process, the critical success factors and even test out their proposals before they commit them to the tender submission.
Interestingly, despite these being relatively simple lessons they have come up time and time again over my 20 years working with professional firms. So it makes you wonder about all the money invested in relationship management programmes.