Allan Evans is global head of clients and markets at BDO accountants and in the UK leads a team of more than 60 people. Prior to joining BDO, Allan was the sales and marketing director for PricewaterhouseCoopers and before that he worked at Abbey Life, Lloyds TSB, Friends Provident and AMP.

I originally arranged to interview Allan to learn more about the highly successful Service2020 research and thought leadership campaign (as a case study for the forthcoming “Digital PR” course at Professional Marketing Forum but as BDO’s local government team had just won the 2013 Managing Partners Forum Award for Management Excellence for the “Most innovative use of social media” he agreed that it would make an interesting contrast. Top down versus bottom up initiatives.

From a germ of an idea do mighty campaigns grow

“Shortly after joining BDO I realised that I had a brand challenge to tackle. Our value proposition – “to be distinctly different” – was an invite to be just that …different. But this had led to inconsistent client service behaviours and mixed market messages. I felt that we needed to be more consistent – not automatons doing everything in unison and without ‘local’ flexibility but with enough consistency to be clearly BDO. After extensive research and engagement, we refined and refocused our brand proposition and BDO is now all about being the brand that provides exceptional client service by empowered people. We knew from our research that we were known as being personable, unstuffy, less structured and that we didn’t suffer from being “too consistent” like some of the major players. We wanted to find a way to ensure that we were all culturally aligned though – across all local practices – and that would also persuade our partners and staff that we were taking exceptional client service seriously – that it was here to stay. I also knew that we would get internal buy-in if we could develop something that was equally as relevant to clients.

We developed the idea of an externally sourced and authoritative piece of research, commissioned in conjunction with the EIU”, into real client needs that our people would be comfortable going out and talking to clients about. We saw it as a way to provide partners with content that would help initiate an open ended business conversation rather than a product sale. It took lengthy buy-in discussions but ultimately it became a valuable part of the relationship development process.

We launched our initiative with a ‘sold-out’ client conference where we introduced what we had anticipated to be the media friendly concept of client service megatrends. The concept certainly resonated with clients – in fact it was so successful that clients subsequently phoned partners to find put more”.

The media launch

“However it proved much more difficult to engage the traditional media. It was hard persuading journalists to write about client service – bad news sells, good news less so. We had more success with LinkedIn as we had established a closed 2020 group – but this primarily attracted experts, academics, intermediaries and influencers (specialists in customer service) rather than actual clients.

I will admit that we didn’t have a fully developed social media strategy at the time – we didn’t moderate the group discussions properly and while we did post out some material using Twitter it was rather all rather passive and reactive….and as for hash-tags ….. all new to me at that time.  In a nutshell we were learning – rapidly.  These days we have a more structured and pro-active approach with clarity on the designated owners of different social media platforms and accounts – marketing generates the content and PR manages its distribution – it’s a shared approach”.

The road to client engagement

“So rather than let the lack of traditional media interest stop us in our tracks, we took the research out on the road. We hosted numerous client seminars where we were able to reach beyond our traditional contacts such as financial controllers and we took our messages into the C-suites of large companies and SMEs”.

What next?

“Over the intervening 18 months we had become much more adept in the use of the various digital channels and have since recruited dedicated digital experts who work in our brand team. We also encourage a ‘skunkworks’ approach where the digital and social media piece is being considered in the context of communications, engagement and client service.

And for service 2020 ?  ….well for the next iteration, we will consider ways in which a value can be assigned to exceptional client service – in much the same way as there are techniques out there for valuing brands. This is a work-in-progress towards a real product so watch this space”.

Internal communication, events and engagement

Allan kindly showed me a copy of the fantastic internal A5 book entitled “The art and science of exceptional client service”. It was entirely written by BDO people and features the input of 350+ authors from 135 different countries when, in October 2012, BDO partners came together in Lucerne, Switzerland to discuss, debate and be inspired by the BDO vision – to be the leader for exceptional client service.

Its high impact content is an energetic – and beautifully designed – collection of action photos, drawings, cartoons, quotes, checklists, word clouds, case studies and examples divided into five chapters: client needs, communication, commitment, people and value.

Each chapter contains five themes; do’s and don’ts, international engagement, success stories, going the extra mile and “Houston, we had a problem” (fabulous storyboards). Throughout the guide there are standards statements that explore how client service achieves competitive advantage. It’s testament to the total engagement that the firm has achieved in involving its people in this important strategic initiative.

The emergence of the local government initiative

“As sometimes happens in large organisations, the best ideas come from unexpected places and more often than not, from the front line. The younger, edgier members of the local government team – those who were familiar with the whole social media scene – decided to initiate their own campaign. They produced a guidance video on the use of social media for their local government clients who had expressed concerns about the use and value of social media.

Early on the marketing team provided support and guidance and the campaign went from strength to strength. They produced an infographic-filled research report and organised round table discussions. The local government team were very active on social media channels – using #Litter2Twitter. They are very proud of the campaign and absolutely they own it. They have had some great results – it was covered in the main trade media – Municipal Journal – and earned them an invitation to the London Councils Social Media forum. The campaign enabled them to initiate dialogue with many local authorities where previously we had had little success”. The campaign was recently awarded the ‘Innovation in Social Media’ award at the Managing Partner forum awards.

About Service 2020: Megatrends for the decade ahead

This BDO report was written by the Economist Intelligence Unit and further details are available from: The first edition surveyed 479 business leaders on their ideas of “perfect customer service” in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific spanning all industries. It also included interviews with eight experts. The main findings were:

  • Global competition will drive up service standards
  • Companies must maintain service standards in the face of “the need for speed”
  • Firms must learn to use new sources and types of data to rethink the way they track and personalise their service
  • Good employees will remain fundamental to good service but with technology as an enabler
  • More firms will outsource aspects of customer service to new kinds of specialists
  • The rise of the mass affluent and other customer segments will force companies to find new product or service niches
  • Customer expectations, including the purpose of the store, are evolving with technology

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