What practical steps can I take to improve client relationships?

Posted on: April 21, 2009

I wrote a blog entry on 26th January called Complacency in client relationships – Why don’t they learn? as a result of some feedback that I received from clients of professional services firms which offered the following advice:

  • Get in touch with new appointees – fast
  • It doesn’t have to be brain surgery to add real value
  • Don’t leave it to the juniors
  • Get major clients onto framework or fixed price arrangements
  • Talk before you tender

The blog entry generated quite a bit of feedback and some questions, so I looked over more sets of feedback from the clients of my clients, and here are some more ideas – almost from the horses’ mouth:

Introduce another person

Many clients have only one point of contact at the firm. This can be problematic when that person is away or when an issue with that person arises. So introduce another partner or person as soon as possible – it is also a good first step towards cross-selling and succession planning. And it moves you towards the “clients of the firm” rather than “clients are mine” model.

Brief the team

Where there are a number of people working for a client, arrange for regular team briefings so that everyone knows what is happening and the client’s preferences. It is also good to hear all the feedback and suggestions from the entire team.

Get the youngsters involved

Developing relationships isn’t only the preserve of the partners. Encourage the younger members of your team to establish relationships with their peers at the client organisation and to organise small social events. This is long term succession planning and a key part of developing a secure “diamond” relationship rather than a delicate “bow tie”.

Provide a joined up service

This is related to the above three points but where there is more than one person advising a client, make sure that someone, somewhere is aware of all that is happening and ensures co-ordination. Some clients have even indicated to me that they would be prepared to pay for such “account management” service.

Be proactive

Don’t wait for the client to get in touch with you. Clients indicate that they would like their advisers to pick up the phone or send an email to ask how things are going or to make suggestions about things that they should be considering. It shows that you care. It shows that you are efficient. It shows that you are professional. It shows you are keen.

Check that response times are consistent

It is not enough for one or two partners to provide a super-speedy service. You need to ensure that all people working with a client are providing a consistent level of the right sort of response.

Pick up the phone

We all get busy. And it is easy and convenient to fire off a quick email. And it also means that the exchange is documented. But a quick call now and again helps friendships develop and allows you to pick up information that is rarely committed to writing in an email.

Discuss fees sensitively and provide transparency

Discuss fee arrangements in an open and friendly way. Answer questions. And ensure that you provide break downs and explanations so that there is transparency. Take particular care to call in advance if you suspect that they may be surprised at a bill.

Send out relevant updates and newsletters

While you may not be interested in the materials produced by your other departments your clients may be. Too many clients have indicated to me that they would like to receive updates from their firm when the marketing teams at those firms work extremely hard to produce them! Make sure your clients are on the relevant database or mailing lists.

Provide continuity and explain changes in advance

Clients like to deal with the same people year after year. It reduces the time that they have to invest in briefing new advisers and it reassures them when they see the same faces each time. But if there must be changes in the team, make sure that you inform the client properly in advance and check to see how things are progressing once in a while.

Ask about the future

Rather than focusing on the here and now and the current work, take time to ask the client about their own and the organisation’s future plans. As well as increasing your understanding of the critical issues and showing that you are taking a real interest in their business, it may flag up other opportunities to work together.

Think outside the box

It is easy for clients to pigeonhole their advisers and/or to see them as all the same. So sometimes doing some creative thinking and coming up with ideas and suggestions that are a little outside the box to differentiate your firm and to add value to the relationship works wonders.

Provide training and workshops

If your client has an inhouse team of professionals, they are likely to need to earn Continuing Professional Development or Education points. Getting in front of your clients to discuss new developments is also a great way to build the relationship and to identify future opportunities.

Keep them informed about the firm

Many clients say that they do not know much about the firm apart from the areas where their points of contact work. So take time once in a while to provide a (short) overview of the firm and all its different services and to keep them up to date with the latest developments. Clients find it reassuring to know what your firm is planning for the future. It shows that you are confident.

Ask clients how you can improve the service

Whether as part of a structured annual review, at the end of a key piece of work or even at the start of a relationship – ask the clients what they think of the service and how it can be improved. Even if they don’t have much to say, they will appreciate the fact that you sought their opinion.

Build your profile and reputation

Clients like to think that they have well known and respected advisers. Sometimes clients mention to me that they would like their advisers to have a higher profile in a chosen market. A low profile may generate cognitive dissonance – ie a worry that if they had made a good choice of advisers that they would be better known.

Stay in touch

Often clients complain that they don’t hear from their advisers in between active matters or jobs. They like it when you make the effort to stay in touch and to occasionally ask them how things are going.

Find ways to collaborate

Whether this is in terms of developing knowledge systems, training, marketing together or sharing clients and contacts, move the relationship on from simply “being an adviser” to “being a business partner”.

Be sociable

While some clients enjoy being taken on lavish entertainment events, many more would be happy for an informal and impromptu chat over a cup of coffee or a sandwich lunch.

In my latest book Growing your property partnership – Plans, promotion and people there is a chapter devoted to “Clientology” which explores these ideas and account management in more detail.

 

I do not restrict access to the FAQs but I politely request that you let me know by email and acknowledge the source (www.kimtasso.com) if you wish to use the material anywhere.

As always, if there are particular topics you would like me to address in the future, please let me know. You will also find a source of more and up to date information on a broad range of management and marketing issues in the professions by checking out the blog where I also post regular reviews of books that might be helpful.

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