Category Archives: Client feedback

Eight questions every professional should ask when taking new work instructions

When talking to clients of professional services firms, one of the most common issues they raise is that their providers don’t always deliver what it is they are expecting. It’s very easy to listen to a client’s brief, assume you understand their requirements, and to go off and do the work but I strongly believe that, in order to avoid misunderstandings (and often huge frustrations on both sides) professionals need to ask questions to clarify their client’s needs at the outset.
While you should never ask anything that you could find out from the client’s website or other publicly available information, the questions below will go a long way to avoiding mismatched expectations:
  1. What outcome are you looking to achieve?
  2. How important is this work to you/your organisation?
  3. What’s your deadline for this work?
  4. What are you looking for from us? All the options or our recommendation?
  5. What’s your budget for this work?
  6. Do you need to present the advice to anyone internally?
  7. Will you be our key contact on this matter?
  8. How frequently would you like progress updates and what format would you like us to communicate these in (e.g. face-to-face, phone, email)?
What other questions do you think professionals should ask their clients when taking new instructions? 
Do you have any examples of how doing this has helped your business? 
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What assumptions can make out of a firm

Making assumptions is part of doing business. We don’t always have access to the full facts and have to draw conclusions. However, too often the assumptions that are made are incorrect, or only part of the picture, and are never tested. This can be detrimental to relationships between firms and their clients, with firms making decisions, or giving advice, based on those assumptions. This really can be a case of when making assumptions makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.

The assumptions we make can affect the way we do business, the way we deal with our clients and the results we get for them.

In my experience, the most common assumptions firms make, are:

1. Assuming they know what their client wants to achieve when the client is engaging their services. By this I mean the ultimate goal – what business goal is your involvement going to help them achieve? If you understand what, ultimately, they want from the piece of the puzzle you are providing, the work you do will be focussed on this. Too often we hear that providers aren’t really listening to what clients want:

  • they haven’t asked the right questions
  • they haven’t challenged the client’s assumptions and
  • they end up making it more difficult for the client to achieve his/her/their objective.

2. Assuming the client knows the extra effort they put into a piece of work. All too often firms write off fees without telling the client. They feel noble that they have given the client a ‘good deal’ because they haven’t charged for the additional work… but the client never knows and so never gets the chance to thank the firm, or comment on it. More importantly firms may be setting unrealistic fee expectations for future work.

3. Assuming they know what the client thinks of the relationship with the firm. Often, when we are conducting client reviews, the things firms think are issues, aren’t; and the client’s actual issues are things that the firm hadn’t even considered. There are two main reasons for this:
  • the firm has never asked the client, or
  • an individual within the client organisation has made a single               comment, and it has become ‘fact’ within the firm. I have seen firms  change their strategies around significant clients based on one          partner’s say-so, and end up losing the client because they had all     the assumptions wrong.

4. Assuming clients don’t see what happens inside firms. Your clients are working with your teams and will see what is happening, particularly with regard to team changes, and with advisers who are nearing retirement. Firms have said to us “we knew that, but we didn’t realise the clients did.” Don’t forget you operate in the same market as your clients.

So, how do you know if your assumptions are right?

The only way to know for certain is to test them. Do this by:

  • asking your clients about their business and their goals
  • talking to your clients about team changes and succession planning early
  • letting clients know when you are not charging them and, where possible, the value of the work you are not charging for
  • seeking a range of views from within the client organisation about the relationship.

What other unnecessary assumptions do you think firms make?

What can be the impact of these assumptions?

Do you learn from your wins as well as your losses?

Tom Kane, in his legal marketing blog, published a great post about learning from departing clients as well as from opportunities you miss out on. He provided some good advice about conducting ‘loss reviews’ and keeping channels of communication open with prospects and clients who choose to go elsewhere.

While it’s true that you learn a lot from your ‘losses’, I also believe you can learn a lot from your wins. As well as conducting ‘loss reviews’ I would also recommend professional services firms conduct ‘win reviews’ in order to find out:

  • why the client selected you,
  • what aspects of your approach and style they liked, and
  • what could be improved.

This is particularly important in a competitive tender situation. We had a client who won a major contract through a rigorous RFP process. We interviewed the company following our client’s win and found out some great information our client has been able to apply to future tenders. What was particularly interesting is that the reasons our client believed they had won, were not the reasons at all!

My rule of thumb is ‘don’t assume’. It’s easy to ask new clients (however you win them) why they chose to work with you and to seek their input into how you could improve your new business process. However, a word of caution: don’t take feedback from one win/loss review as gospel – clients have differing likes/dislikes and so you will need to use your judgement about what is likely to resonate with a particular target going forwards – the more you know about your prospective client, coupled with your past feedback, the better you will be able to tailor your approach to each opportunity.

And if you don’t get the work, as Tom said in his post – “losing a client does not have to be a total loss”. Here’s our two cents worth:

  1. If you pitch for a piece of business and miss out, conduct a loss review. Find out what the prospects decision making criteria were, how you performed against these, what they liked about your pitch, what they thought could be improved, what the winning person/team did that made them stand out, and any other suggestions the prospect has for future pitches.
  2. If a client (that you value) leaves you, find out the reasons why and what, if anything, you would need to do to work with them again in the future.
  3. When you lose a piece of work, give the person a call after three months to find out how things are going for him/her. Make sure you send them information of value to them occasionally along with a personal note.
  4. If a bill remains unpaid for longer than 30 days, call the client to find out if they were happy with the work you did. Don’t just follow up the unpaid invoice. Use it as an opportunity to evaluate your service.

I strongly believe that obtaining client/prospect and referrer feedback, wherever possible, is invaluable to building your business and improving your client service.

Learn from your wins and your existing clients so that you minimise the losses. But, when you do lose a client or a piece of work, learn from that too – and never assume it’s a permanent move – you may have to work hard, but you can win them back.

Do you conduct win/loss reviews on a regular basis? If so, how have these helped your business?

What advice would you give to others starting this process for the first time?

Why should we ask our clients what they think of our service?

“We work with them all the time. We already know what they think of us”. This is one of the most common objections we hear from professionals about conducting client feedback exercises. However, when questioned, this perception is often based on assumptions rather than hard evidence.

When you are working regularly with clients, it is easy to believe that you have a good understanding of the relationship, and how the client views the relationship. But unless you ask your clients, you will never know for sure.

I strongly believe independent client feedback exercises are vital if you want to strengthen your relationships with your clients and increase your share of wallet. These should be conducted in addition to CEO/Managing Partner discussions with the client and in addition to fee earner conversations – which are also important discussions to have.

So, why are independent client feedback exercises so important?

Because they give the client the opportunity to speak openly and candidly about what’s important to them, the state of the relationship, their understanding of your business and what they’d like to see from you going forwards. It’s vital that the interviewer is perceived as independent and impartial and that the process is seen by the client as more than simply a ‘marketing exercise’.

Having conducted client reviews/feedback interviews both as an employee of a law firm and independently as a consultant, I’ve found clients have been much more open and honest since I’ve been engaged externally.

So, having established that you need to seek the feedback, you need to have specific goals in mind, in order to ask the right questions. Client reviews not only tell you what’s important to your clients and how you’re performing vis a vis a range of criteria, but they also enable you to benchmark your performance year-on-year and to focus your marketing efforts on those things that will make the biggest difference to your clients.

12 good reasons to conduct client reviews are to uncover:

  1. What is the true state of each of our client relationships?
  2. How well did a particular project/matter go from the client’s perspective?
  3. Why are we only getting a portion of a client’s work?
  4. Why are revenues from this client declining?
  5. How do clients and influencers perceive us? What is our current brand positioning?
  6. How closely are the firm’s brand and one individual’s personal brand linked?
  7. How are our competitors perceived and what does the market say our competitive advantage is?
  8. How can we get into a specific market?
  9. Why are we not winning business in a particular sector?
  10. How can we win work before it goes to tender?
  11. How aware is the market of the range of services we provide?
  12. What are the client’s priorities over the coming year and how can we support them?

Clients, and other stakeholders, like to be asked for feedback. Conducting reviews demonstrates you value your relationship with them.  Provided there is appropriate follow-up, the process will enable you to strengthen your relationships and  build client loyalty.

Do you conduct client (and other stakeholder) feedback exercises? If not, remember others do.

How have client feedback exercises helped your business?

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Do you under-promise and over-deliver…or the reverse?

When we interview clients of professional services firms one of the themes that comes through, time and time again, is the need to understand, and manage, each client’s expectations on every piece of work you do for them.

We’ve put together 11 tips below to help you do just that. These are based on things that clients have told us they would like their professional advisers to do:

1. Find out your client’s expectations up front – including what do they want to achieve, what do they need from you, by when, in what format, what’s their budget, how frequently would they like meetings/updates and in what format?

2. Build in contingencies – when you set your timelines, wherever possible you should build in extra time to allow for ‘unforeseen circumstances’. However, if you are unable to deliver to original deadlines you must manage your client’s expectations early – ideally as soon as you become aware of the issue.

3. Provide a quote or cost estimate up front as well as a reverse brief setting out what you understand their needs and your role to be. Set out who their key point(s) of contact will be and who will be working on the file, including contact details.

4. Inform your own team of  the client’s expectations and what you expect from them. This includes other advisers you may be working alongside – agree how you will work as a team for the client’s benefit.

5. When issues arise, inform the client early. Always come to the client with solutions or options if problems have arisen – don’t make the problem solely the client’s issue.

6. If the scope of work changes, or unforeseen issues occur which have cost implications, let the client know early so that, together, you can agree a way forwards.

7. Let the client know of planned absences or dates/times when you will be unavailable well in advance and make sure they know who their point of contact will be in your absence.

8. Always try to deliver work early. However, if you are up against a deadline e.g. if the client wants the work next Wednesday, ensure you deliver it to them by midday on the Wednesday at the latest. Don’t leave it until 5pm as the client won’t realistically be able to do anything with it until the next day. You’d be amazed how many clients have mentioned similar scenarios in client reviews we’ve conducted and how frustrated this makes them feel.

9. Ensure you deliver what the client needs. For example if you’re a lawyer, does your client want an answer, a short opinion or a 20 pager? Deliver your advice in a format the client can use. This will depend on what they will do with your advice – if they need to present it to their Board deliver it as a Board report, if they need to get internal buy-in for something ensure your advice is structured persuasively considering the business and personal needs of those it needs to persuade.

10. Reflect your firm and personal values in everything you do.

11. Conduct face-to-face end of project/matter reviews after all large or strategically important work as well as a certain number for key clients or new clients. You can then keep doing the things that work well and tweak your service wherever necessary.

Do you agree with these? What other tips would you share?

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How well are you performing for your clients?

We asked 200 clients of professional services firms in New Zealand how they evaluate an adviser’s performance. The answer overwhelmingly came down to ‘was I well advised?’

Clients specifically evaluate:

  • The outcome/result they achieved
  • How effectively their adviser(s) worked with them and their extended team
  • The cost of the work versus the benefits derived from that work
  • The timeliness of the advice
  • The adviser’s understanding of their business, goals and values.

A number of people interviewed (typically in larger organisations) said they evaluate performance by going through a contestable process (typically an RFP) every few years.

In order to build client loyalty, it’s imperative that you understand how your clients will evaluate your performance on each j0b you do for them.

We recommend:

  • Finding out what your clients’ goals are for the project / matter,  and what they need from you, by when, at the outset.
  • Asking them how they will evaluate your performance up front.
  • Ensuring you manage their expectations throughout the process – if you can’t deliver something when you said you would, tell them at the earliest opportunity. If the scope of the work changes or costs look likely to escalate, tell them early so that you can work together to agree a way forwards.
  • Conducting an end of project review on all major projects as well as on a number of smaller ones.

Understanding what’s important to your clients on each matter/project is vital if you are to retain and grow your relationship with them.

By understanding and managing their expectations throughout the process, and by regularly benchmarking your performance, you will be able to tailor your approach and service to each client – building trust and loyalty.

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Are you the right horse for the course?

What do clients look for when hiring professional services advisers?

We’ve interviewed over 200 clients of professional services firms over the past 18 months and 83% of them say they look for the right person(s) for the job.

While the backing of a large firm is important when deals/projects are large or complex, this horses for courses approach to appointing advisers provides huge opportunities for smaller firms and individuals who can demonstrate they’re the right person for the job.

What do clients mean by ‘the right person for the job’?

  • Someone with the necessary technical competence/expertise: as evidenced by their past experience on similar projects, their reputation, their ability to influence decision makers, their knowledge and their level of professionalism.
  • Someone who is the right fit: at both a personal and team level, including the adviser’s ability to work well with the extended team.
  • Someone who understands, or shows they are willing to learn about, the client’s business: an adviser who will anticipate needs and protect the client’s interests.

So, how can you demonstrate you’re the right person for the job?

  • Position yourself as an expert in your field by sharing useful, relevant and timely content with your target audience(s) via a variety of channels both online and offline.
  • Provide evidence of your technical competence/expertise through the content you share as well as via case studies and client testimonials.
  • Seek to demonstrate how you work and your fit at both a personal and team level via client testimonials, testimonials from other practitioners who have worked with you on a deal/project, case studies, and your bio. When meeting with prospective clients in person, view this as an opportunity to demonstrate how you work.
  • Ask your clients and prospects questions to find out about their businesses, do your research and then share relevant content with them. Call them to let them know about things which may impact their business. Share case studies and testimonials of work you’ve done in their industry. If you don’t understand a prospective client’s business, ask pertinent questions, and then tell them how you will get up to speed.

Building your personal profile and evidencing your work, your working style, your understanding of (or willingness to understand) your clients’ businesses and the outcomes you’ve helped your clients achieve are key to demonstrating you are the right horse for the course.

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