Tag Archives: client loyalty

10 keys of successful delegation to enhance client service

Introducing our first guest post by Greg De Simone, a certified business coach at FocalPoint Coaching on the 10 keys of successful delegation. I love the way Greg’s points tie so nicely into improving the customer experience…

I recently read a post from a Kirsten Hodgson, a LinkedIn connection and a marketing specialist for professional service firms, titled, “Eight Questions Every Professional Should Ask When Taking New Work Instructions.”   The pervasive thought that came through was that establishing expectations with clarity was mission critical when bringing on new clients.  I couldn’t agree more.   Cleary defined expectations agreed upon at the outset of an engagement or on-going relationship are essential if client retention is one of your key metrics.

Here are the eight questions Kirsten posed:

  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)?

It also struck me how similar the fundamental concepts in those questions were compared to a delegation workshop I routinely deliver titled,  “The 2nd Most Powerful Time Management Tool – delegation for the business professional.”  The workshop summarizes the ten keys of delegation that I, as a Brian Tracy certified FocalPoint business coach, use to help improve my clients’ productivity and profitability.

Here’s a brief summary of the 10 keys to delegation:

  1. Focus on your high value activities
  2. Do what you do best….. delegate the rest
  3. Delegate based on demonstrated competence
  4. Define task clearly
  5. Set a deadline
  6. Establish milestones
  7. Agree on resources
  8. Agree on consequences
  9. Put it in writing
  10. Inspect what you inspect

Notice how clarity and expectation setting are woven into most of the key items.   So, just as we want our relationships with our clients clearly defined with mutually agreed upon expectations, so do our employees when we delegate tasks, activities and projects.    By following these steps (both Kirsten’s and mine) any professional practice can improve the performance of their staff which in turn will lead to improved client service.

What other things do you think are critical when delegating work/tasks? 

Are there any other tips you’d add to Greg’s list? 

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? 

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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