Client centric? Ask your clients.

March 18, 2018
Client centric? Ask your clients.

This post on client centric firms, measurement and  NPS originally appeared on the blog of FirmChecker’s sister company, Beaton Research + Consulting. It has been adapted, with permission, as it is of great relevance to small-medium professional services firms, for whom this blog is intended.

Paul Hugh-Jones, Director at Beaton Research + Consulting

Clients’ expectations and buying behaviour have changed in professional services. These changes are structural, and reflect a transition to a buyers’ market. Clients have increasing levels of sophistication and expectation of value. Consequently, firms face demands for better, more client centric service delivery. Against a backdrop of more price-based competition and commoditisation of services, this can make sellers of professional services feel snookered.

One problem is that being more “client centric” is a vague goal. While anyone can intuit generalities about client centricity, few focus their efforts on empirically proven behaviours which drive client satisfaction. Fewer still have feedback systems which allow them to check how good their client service really is. The result is that few firms hold themselves accountable for delivering excellence in client service.

The opportunity

Counter-intuitively, these trends are a huge opportunity if you recognise them in the context of client choices. These choices are:

  1. Exit (that is, sack you)
  2. Neglect (that is, start using other firms without telling you)
  3. Voice (complain)
  4. Loyalty (remain, repeat buy, advocate).

Improving your client-centricity will minimise your clients using choices 1 and 2 and encourage 3 and 4. While 3 may not be palatable, complaints are far better than 1 and 2. Complaints give you an opportunity to resolve issues, retain your client’s business and turn the complainer into an advocate. Good, bad or ugly, it’s always better to know.

A roadmap for being client centric

To become more client centric, you must know how and when you are ‘moving the dial’ on your client service. The key to this is measurement. Accordingly, you should use standardised client service metrics to put your clients’ feedback into a competitive context.

Things to measure: Net Promoter Score®

One such metric is the Net Promoter Score®.  Seen as a key outcome metric because of its important microeconomic implications, NPS® is calculated by asking clients the extent to which they are likely to recommend your firm to a friend or colleague on a scale of 0-10. Those scoring 0-6 are ‘detractors’ who are unhappy with your service, and likely to vocally recommend people NOT to use your firm. Those giving scores of 7-8 are ‘passives’ who are neither particularly happy nor unhappy. Those giving ‘9-10’ are ‘promoters’ who are likely to actively promote your firm. The NPS® is calculated by subtracting the percentage of ‘detractor’ scores from the percentage of ‘promoter’ scores.

A strong NPS® score bodes very well for your firms’ financial performance, but it is not in itself actionable. Firms with a weak or average NPS® often lack a road map of how to improve their score. In the Professional Services Awards study, we measure the behaviours which have the biggest impact upon NPS: Reliability, Understanding clients’ business, Communicating well and demonstrating excellent Expertise. Additionally, you firm can compare your results against an industry standard of other high performing firms.

Improving your bottom line through client feedback

Feedback alerts you to detractors to prevent Exit and Neglect, while giving you important intelligence on growth and promotion opportunities with promoters. Measuring NPS® and its drivers is thus valuable in improving your client centricity and financial performance. This was fundamental to the design of the Professional Services Awards.

Client centricity, as manifested in NPS®, can explain as much as 20 to 60% of the variation in organic growth rates. This is not to say NPS® is a panacea – it is not. Rather, it is the result of strong performance in client service attributes which leads to common-sense results. These are demonstrated by the schema in Figure 1, below, which gives a picture of the benefits of fostering and retaining positive client relationships.

NPS leaders more easily recoup fees, get more repeat business and can charge more. Further, acquiring clients is cheaper because of less churn, and because clients do BD work for them. Consequently, the economic case for measuring and improving your service is compelling.

Case study: Maersk

We have several case studies of firms using the Professional Services Awards to become more client centric. However, we thought we’d include an example from a completely unrelated, yet analogous, industry.

Maersk is the world’s largest container shipping company. The shipping industry is highly commoditised and plagued by over-capacity, price wars and stagnant sea traffic. In this industry, volume vital to economic success.

Through providing a comprehensive, top-down approach to improving client centricity, in which all management had to spend a ‘day in the life of a customer’, Maersk was able to improve its NPS® from -10 to +30. Every 4 point lift in NPS® resulted in a 1% increase in shipping volume. This had huge flow-on effects for Maersk’s operational efficiency and its profitability. More can be read about Maersk’s success here.

Maersk differentiated itself on its customer service. With such a profound effect on the profitability of a firm in an increasingly commoditised industry, improving client centricity is a big opportunity for professional services firms.

Knowing how to execute on client centricity, track progress and drive real time improvement is crucial for professional services firms that want to excel in the buyer’s market.

Authors

Paul Hugh-Jones is a beaton partner with a wealth of experience in B2C and B2B marketing. Paul led global brands for Mars, British Airways and Bacardi before becoming CMO at King & Wood Mallesons and Ashurst.

Ben Farrow is a Director of FirmChecker and beaton consultant.

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