If you want to be indispensable to your clients don’t think about trying to become their trusted adviser. Don’t think about how you can repackage your fees or offer more elaborate customer service either. Instead, think about one thing: what can you do to make things easier?
That’s because how easy it is to do business with you - and in turn, how easy you make your clients’ lives - is by far and away the most important criteria they’ll consider when comparing their advisers to their competitors.
In other words, ease of business is the number one factor driving client retention.
The hard evidence for ease of business...
In 2010, Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman and Nicholas Toman published an article in the Harvard Business Review on the folly of trying to win customer loyalty by providing ‘bells and whistles’-style customer service. Their research found that what customers really wanted was a satisfactory solution to their issues – and they wanted that solution with a minimum of effort on their part.
While this research was based contact centre interactions in large organisations, the same rules apply in professional services.
The 2014 Beaton Benchmarks Survey showed that clients rated ‘ease of doing business’ with their professional advisers as the number one factor in considering whether they offered value. It came in ahead of ‘Understanding your business/industry’ and ‘Caring about your clients’.
Believe it or not ‘commerciality of advice’ ranked 9, ‘ and ‘perception of fees’ 10. ‘Technical expertise’ came in at number 11.
What are you doing to reduce effort?
So if reducing the work a client must do when doing business with you is the most important factor in retaining them, ask yourself what are you doing to reduce their effort? And how do you keep it up throughout the whole engagement? Most importantly of all, what could you be doing to make things even easier still?
Consider this framework the typical client pathway, developed by Sydney consulting group Second Road.
As you read through it, put yourself in your client’s shoes and explore alternative ideas that would remove come up with ideas for reducing the client’s effort. They don’t need to be earth-shattering or complex.
Practical steps for making it easy...
If you’re having some trouble figuring out what you could do, here’s my advice for some simple tweaks you could make to your processes.
- Entice. Reduce the risk of mistrust or misunderstanding by using plain English in your communications and marketing materials. Be succinct about your purpose, what you do and how you do it. Be specific about the types of clients or situations you best serve.
- Enter. Reduce the chance of emotional disconnection by listening for cues and clues about your client’s communication style. For example, in the vernacular of DISC® behavioural types, are they a highly expressive ‘Dominant’ or a reflective ‘Cautious’? Ask clients about past experiences so you can understand their emotional triggers, frustrations or biases.
- Engage. Take the initiative. Don’t let the client follow up on progress or wait for you to return their call. Talk clients through the way you work. Check this meets their expectations and if not, be prepared to make adjustments. Discuss how you will communicate progress. When a client calls your office and you’re not available, the person taking the message should ask the client to nominate the best times for you to call back.
- Exit. Reduce the risk of post-engagement dissonance with a debrief within 30 days of the matter concluding. Ask the client if anything surprised them and use this feedback to make service improvements. (You can read more on the right way to go about client feedback here.)
- Extend. Make it easy for the client to refer you. Be specific about the types of client or situation you serve best (as in the ‘Entice’ stage). Let them know about the practice you are building, the importance of referrals and what you will do if you receive a referral from them. Ask permission to stay in touch with the client and follow through on other issues or opportunities you identify. (Read my earlier piece on 7 steps to asking for a client referral if you need more help on how to do it properly.)
If you like this idea you may also find this 30 min presentation from Professor Moira Clark on the Customer Effort Score interesting.
By making your clients’ lives easier you’ll increase their satisfaction, distinguish your service from your competitors and make it easy to show the value you’re providing.