Monthly Archives: September 2011

What professional services firms can learn about creating a client experience from the RWC2011

One of the really neat things that's happened in Auckland during the Rugby World Cup is that each suburb has adopted an overseas team in order to make them feel welcome. Shop fronts bear their flags and some kids dress in their colours. It's designed to make visitors feel welcome. While I've heard a few people criticize it (because we should just be supporting the All Blacks) I think it does reflect the genuine Kiwi spirit. I first travelled to New Zealand in 2000 and was blown away by how friendly people were (not the stilted 'I have to be friendly or I'll lose my job' kind of approach you see in some countries but a real warmth that ,I believe, defines New Zealanders). 

Initial teething issues with public transport aside, I think those who have come to support their teams will go away with a genuine, positive kiwi experience. 

What's this got to do with professional services marketing? 

I recently attended the APSMA conference in Sydney and one of the themes that came through the majority of presentations is that professionals and their firms will need to offer their clients a 'customised experience'. We've seen FMCG's do it for years with their 'be in to win this amazing experience' competitions, but how can professionals and professional services firms create a consistent client experience that defines them and/or their firm? 

Here are 6 ideas: 

  1. Leverage your network for the benefit of your clients. You might want to introduce clients to others who it would be useful for them to meet, or to organise a thought leadership roundtable on a particular issue. 
  2. Provide a consistent service – do what you say you are going to, when you say you will. If you can't meet a deadline or other things crop up that will affect what you have said, let the client know early. Manage their expectations. 
  3. Think about what you can do for your clients that they would really value. This will be different for every client but may involve providing them with an office they can use when they are in town, providing a secondee, offering a free clinic where they can come to discuss issues, or providing webinars/seminars on topical issues – the list is endless. 
  4. Look for ways to make the client's life easier and to put them in control. This may include going to their office or home rather than expecting them to come to you, or giving them access to online deal-rooms, and other resources they may find useful. 
  5. Consider offering a guarantee or some other incentive that demonstrates you have some skin in the game. For example, if you tightly scope work you may be able to guarantee that, if the client is not 100% satisfied they only pay what they think your advice is worth. I know a lot of people are reticent to give price-related guarantees but brainstorm whether there is a non-price related guarantee you can provide that would resonate with your clients and would work for you and your firm. For example, a copywriter I know gives a thumbs up guarantee that states that if a client isn't happy with the copy she writes, she will redraft it until they are. 
  6. Build a community around an issue of interest to your clients. For example, if you work in the resource management field you could look at developing a community around future Emissions Trading Scheme issues. 

I think there's a huge opportunity, beyond traditional CRM, for professionals and firms to create valuable client experiences, both on and off-line. What do you think? 

What good examples of experiences have you seen professional services firms offering? 

What other ideas do you have to create customised experiences for clients? 

Client feedback/listening exercises – tips for overcoming the 6 most common objections

 

One of the hardest things about initiating a client feedback/listening process within a professional services firm is getting buy-in from the lawyers, accountants or engineers themselves. 

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the following objections, I’d be a rich woman. Seeking client feedback about your performance is scary (and I know because I’ve done it in my business) and it’s only natural to object. However, over the past 8 years conducting literally thousands of reviews, only five people have said they don’t want to participate (that’s less than 1% of those asked). The fact is clients want to be heard. Reviews are about uncovering the good stuff as well as the not so good in order to leverage the positives and deal with the weaknesses.

I thought it would be good to set out 6 of the more common objections I've heard and some tips to overcome these: 

“We already know what our clients think about us” – the real objection is usually “I’m petrified about what they might say about me”. Mark Maraia suggests a great way to overcome this in his ‘Rainmaking made Simple’ book: Firstly find out whether the person does know what his/her clients think by asking them for the supporting evidence. If their statement turns out to be speculation and their real objection is fear then ask whether that partner’s clients are seeking customer feedback and whether they find that feedback useful. Get the partner to call one of his/her clients to ask and then follow up to find out what the client said to him/her. Use this information to build your case.

“I don’t want you to do this with my clients” – interview other clients of the firm first and then show the person how this feedback has helped other people in the firm. They soon come round especially when others tell them how useful the process is.

“My client is too busy. I don’t want to bother him/her/them” – ask when they are likely to be less busy and encourage the person to call their contact(s) to see if they would be happy to be interviewed in principle and, if so, when a good time might be.

“We don’t need to seek feedback as we’ve always had this client’s work and we’ll keep getting it” – explain that the review process in this instance is about understanding why this relationship is so strong, so that the firm can apply the learnings to other client relationships.

“This client relationship is too new” – explain that now is a good time to set the scene. If you seek feedback early then you can ensure you are servicing the client effectively right from the outset.

“This client only wants to deal with me” – explain that this process is about supporting the person in their role. Encourage them to ask the client if they would be happy to participate in the process with the understanding that if they say ‘no’, that’s fine.

A good technique to overcome typical objections is to tell war-stories. For example, I once conducted a client review for a law firm who thought their relationship with a particular client was great. When I spoke to the client they were in the process of moving their business elsewhere because they felt the firm I was working for wasn’t responsive enough, wasn’t putting their best team on the account, and didn’t care about them. The firm I was working for had no idea! By asking the right questions and going back to the client within a week of the review with a programme of what we had done and were in the process of putting in place to rectify the situation, we were able to save the client and over $2 million in fees. 

What other objections do you regularly hear? What are your top tips for overcoming these? 

What has worked well and, conversely, what's worked less well when conducting client listening/feedback initiatives within your firm? 

Social media for legal, accounting and engineering: overcoming the fear of the unknown

I met with a friend last week who talked about his reticence to use social media because he doesn't want to put anything in writing that could come back and haunt him in the future. He isn't a lawyer but does work in the professional services space. It got me thinking that there are probably a number of lawyers, accountants, engineers and other professionals out there who feel the same way.

BUT (and it is a big but) social media is not about broadcasting your news or services to the world or providing 'technical' advice, it's about asking questions and engaging with others, looking for ways to help them out by answering their questions, and sharing valuable information that you (or others) have produced. Provided you do not misrepresent yourself or your capabilities and don't provide 'advice per-se' then you can look to leverage social media. 

If you're in professional services and are new to the world of social media, here are a few tips for how you can use it:

  • as a research tool – monitor what your clients and competitors are up to, what the current trends are, and what's important to your target market. Follow companies and people and consider using a monitoring tool (such as Manzama for those in law firms).

 

  • as a planning tool – build information from social media networks into your practice group, industry sector, client or personal plans. For example, if you have identified the telecommunications sector as one on which you are going to focus consider how you will engage with relevant communities via social media and how doing so can help you achieve your overall goals. At the very least join the groups that those with whom you want to engage belong.

                   

  • as an upskilling tool – there is a LOT of great information out there. By joining appropriate groups/communities and following thought-leaders on Twitter (as well as relevant hashtags) you can easily find a lot of this, without having to wade through masses of other stuff first. You can share this with your contacts/followers/fans and build some of the things you learn into your working practices. Good ways to find these people are through the search screen within Twitter, via the Advanced Search function in LinkedIn, through LinkedIn’s Signal (by following relevant keywords), and through relevant groups.

 

  • as a prospecting tool – by asking questions on topics you want to discuss and inviting people to download white papers, guides or reports in your area(s) of expertise you can identify, and connect with, prospects. People self-select the information they're interested in and so will only engage if these are topics that appeal to them.

 

  • as a relationship starter – this really follows on from the last point. Being active (in a targeted way) in the social media space is a great way to find and connect with your target audience. While you can build credibility and can start to build trust online, the real benefit of social media is in engaging one on one with others and in taking those relationships offline. For example, you may have enjoyed a discussion with another participant on a particular topic and so may invite them to discuss the topic further over coffee or Skype (depending on where the person is located).

 

  • as a reputation management tool – whether or not you are active on social media, people may be talking about you or your firm. If you are aware of this then you can choose whether or not you should respond to these comments. A really simple tool you can use is Google Alerts. As a minimum set Alerts up for your name and your organisation's name. There are a number of other free and paid tools out there.

 

  • as a profile raising and positioning tool – by joining groups/communities relevant to your area of practice, sharing content relevant to your target audience, initiating/commenting on discussions, running webinars, writing blog-posts, retweeting others etc you can use social media to help you raise your profile and position yourself among your target audience(s).

Social media are additional channels you can use to reach your target audience(s) and to help you achieve your business and marketing goals. Their interactive nature is what makes them so powerful – each participant can choose who, how, how much and when they engage. If you consistently engage via these channels and focus on helping others (rather than simply helping yourself) you will start to see increased engagement and, over time, you will notice how these tools are contributing to you reaching your business goals. 

 

I keep saying it but social media is not a silver bullet and it does often feel like noone is listening. However, its effects are cumulative and when you start to see traction it often builds quickly.

 

What, if anything, is preventing you from doing more in the social media space?

 

If you are a professional who leverages social media what advice would you give to others?  

 

LinkedIn: Why you should only include your name in the name field

There has been a recent discussion on one of my LinkedIn groups about whether to include a job title in the name field on LinkedIn. You probably know some people who do this. When you see their updates they will appear as ‘Kirsten Hodgson – professional services marketer’ (or something along those lines) rather than just their name. For all of you thinking it’s a good idea or who do this: PLEASE DON’T.

In addition to the fact that LinkedIn doesn’t allow it (and some people have allegedly had their accounts suspended as a result of doing this) it’s also a bit like walking up to someone in a pub and overwhelming them with information about yourself right upfront. LinkedIn is an online network so it’s wise to treat it as you would a face-to-face networking opportunity. There are plenty of other places within your profile  to include information about who you can help and what you can help them with.

I asked LinkedIn what its position is on this and one of the customer service team replied with the following:

“The LinkedIn User Agreement requires use of true names rather than pseudonyms, business names, associations, groups, email addresses, or other characters when registering on our site. We believe that any information other than first and last names in the name fields undermines the professional nature of our site and services.
User Agreement:
http://www.linkedin.com/static?key=user_agreement

Therefore, we do not allow any additional information (other than certifications) to be added to the name fields.”

If you want to highlight who you can help and what you can help them with, then use the professional headline space to do so. If you want to edit it then select:

  • Profile
  • Edit Profile
  • And click on the Edit button that appears next to your name

This will take you to a form. Half way down you will see the Professional Headline section. Use this to convey your key points.

If you haven’t done so already, you may also want to ensure that your LinkedIn profile is compelling and 100% complete. This will ensure that you position yourself in the best possible light to people who do view your profile or who you are recommended to. Try using BOLD or italics for added emphasis.

What’s your view? 

Has your LinkedIn account ever been suspended for something you inadvertently did? We’d love to hear from you so that we can compile a list to ensure others don’t make the same mistake.