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Orientation: Developing a Culture of Client Orientation

Synopsis

Orientation, the first element of the Client Management Model™, explains:

• the impact on Clients of a firm's structure; Client service models;

• the importance and benefits to all parties of having a Client-facing firm rather than a practice or service orientation;

• the characteristics of a Client-facing culture; the Client/ management needs dilemma;

• Client expectations;

• setting objectives and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that reflect Client orientation;

• the importance of employee engagement; making a difference; recognising excellence;

• the evolution of strategic marketing and its impact on Clients;

• Client representation at the board level;

• the importance of knowing the firm's top Clients.

THOUGHT STARTERS

• How should your firm be structured?

• What are the options?

• What defines your culture?

• What is your level of employee engagement?

• Is Client-centricity part of your DNA?

• What are your Clients' expectations?

Impact on Clients of a Firm's Structure

Professional services firms have many choices in the way that their organisations are structured. However, unlike public companies, the majority of professional services firms are privately owned, often by the partners of the firm. This factor alone often creates the desire for a practice-led structure. This can often cause Clients using multiple practices in a firm having to fit in with the organisation's structure. So it is worth investing time to review the firm's current strategic position and consider the various options open to its owners and the impact of each option on Clients.

Most firms are organised along service lines, so, for example, an accounting firm will usually have separate practice groups covering audit, advisory work and tax, and within these sub-groups specialised areas such as forensic accounting, pension consulting, internal audit; a law firm may have practice groups covering corporate litigation, the environment, intellectual property and public policy. Property firms are often organised into commercial and residential. These service lines are often supported by dedicated or centralised marketing and business development teams. Such support is covered in the next, and subsequent, chapters.

So do we ever consider the impact of a firm's structure on Clients? The tendency when practice-led professional services firms meet Clients is that the practice group partner or specialist leads with facts about the firm and how their particular competences can help to solve problems. Clearly opportunities for work in other areas of the firm can be missed when a Client is only dealing with one person or team with a specific service line responsibility. Although this approach is quite commonplace, it carries with it the risk that the person or team may eventually have a dominant role within the firm with respect to the Client relationship and this can inhibit growth.

Many firms try to overcome this practice-led behaviour by having a Client management policy that assigns a second partner from a different discipline to oversee the development of the relationship. This benefits the Client, giving them access to a second external perspective on their business. It also protects the firm and Client in the case of a partner leaving, so there is still some continuity until a change is made. More importantly, it also can provide the firm with opportunities for additional assignments. Having a dual-partner responsibility can thus increase the revenue stream. By taking this more holistic approach, a broader discussion is also more likely to occur when a Client meets with two or more partners with different remits. This benefits the Client in showing that the firm's people are really interested in helping them to solve a wider variety of problems. Of course it is sensible for the lead partner to allow sufficient time for the Client to develop a trusted relationship with the firm, through delivery of excellent service, before trying to introduce too many other specialists. Another process which benefits the Client and the firm is the development of Client Service Plans that incorporate all practice areas that might be relevant to the Client. Further commentary on Client relationship development is covered in Chapter 8.

Some firms create regional practice teams providing a range of services that focus on Clients within geographical boundaries. However, this approach can sometimes lead to contact confusion and internal ownership issues with Clients having multiple sites across these artificially created regional limits. So would a firm organised with Clients in mind be possible? A sharing mentality and behaviour is a necessary pre-requisite to optimising a firm's performance. Ultimately, given that most professional service firms seek trusted adviser status with their Clients, it may be worth reviewing the level of Client orientation that really exists in a firm.

Organising around sectors

Many firms have recently created multi-practice teams that align with Client sectors, using a 'matrix' structure (see Table 1.1) - so, for example, a manufacturing team would deal with Clients from that industry, irrespective of location and services required. Practice or service line heads are still in place, but are encouraged to form cross-functional teams when facing Clients. This centralised approach tends to prevent confusion in the Client's organisation.

Table 1.1 Matrix of Sector Teams and Practice Groups

Matrix of Sector Teams and Practice Groups

In Table 1.1 it can be seen that the Aerospace sector team has members from Practice Groups A and C, food Clients would be handled a sector team involving three practice groups and so on. Clients benefit by having access to industry specialists who work in various practice groups. Another example from the matrix is that Practice Group C, which could be focused on, say, employment law, straddles all the sectors. Over time it might be possible to cross-sell more services to other sectors. Table 1.1 can also be used to show the current situation and can be updated over time. Both practice groups and sectors can operate globally as appropriate to a firm's country presence, which adds a third dimension to the same matrix. This type of organisation is common in many of the mid- to large-sized firms and requires regular and timely communication within the groups that interact in the structure.

Key challenges

It is evident from recent Client care research that looking at business through the lens of the Client, rather than that of the firm, is still the key challenge facing many professional service organisations. Structuring a firm around its Clients and markets is considered best practice, but doesn't really appear to happen in many firms because of other priorities. As we move through this book, it becomes clear that the challenge is dealing with the notion that Clients are buying solutions, not services, and that engaged employees deliver the best performance for Clients.

Another key challenge for international firms, or firms with international Clients, is the ability to provide a seamless and consistent service wherever the Client wishes to do business, especially across country jurisdictions and cultures. The management of international Clients and firms is covered in later chapters.

Examples of Client Service Cycles

Figure 1.1 Examples of Client Service Cycles

 
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