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Pulling Back the Curtain on Client Experience

By Joey Havens

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So far in this blog series, we pulled the curtain back on innovationgrowth strategiesalignment and change management for large firms. We are now focusing on pulling back the curtain on strategic trends that are prevalent for many firms but not as frequently central to their strategic plan. All of these trends and strategies come directly from interacting with over 20 CEOs and COOs of Top 100 CPA firms. For some firms and maybe for yours, these next trends could be part of your plan to be distinctive and relevant. 

Client experience is our focus in this blog as many firms are being very intentional to redefine their client experience. What can we learn from these initiatives to help us improve our client experience? Why do some of these large firms feel that improving or redefining client experience is key to future growth? Does that mean their current client experience is bad?  Maybe, but in most cases probably not. It might mean the client experience is not distinctive enough to generate growth, not responsive to changing client needs or WOW enough to curtail competitors. Yeah, I know we are trusted advisors! We still might want to reread that last line in the paragraph above and at least think about it. 

So how are firms initiating strategies for a better client experience? For many, Net Promoter Score (NPS) and the related feedback are driving evaluations of performance. Some firms are embarking on a journey of more face-to-face surveys to understand how they are doing on meeting client expectations. How hard can it be to say “How could we have served you better?”  There’s some magic here somewhere if we dig in a little.

We know from our earlier blog on innovation that many firms are redefining the client experience with new technology tools. Technology tools, which are designed to be the easy button, to provide more transparency and to provide clients with better real-time information for their business will add significant value to the client experience. We will see lots of transformation here including client portal transformation. How easy is this to copy or catch up on? Does this provide a long-term distinction or a short-term advantage? At best, technology tools can only really provide about six months of cover. That statement is not to take away from the urgent and important aspect of implementing these tools. It is intended to impart that it’s foolish to rely on these tools to completely redefine our client experience beyond our outside competitors or each other. 

Catching on that this is hard to do? Me too, and I guess that might be one reason why this is not front and center for all firms who want sustainable growth. We are seeing some firms be very creative and innovative with their client experience. They are defining what they want the client experience to be and what excellence in client service really means. Principles used by Disney and other customer experience leaders are being studied and copied for implementation. Firms are better defining what their client promises are. 

When firms have better clarity for client promises, excellence and what the client experience should be, they are aligning this with growth pathways for team members. Client service skills are being taught and team members are learning how they play a role in delivering excellence in client experience. Client success stories are being shared around the firm so people can actually see what a great client experience looks and feels like. Yes, emotions play a big role in client experience. Doesn’t it for us when we hire advisors, doctors, purchase cars and even buy toilet paper?

In addition, firms are building new internal metrics for assessing client experience. Metrics are being used to assess and monitor client experience like turn around time, meeting delivery deadlines (defined by the client), NPS, Pulse surveys, client churn, client growth, services-per-client and revenues-per-client just to name a few I have seen lately.

It’s not surprising that our client experience is key to our future sustainable growth. What might be surprising as we pull the curtains back, is that only a few firms are actively working on redefining this experience. Again its hard to do and that will leave us in a good spot for next week’s blog which will be focused on pricing of our services. Aware, Predict, Adapt #FutureReady