IN OUR OPINION, PERSPECTIVE #99 — December 23, 2019
(A Continuing Series for Leading CPA Firms)
“To be a Standout Firm – You Must Be Client-Centric”
“ The more you engage with clients, the clearer things
become and the easier it is to determine what you
should be doing”. John Russell
“In the age of the client, partners don’t decide
how client-centric their firms are – clients do”.
This is the sixth in a series about successfully transitioning to a stand-out Professional Services Firm. We will continue our deeper dive into the five major principles that create a standout professional services firm – being client-centric, the third principle.
A research study that was done in 2013 by Walker was focused on projecting what B-to-B clients in 2020 will look like and summarized the results with three key takeaways:
THERE WILL BE NO ROOM FOR STRANGERS. Customers will expect companies to know their business intimately and personalize the experience
IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION IS NOT FAST ENOUGH. Customers will expect companies to be more proactive, anticipating their current and future needs
INTERACTING ON THEIR TERMS. Customers will determine the experience they want and will expect companies to enable that experience through various channels, including mobile, social, and personal interactions
How does your firm stack up competing for clients within the above client expectation model?
Being client-centric is not a unique success characteristic for business but a critical characteristic for any business that wants to stand out from their competitors. Simply put, too many firms pay a ton of talk time and marketing $$ to client service while most just don’t get it believing that delivering the financial report or tax return on time is great client service. That is just the price of entry but to be truly client-centric, your firm needs to change. Our market and our clients are changing at warp speed and if your firm is not ready to be client-centric, you will lose.
The challenge to becoming a standout firm is to figure out the puzzle of “client-centricity” and how that concept can successfully be integrated into your firm. As the 3rd principle, it needs the first two (standout team and market intelligent) as a foundation or client-centricity will just result in a change around the edges, and not a change in your firm’s DNA.
So what does client-centric mean? As Peter Fader defines it (I modified it slightly) “a client-centric model is based not on expertise in the realm of services provided, but rather on a deep understanding of what clients actually want, when and how they want it, and what they’re willing to give you in exchange”.
Let’s see what our Managing Partner thinks about client-centricity.
She is preparing for the upcoming meeting where she needs to clearly describe how the firm has to change to become client-centric. She thinks about the two previous meetings where she discussed the need to become a standout team and to become market intelligent. Now she has to think through the third principle, client-centricity and how to convince her partner group about how critical becoming client-centric is to their future success. She decides that it is essential to get input from outside the firm understanding that like many firms, partners, including herself, build up myths and mindsets about the firm based on so many years of experience and that it would be too easy to base client-centricity on a very inward focus. Outside feedback is a critical first step so she facilitates a focus group of 8 of their clients where she gets great insight and feedback.
As she gets ready for the next partner meeting, she decides it needs to be a full-day retreat to allow the time to begin the process of becoming client-centric.
The meeting day has arrived and as the partner group is sharing breakfast she starts. “First of all, thank you for coming and I appreciate your time. Let me start with repeating our firm’s overall aspirational goal – to become a truly standout firm. We are a good firm today but as I have always challenged myself and each of you, we can be better. The question today is that although we all think we deliver great client service, do we? I bet if I asked each of you to define client service we would get an array of answers and that is at the center of the issue – we do not have a common understanding of client service and what being client-centric means. Today we begin the process of creating the road map that will make our firm an impactful client-centric firm”.
After allowing some time for the group to finish breakfast and discuss what she just said, she continues.
“This is how today will proceed. I am going to share with you what being a client-centric firm means based on client focus groups, my own thinking, talking to some of you and discussions with other MPs I know very well. Then we are going to spend the rest of today in working groups discussing how we actualize each component of what being client-centric will require.
First, what does client-centricity require from us internally? As Peter Fader states “ client-centricity requires major organizational, structural, strategic and cultural changes”.
“While the above addresses internally what client-centricity requires, I want to add an external component – what it means to our clients. Simply put, when our clients rely on and seek input from us on every business challenge they are experiencing and we are able to provide insightful advice which they value, we are client-centric”.
She asks “How many of us truly believe our client service lives up to that definition?” Not one hand goes up, not even hers.
“So we have a lot of work to do and let’s start by outlining the major steps we need to take to make our firm client-centric:
- Identify our most valuable clients and optimize client service delivery for that client segment to create a top level client experience
- Examine all internal systems and processes and take steps to optimize all – organized around the client experience and not our services
- Optimize all technology platforms to ensure that we can measure and manage all key client experience metrics
- Empower everyone to make decisions and reward based on client experience metrics and not billable hours, production, etc.”
She observes that the group has some doubters, some ready to go and most just questioning. She concludes by telling the group “I will lead this effort with a select small “Client Experience Team” to lead the effort to make our firm fully client-centric. My role as CEO will have two components – Chief Executive Office and Client Experience Officer. More to come at our next meeting.
Now with the above introduction, let’s move to our breakout teams to begin the process of creating our roadmap to client-centricity”
In Our Opinion, for any firm that wants to stand out, the bedrock principle that must be in place is client-centricity. A 2013 research study referenced above concluded with a key finding:
So, who wins in the year 2020? it’s the most forward-thinking companies – those that consciously and deliberately work at anticipating the future needs of their customers and devise strategies to deliver today”. As we enter 2020, is your firm positioned to win?
Creating a client-centric firm is not an easy challenge as it requires us to change at our very core, our mindset; our internal systems and processes; the way we interact with and service our clients. For a firm focused on becoming a standout firm, facing and winning this challenge is not optional. Once achieved, the rewards in growth, profit, client retention, client happiness and in a certain way more critically, a much more confident and excited professional staff at all levels is the prize.
Tony Zecca (CPA and retired CohnReznick partner and National Director of the Advisory Group) is an ESPOSITO CEO2CEO consultant who is brought into client assignments for his skill in strategy, growth, and transformation. ESPOSITO CEO2CEO, LLC — a boutique advisory firm consulting to leading CPA and other professional services firms on strategy, succession planning, and mergers, acquisitions and integration is actively led by Dom Esposito, CPA. Dom, voted as one of the most influential people in the profession for two consecutive years by Accounting Today, authored a book, published by www.CPATrendlines.com., entitled “8 Steps to Great” which is a primer for CEOs, managing partners, and other senior partners. In Our Opinion, is a continuing series of perspectives for leading CPA firms where Dom and his colleagues share insights, experiences, and wisdom with firm leaders who want to “run with the big dogs” and develop their firms into sustainable brands. Dom welcomes questions and can be contacted at either firstname.lastname@example.org or 203.292.3277.