Adviser: Sometimes it’s good to listen

Link: Small practice advice

A primary means of achieving competitive advantage over your competitor firms is to have a better understanding of the needs of clients. This understanding comes from listening to clients.

Listening and communicating requires an ethos in the firm that encourages customer care and acknowledges that staff need training to help them perform better in this regard. It also demands that the firm develop a more innovative approach to recruitment, thus attracting higher calibre people than the competition who can be more valuable to clients.

Obtaining feedback from clients will also reduce complaints and, in its own way, encourage them to compliment the firm. It is only by seeking out and fettling defects, and discovering why and how the failure occurred, that it is possible to make improvements. If there is any flaw in performance or attitude, only one person’s opinion counts – the client’s.

Remember that training in interpersonal skills will make staff more valuable in the marketplace than simply being excellent technicians. Professionals are always under the stress of producing work on time, and firms provide too little training on customer care and service issues.

No one likes to receive complaints from a client, but many of the systems and processes in place within the average practice are geared to the prevention of technical problems, rather than the ‘people factor’, even though it’s the latter that is often the issue. Broadly speaking, there are four principal reasons for clients complaining. Addressing them will produce a more customer focused and profitable business.

If client-facing members of staff lack a ‘we can do it’ attitude this may be a symptom of a greater malaise, possibly the result of inadequate recruiting, training, pay, or working conditions. Delving beneath the surface of the issues will bring a clearer focus to employing those people who really do engender and deliver a can-do ethic.

Clients complain when they do not get what they want. And all too frequently the partners assume that they know what the client needs without entering into any form of dialogue with them. The reason clients do not get what they want is because either they, or the firm, did not spend sufficient time confirming the brief. Firms should be more diligent and systematic about interviewing clients and collecting and absorbing details of their business.

An offhand or non-attentive manner will always be construed as rudeness, and can damage the client relationship. Likewise, there can be no excuse for a partner to be unaware of this trait in his staff.

The client comes to the firm for technical or business advice, and while the firm’s staff may be technically competent, any nuances they are unable to adequately discuss or communicate could be construed as indifference, which is a turn-off for the client. The firm’s partners and staff must always ensure that they look at things from the other side of the desk and customise their approach accordingly.

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