Four innovative approaches: Professionalising client management part 2

With client demands for added-value services seemingly unrelenting, the cost of servicing clients is rising fast. In a competitive market, where clients have more choice than ever before, it is important that strategic investments in client management lead to a better (and differentiated) experience for a firm’s clients and make sound financial sense for the firm.

In the first of three articles on best practice client management within professional firms we explored how client pressure is accelerating the pace at which firms make improvements to their client management processes. Typically firms move through four stages of maturity from ad hoc client management through to a client management approach that is fully aligned with the firm’s strategy, culture and values.

This second article focuses in on four examples of innovative client management approaches adopted by professional service firms today.

1: Client mentoring and training

Some professional firms have created bespoke mentoring or training for their in-house counterparts designed to help them become more effective at the business, strategic and leadership components of their role. By facilitating communities of interest and sharing relevant content, professional firms offer their clients an opportunity to build their network and discuss insights with their peers. Successful examples include DLA Piper’s WIN Programme and RPC’s Centre for Legal Leadership.

One of the benefits of these approaches is that they are designed to help clients progress their own career, for example from financial controller to finance director or from in-house legal advisor to General Counsel. By doing so firms are better-placed to track individuals throughout their career as they move into more senior roles with greater purchasing power or change organisation.

 

2: Streamlined, technology-enabled matter management

With many senior in-house decision-makers finding themselves time poor, there is a risk that lengthy proposals go unread and numerous emails back and forward about scoping drain enthusiasm before projects even begin. To counter this document fatigue some professional firms are trialling alternative solutions to scoping and matter management facilitated by technology.

Examples of innovative practices include:

  • Portals which facilitate seamless and transparent commissioning, communication and billing for routine work;
  • Microsites for pitches that provide self-service access to detailed information without the need for lengthy printed pitch documentation; and
  • Proposal templates that can be automatically populated with information depending on the client’s sector, known business needs, or their past history of engagements with the firm.

 

3: Automated client intelligence

Meridian West’s research among buyers of professional services repeatedly shows that a lack of understanding of a client’s wider business issues and strategic concerns is the most significant factor that can undermine their relationship with advisors. Clients want information which is as relevant and bespoke to their circumstances as possible. This is just as true for business development as it is for maintaining ongoing relationships.

How do professionals wade through the volume of information accessible to them to find insight relevant to their clients? The emergence of intelligent search and automated client intelligence makes this process much more efficient. Companies such as Signal offer machine-learning solutions that improve the effectiveness of client intelligence. Once trained to your preferences, artificial intelligence can quickly supply feeds of information that will be relevant to clients.

 

4: Benchmarking client performance through thought leadership

Thought leadership can be an effective way to raise a firm’s profile and establish expertise and credentials. When used in the right way it can also be a valuable client management tool because it can provide exclusive and bespoke data to clients and highlights business development opportunities for professional firms.

One large accountancy firm, for example, invites its clients to share granular information about how they manage their finance shared service centres (SSC). The firm then turns this information into a bespoke benchmarking report for its clients which shows how they manage their SSCs compared to other companies in their sector or those of an equivalent size. This insight then forms the basis for a strategic planning session with the client, from which new opportunities typical flow. The insight is also repackaged into a thought leadership report to support wider marketing initiatives.

 

In the final article in this series we explore what professional firms can learn from approaches adopted by the financial services industry about managing client relationships.