Getting the firm on-side: how to get and maintain buy-in to your client feedback programme

Time and time again we hear that the single biggest cause of failure of a client feedback programme is lack of support from the partnership.  If buy-in is lukewarm the marketing and business development teams will face a perpetual uphill struggle. However, with the right level of support the programme will gain momentum and become seen as a source of competitive advantage.

Michelle Panayi, Senior Manager in Client Care at Grant Thornton, has experienced the value of having partner support: “In terms of building the Client Satisfaction Programme itself, the first consideration is to ensure really strong senior buy-in. If you haven’t got a sponsor that is really keen to push the importance of acting on client feedback, then engagement across the organisation becomes more difficult. A strong sponsor will be able to help share the messages, and deal with any resistance too.”

So given partner buy-in is so crucial to success, why is it sometimes difficult to achieve? Professionals genuinely want to do a good job and to build strong client relationships and surely listening to what clients want and acting on it is a self-evidently good thing.  The issue is that professionals have progressed through the firm building on good client relationships and so understandably think they are pretty good at client service. They already feel the pressure of making sales, hitting utilisation targets and submitting to 360 degree feedback and so the idea of further metrics does not appeal. From a personal point of view, holding up the mirror to reveal what clients really think of them can be intimidating.

Top tips for getting partner buy-in

  1. Designing and implementing an effective pilot study
  2. Highlighting the commercial opportunity
  3. Converting sceptics into apostles in the business
  4. Making professionals accountable
  5. Showing that senior management are unequivocally supportive
  6. Avoiding the “yet another initiative” syndrome

So what are the lessons from the firms that have successfully brought partners into the fold of client feedback? From the interviews we conducted with leading law and accountancy firms the secret to success is focusing on 6 activities:

1. Designing and implementing an effective pilot study.

There is no need to embark on a client feedback programme all guns blazing. Start with a smaller base, ideally a forward thinking department or office and a supportive partner behind you. There is no better way of convincing the wider business than showing proof of ROI on time and resources from the pilot. As Ann Macleod, Global Client Listening Manager at Allen & Overy explains “ It is about early wins and then using the partners to act as advocates for the process in terms of  business benefits.”

2. Highlighting the commercial opportunity

Most advisers understand that engaging with client feedback can lead to service improvements and greater client satisfaction. They can also grasp that delivering a higher quality and more consistent service will result in more fees, reduced write off and new opportunities for selling services but this has to be proved. Where possible create case studies of success and quantify the financial impact.

3. Converting sceptics into apostles in the business

Identify the potential blockers in your organisation– those with credibility with other partners who could have destabilising influence – and get them involved as early as possible. Take the time to understand their individual views and concerns and try to bring them round to your point of view. The Marketing Partner at a top 6 accountancy firm put this at the top of his priority list “I had to go and find those partners that were credible with other partners but who, if I had not been able to dissuade and bring inside the tent, would have been a challenge to the successful implementation”.

Data and case studies can be incredibly powerful tools for convincing the sceptics. As Michelle Panayi explains “Make lots of case studies of turnaround situations where you have had a bad client satisfaction and you have been able to turn that situation around.”

4. Making professionals accountable

Whilst we would fully advocate the carrot approach suggested so far, introducing some stick into the equation can also be helpful. Giving advisers KPIs and targets for service improvements that are linked to appraisals and remuneration will inevitably pique their interest. However, as well as highlighting and rewarding the advisers delivering the best client service, the focus should also be on rewarding those who invest time and energy in the programme, take on board feedback and achieve their goals and action plan.

5. Showing that senior management are unequivocally supportive

Partners and other professionals are much more likely to prioritise a client feedback programme when the senior management of their firm is fully behind the initiative and make it an area of focus in board strategy meetings, partner gatherings and wider firm discussions. If we take the example of a top 50 UK law firm, they made client feedback a key part of their partner conference with very public support for the programme from the Managing Partner.

The positioning of senior management’s stance is also important within this. They should be shown to be fully behind the initiative, looking to improve the firm’s overall client service rather than expose the shortcomings of individuals.

6. Avoiding the “yet another initiative” syndrome

Having too many initiatives going on at the same time can be confusing for staff and detracts from the power and distinctiveness of each individual activity. The Marketing Partner says that one of the key things they got right at his firm was “We got rid of lots of surrounding noise”. They made it clear to their advisers that the new client service programme had to take over.

To get buy-in it is also important to take out the time commitment for fee-earners and help them with strategies on how to balance it with their normal day-to-day activities. If you can make it as easy and efficient as possible then you will have the best chance of making a sustainable difference to how they view your client feedback programme. Julieanne Wilde, EMEA Senior Client Development Manager at Baker & McKenzie sums this point up when she says “I think the challenge comes when people are busy, and in terms of how the BD team can support that, it’s around making that process as easy as possible for the partners.

By Ben Kent