Wednesday 07 September 2016

What kind of service do you expect? Does that change depending upon who’s supplying it? And are you likely to repeat your business when your feedback is taken on board?

All of this and more was discussed at the most recent Forum. We were lucky to be joined by Michelle Panayi and Gemma Mann from Grant Thornton’s Client Care team, who were in town for a flying visit on their mission to embed client care principles through GT. (A flying visit, incidentally, courtesy of Ryan Air, who met customer expectations by providing a reasonable enough service for a reasonable enough cost.)

Client feedback at Grant Thornton

Michelle’s team comprises five members of staff, who reap over 1,000 feedback reviews from online surveys, face-to-face interviews and phone calls (conducted by a third-party) each year to analyse GT’s services and how it can improve.

The challenge, Michelle pointed out, was in embedding that process throughout the organisation. Client feedback had to be taken seriously, and had to be acted upon. She had a few eye-opening examples (not from Grant Thornton) of negative feedback being printed off and taped to the client partner’s desk, and of being questioned about negative feedback in front of colleagues.

More effective, though, was getting senior leaders engaged. It’s easy – particularly in professional services organisations, where interpersonal relationships are still so crucial – to feel that feedback is a criticism, or an attempt to wrest control of the relationship from fee-earners to a generic customer services team. Key to overcoming this is making it clear that client feedback isn’t a criticism, or an attempt to remove personality and make robots of us all, but about feedback on standards of service. We know, Michelle pointed out, that good service leads to more business referrals, more repeat business, more retained clients – it leads, in short, to more revenue. It is good sense to try to improve your service.

Also important is hearing everything, not just what you want to hear. It’s no good restricting feedback to a select few clients who you care about; the risk of losing business lies across all customers. What they have to say can help you improve your service, and keep their business.

Gemma made sure we all had some thinking to do with a couple of interactive sessions. The first saw us pair up to discuss memorable customer service – good or bad. Notably, there were more bad examples, though the big discussion point from this part was an instance when a bad experience was turned into a good one through good customer service. The unspoken follow-up question, which had us all silently chewing our pens, was whether our own organisations get this right.

What do clients expect of us?

The feedback process invariably firms up our understanding of what clients want. It might not always be surprising or varied, but to hear the feedback from the horse’s mouth sharpens our strategies. It helps us to understand priorities – can we clarify a piece of upcoming legislation? Do we have an analysis of a new development? – and how to deliver services. For instance, proactivity goes down very well, so the client doesn’t have to keep asking. So too does continuity of client care: simply making sure that the client doesn’t always have to explain their issues to new case workers can improve service.

We know what they want, but how do we do it?

Michelle pointed out that, at Grant Thornton, getting client feedback prioritised began some years ago. It’s been a long process aimed at delivering permanent change. Along the way Michelle and her team have learned some fascinating insights: a particular favourite was to start the culture change at the back rather than the front. You might instinctively want to start the process by training up client services teams – but, said Michelle, it was more effective to start with the internal infrastructure. This means making it part of recruitment and personal development assessments; it means internal initiatives like training videos and employee awards.

It also means continual improvement, benchmarking, and highlighting both successes and failures.

What is to be done?

Gemma’s second interactive session brought attendees together in larger groups to discuss what our firms all currently do ‘to bring client feedback alive’. It was clear that we all make some attempt to gather client feedback, but that the extent of embedding it – which is where the real value becomes obvious – takes years to implement. Using Google Analytics isn’t enough.

The groups had some excellent examples, from award schemes that recognise great customer service through to random surveys to gather data, but everyone came away with more ideas and a sense of the big opportunities client feedback affords.

Measuring success

There are some good solid metrics to measure how well you’re handling client service – KPIs on client satisfaction, meeting set objectives – but there are a few nifty insights that Michelle offered too. Particularly interesting were Grant Thornton’s client care panels, which involve a Dragon’s Den-esque pitch of a team’s customer care plans to senior colleagues, who can scrutinise and improve services.

Conclusions

-          If you value it, measure it

-          Make sure you have the systems and ideas to celebrate good feedback and improve upon bad

-          Embedding means policies that introduce client care and feedback throughout an organisation and its culture, from recruitment criteria to performance evaluations to training

-          It’s a long-term project, and will take years to embed fully

-          You need to ask all, not just your favourite, clients

-          Senior involvement is crucial, because then client feedback can be incorporated in strategies and policies across the organisation

-          “It’s not rocket science – just doing simple things brilliantly.” What do you want to know? Your clients already know it – ask them.

Thanks again to Michelle and Gemma for a fascinating talk, and the team at Grant Thornton for hosting us and allowing us to benefit from their work.

Stuart Millar
Marketing Executive, Chiene + Tait