The challenges for professional services firms include everything from sales, marketing, administration and service. Think of the service process similar to the manufacturing conveyor belt. What a client experiences is the end product, whether it is a shiny new Ipad or a garment.
In professional services, there is no doubt an end product, although oftentimes not necessarily tangible. Unless you consider something like a benefit renewal, a 401(k) analysis or tax return something heavily tangible.
The best in class professional services organizations have strong, documented and trackable service models. David Maister says that “Memories of bad service last long than memories of good service.” This necessitates that you provide a strong level of service that has a process attached to it to help you stay on track.
It is also important to note the client service framework of communication and delivery. Both elements of communication and delivery are essential in the professional services firm. Communication is what and how you connect with your client externally and internally. Delivery is accuracy, timeliness and doing what you said you would do.
Here are some suggestions to go through what I would consider business process improvement by focusing on the service process:
Step #1: Start At The End: We just completed a remodel of our home. Luckily for us, the contractor showed us a beautiful picture of the conceptual design that my wife and I described. This is no different for your firm.
What is the end result you want your clients to experience? For my tax friends, this is usually an accurate, personal and timely tax return completed prior to the 15th of April.
Step #2: Milestones: As you move through the project, consider the important milestones to help you track your progress toward that end result. For my tax friends, this could be a milestone of having all the client’s documentation in house.
For my benefit consulting friends, this could mean when the census request went out and when it was returned. The question to consider is: what are the milestones that need to be tracked and what are the time lines for reaching those milestones?
Step #3: Identify Roles and Characteristics: This includes things like owner, start events, end points, inputs and outputs. Your owner is typically indicated by a job title, like Client Service Manager or Account Executive.
Your start event indicates when the service process is ultimately activated. Inputs could be client requests, changes to client records and any other data affiliated with that contact. All of this input needs to go somewhere…That is why we have a step #4.
Step #4: Electronic Systems: There are as many client service and milestone systems as there are apps in the app store. It is important to identify what it is you need and the accessibility of the tool you are considering. The elements of roles and characteristics must find themselves housed or identified in the electronic system.
Step #5: Including and Training: Your team must be a part of the identification of the end, the milestones and the electronic systems. If you skip the step of inclusion, you run the risk of implementing a system that missed several important elements for your team. Additionally, you need to train your team to use the system and create transparency for the system to make sure you are making progress.
The service process will help ensure that you are able to create repeatable and positive client service outcomes. If you miss out on generating a process, you rely on intuition and a “gut” feeling vs. having a system, which allows you to trust not only the process, but also to increase the likelihood of a greater end result.