When you ask practitioners why they retain you, I’ll bet sooner or later they’ll say something like “He/she has such expertise.”
It seems to be a normal enough compliment at a glance, right? But let’s be honest here. In the landscape of professional service firms, expertise is such a given. It’s not a benefit. It’s an expectation. And firms that tout their expertise are essentially saying, “Trust us. We can actually perform these services because we’ve been around long enough to know how to perform them.”
Well, by now, I should certainly hope so!
Sometimes we need to drill down deeper to find why clients are truly loyal to us beyond what they initially say.
You’re swimming in a sea of experts who do what you do. Yes, it’s entirely possible that you have more years of experience and there is no doubt that the services you deliver are very good, at least partly due to that expertise. However, years in the business isn’t the kind of thing that acts a true differentiator from your competitors.
In our line of work at Value Drivers, we see 3 consistently creative avenues for firms to outdo the competition:
#1: Don’t aim to out-expertise others. Aim to out-behave others.
When you get beyond the years of experience, degrees earned and what boards that people sit on, a client might be wondering such things as:
How often will they bring me ideas?
Will they follow-up with me without me having to reach out to them?
What approach and personality do they have?
How important and yet undervalued that last bullet point is because it conveys such a sense of style and tone about a firm. Let’s take a look at a completely separate type of industry for how much this can matter: The airline business.
When I travel for business or pleasure, there are a variety of different airlines I could fly. When I’ve flown American and United, it’s a bit like differentiating between Coke and Pepsi – there’s not a major difference as far as I can tell. Both airlines get me to the same city. The prices are very similar. They use the same equipment. It’s ordinary but I’ve never found the experience outstanding.
Southwest Airlines changed – and in my opinion continues to change – the travel experience to be something better, pleasurable and just plain common sense. I like their boarding policy in how I can check-in in advance. Baggage is free. And do you want to know something else about their tone? They’re not so ridiculously serious all the time. You feel like you’re being treated fairly because, for one thing, you’re not getting dinged and hassled for every little extra that could make the experience of getting to your destination more enjoyable.
Consider this about the experience your firm is providing from the very beginning on to your clients: What’s the emotional takeaway that they’re feeling? Do you know?
#2: Don’t aim to out-hoard work from others. Aim to out-network.
In our post, “How To Keep Your Client Hooked On Your Firm,” we talked about the virtue of building relationships beyond just one person regularly connecting with the client. You won’t outdo others internally – or for that matter, make your firm stronger externally – if you can never trust others to share in your workload and hoard it all.
During our client loyalty assessments, we have to uncover the real reason why the senior executive is afraid of giving work to an associate – and at times, that means asking challenging questions. Is it really about a fear that another person could screw up the relationship? Or is it more about a fear that someone else will provide better service? If so, where is that fear coming from?
Outnetworking means finding opportunities for your colleagues and strategic partners to bring clients experience and skill sets on a variety of levels so you can win as a team. Part of that includes soft skills, not just technical skills. From top to bottom as a firm, who will you and others connect with to develop and bring these soft skills that can so often differentiate firms like yours?
For example, for all the qualifications and degrees that people can have, do you ever notice how challenging it is for those same people to engage in a conversation at a networking event or cocktail party?
You’ve seen them. They cling to the wall and maybe talk to a couple people they know in their circle. But if they could learn to get out there, mingle and perhaps make some meaningful connections, they’d further relationships with clients and prospects on behalf of the firm. Skills like these may not come naturally to everyone, but they can be taught if firms value their people.
Those who choose invest in coaching and performance feedback often are the ones who learn to have difficult conversations, ask provocative questions about a client’s business and understand what the pinnacle of customer service really looks like. If you haven’t discovered it already, you’ll find that as you progress up the corporate ladder, you’ll need these soft skills more than ever.
Meanwhile, let’s contrast this with the firm that’s afraid of 360-degree feedback. In this firm, you have Partners who choose not to give performance reviews or receive feedback, which only serves to reinforce an air of superiority and control. This leads to the firm having a general feeling of being conflict-averse.
If anything, firms like these should be having reviews and feedback sessions more frequently than an annual basis. In other words, don’t be afraid of the power of feedback mechanisms in how they can help your people grow. It can do wonders for your culture on so many levels.
#3: Don’t aim to out-bill others. Aim to out-care others.
Firms can get so focused on the billables and “schmoozing” with the client by taking them out golfing or the theater. Is that really showing you how you care more than others, though? By being more…entertaining?
I’d argue that outcaring others means delivering something deeper and more meaningful to the client. How? Show an interest in their business by sending them relevant articles. Call them periodically and proactively rather than waiting until you’re asked a question.
Is providing great service in itself showing you care more? Not really. Quite honestly, that’s also an expectation. It’s what you do in between the “official” projects and tasks that show how much you care about the client’s business, regardless of whether it’s an activity you would bill for or not.
So there you have it. If you want to outdo your competition, you need to out-behave, out-network and out-care them.
How else do you stand out?
Having better stories of client loyalty and retention.
Those don’t always come from doing business as usual. They come from client loyalty assessments that help you identify which clients will be excellent ambassadors of your firm and which ones will be most vulnerable to advances from your competitors. At Value Drivers, we call this our Change Your Paradigm client loyalty assessment. Finding out how well your know your clients once and for all – and then making a game plan to address where your weaknesses – is one more way to outdo your competition who is almost certain to be happy with the status quo. To learn more about how to Change Your Paradigm, contact Value Drivers today at 312.827.2643, email info@ValueDriversLLC.com, or view this short video: What's In It For Me?, or click here to schedule a complementary consultation.