I am often asked where my passion for ‘the customer’ came from. Where did the motivation to focus my career on helping organisations deliver better customer experiences originate? Well like it or not, we are all the product of our parents. Most of the time that is a wonderful thing – some of the time maybe not so!! Being our parents children means that we often contain many of their characteristics. Some of us look like little versions of our mum and dad. Some of us display the same behaviours and mannerisms. Some of us share their attitudes and beliefs. I am no different!
This handsome chap is my dad – Mr Golding Senior, or Eric to those who know him. Apart from being my dad, he is a committed Leyton Orient fan (maybe he and I should be committed for admitting that), and has spent his entire career as a Chartered Accountant (he is an FCA). My dad and I are both on the same page when it comes to customer experience and customer service. We both believe that organisations should treat customers fairly, honestly, and with an approach that aims to do what customers expect. We do differ on our execution of customer feedback – Eric has a rather more direct approach than me when something does not meet his satisfaction! The difference in approach stems from the fact that our working lives have been very different, as well as the fact that we hail from different generations
Anyway – why am I wittering on about my dad in a blog post? Readers of my blog will know that from time to time I feature guest bloggers. Today, I am delighted to release a guest post from a member of my own family. Eric Golding has worked for over forty years as a Chartered Accountant in practice and in business. Today he works closely with Law Firms. Eric has spent his entire working life in and around the ‘traditional professions’ – professions that may not yet have recognised the importance of delivering customer focussed service – maybe they should read on to understand why it is as relevant to them and how to deliver a ‘professional’ customer experience……
Customer service? What has that got to do with me or my firm?
I can just imagine professionals like solicitors and accountants sitting in their offices reading Legal Futures or Economia and thinking about the statement at the head of this post.
A typical response is, I have been a partner at this firm for a number of years and never had a problem with my clients, so what are you on about?.
Note the reference to clients and not customers because many professionals, in their ivory towers, would not lower themselves to deal with customers as if they were a lesser class of person. In reality, of course, there is no difference – they are the people who provide professional firms with their life blood; work for which the firm will bill and turn time spent into cash and this enables the firm to pay salaries, expenses etc. and make a profit.
So why is customer service relevant to professionals? Firstly it is important to understand exactly what your client/customer wants from you. The word exactly is underlined because it is not up to the professional to interpret the client’s requirements, it is up to the professional to find out and then act accordingly. Your interpretation may not be entirely what the client is looking for but you conclude the task to be near enough what is wanted and so there are no real grounds for complaint. Nevertheless, the client is not entirely happy and you will probably not see him/her again.
How is this situation overcome? As I said before, find out exactly what the client wants and expects from you and deliver it within the time scale requested. In addition, keep the client informed as the matter progresses even if it is proceeding to the time scale you anticipated. How does the client know what is going on unless he/she is informed? There is nothing a practitioner can do worse than receive a phone call from the client asking how matters are progressing and to be told, “Hold on I will find out” or “we are running a little behind schedule and will finish soon”. Firstly, the client may have been under the misapprehension that you were handling the matter personally and secondly, what does ‘will finish soon’ mean? Not very professional from a professional.
When the matter is concluded ask the client if the service provided was up to their expectations and even if it was, are there any matters arising during the case the client perceives could have been done better. If the service was not as was expected, what could have been done better? After the client has recovered from the shock of his adviser showing such an interest, the question is, where can the firm improve because I can assure you there will have been other cases where satisfaction was not great and the practitioner did not know because the question was not asked!
It is important that the practitioner is transparent with the service offered in terms of requirement, timing and cost.
Breaking down this last sentence, I have already stressed how important it is to understand exactly what your client wants, not your interpretation of the same and the time you expect the job to take. If you believe it will take, say, six weeks and you know the client wants it done in two, this is a recipe for at best the loss of future work and at worst a complaint if you do not discuss, and note the discussion, relating to your timing estimate. Now the question of fees. The business of law has changed drastically in recent years and continues to change. One area which has become more sensitive and competitive is fees. The old days of booking time down on the ledger and sending a bill according to your work in progress records have long gone. Clients are looking for certainty and this means fixed fees. Do not believe this is not possible – it is, providing you know exactly what the client requires and you can, therefore, give a realistic quote not estimate. There is a world of difference.
Having the knowledge of the client’s wants and the information necessary to undertake the work, your quote should be fairly accurate. Another important feature is to keep the client advised on progress and should any unexpected matter arise during the project, advise the client immediately. In these circumstances, there is a very strong possibility you will be able to increase your fee, as everything was set out in your instructions and client engagement letter. Thus, any extras will need to be paid for but be sensitive to the client and his/her situation. The bull in a china shop approach is not appreciated.
Competition is not just about capability and price but added value. If the client receives good timely advice from a professional who takes an interest in the client, it makes a world of difference.
So maybe this explains where my passion for customer comes from! By the way, other than being a Chartered Accountant, Leyton Orient fan and my dad, Eric has a very big claim to fame – if you have a minute watch this – it is not everyone that can say they ‘ran the line’ when Manchester United were playing (fast forward to 4.30 minutes in)….
You can contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7554 2222. You can also follow him on twitter @sdg_41