Who owns the client anyway?
This week’s Towry / Raymond James court case verdict has prompted me to write this post. The judgement got me thinking about the topic of “client ownership”, how important this is to professional service companies (they will see clients as an asset) and how marketing can help firms better protect their ‘assets’.
A clients’ view
Professional Services companies would be wise to remember that most clients would argue that they are not ‘owned’ by an adviser/fee earner or company but instead they decide who they want to do business with. No matter how tight non-solicitation contracts are with employees; if a client wants to do business with an individual – they will seek him or her out.
When you understand this, you begin to understand how important it is to build a relationship between the brand and the client. Businesses need to get the balance right between allowing the personal relationships to develop whilst reinforcing the reasons why the client should stay with that company if their personal contact within the firm leaves.
Proposition and communications
A good starting point is having a strong client proposition. After all, this is the main reason why an individual would sign up to do business with you in the first place. But having a strong client proposition isn’t enough. You need to remind the client what they are getting and why it is of value to them.
Communication is where many firms fail. They have relied on their Advisers/Fee earners to convey the messages, which only serve to reinforce the importance of that relationship. This is where communication tools such as newsletters, email bulletins, social media, magazines, blogs and online videos can help.
Style, substance & tone of voice
Client communications should be showcasing the brand/firm in the right way with a clear objective of developing a relationship. Corporate jargon and too corporate a style (remember that ‘professional’ often comes across as unfriendly) are no way to do this.
Even when firms communicate to clients on a regular basis they often don’t get the tone of voice or content right. This is vital if the firm wants to build a relationship between the brand and the individual.
For me, this is the perfect opportunity to show how the service delivered by the company is the sum of many individuals. Too many professional service firms are afraid to showcase their ‘back office staff’ and yet relying too heavily on fee earners is, in my opinion, a riskier strategy.
Client retention in professional services
In service industries, and particularly professional services, it can be hard for consumers to differentiate between company offerings. This is why people often make decisions based on the rapport they have with individuals. As the Towry Law case has shown, this leaves firms vulnerable when staff move on. As a result firms need to build relationships with clients that support the the adviser/fee earner relationship, but also reinforce the company brand and proposition
In my view what firms need to do is:
- communicate with clients on a regular basis
- showcase the value that the company adds
- regularly remind the client about the propositions on offer
- ensure that clients see more than one face of the company
- develop a tone of voice that appeals to the client base and doesn’t feel too ‘corporate’