Where do your clients sit in your business strategy?

I’m pretty sure your answer to the above question would be, “At its core, alongside our employees.”

I’d also take a guess that your website says something along the lines of, “We’re truly client-centric” or “We place our clients at the heart of everything we do.”

Undoubtedly admirable statements, but do they reflect the reality your clients experience?

And, while we’re on the subject, how do you go about making sure your clients are at the very heart of your strategy, alongside your people?

When I worked at BDO, their brand promise was, “Exceptional client service delivered by empowered people.” Back then (more than a decade ago), the idea of a professional services firm developing a business strategy around their clients was revolutionary. It ended up working brilliantly for them, and it can for you, but you need to implement the following if you want to turn those words into a truly effective and sustainable client-centred strategy.

Set and communicate the vision

Any change in strategy takes courage and strong leadership. In some instances, a cultural shift may be necessary to effect the desired changes in behaviour. These changes take time and dedication; there is no ‘silver bullet’, but defining and communicating your vision is the best place to start.

BDO’s client-led strategy was underpinned by a set of values which were communicated clearly and prominently. This meant clients knew what to expect, and teams knew what was expected of them.

Put your money where your mouth is

Find out how you’re doing against the promises you make on your website – it’s a strong first step towards making sure they’re not just empty words.

At BDO, a sizeable chunk of the marketing budget was directed towards client listening and advocacy programmes. They listened to their existing clients and leveraged this client loyalty to help them attract new ones. They also monitored and measured how they were doing, not just through their own programme but through competitor benchmarking which consistently showed that they were market leaders in terms of client service for their target market (at that time).

Engage your people

People sit at the heart of delivering a consistently excellent experience, particularly in service-based businesses. There are any number of ways that you can motivate people, and they can loosely be grouped into ‘stick’ or ‘carrot’ approaches. Recognising the distinctions between them is important when you want to instil a client-led culture in your organisation.

For example, at BDO, everyone, whether their role focused on internal or external clients, was appraised at their annual review for how they’d delivered on client service (‘stick’) while those who went over and above, were rewarded (‘carrot’).

Communicate your results

If you’re going to invest in a client-centred strategy and measure its success by listening (both to your clients, and to your team), you need to do two things:

Firstly, act on the insight. As I say time and again, there’s no point in gathering insight if you’re not going to act on it!

Secondly, communicate your results both internally and externally. Talk about what’s going well and amplify those positive messages. Similarly, although it may feel uncomfortable, be open about those areas that require more attention and share what’s going to change as a result of the less positive insights.

Although BDO had a comms team to help share their results with key stakeholders, you don’t need a huge amount of resource to promote your results. Create a short ‘you spoke, we listened’ document to distribute via your existing comms channels. It’s a clear expression of your commitment to your clients and, in showing how you’re confronting areas which need addressing, it demonstrates integrity and authenticity – traits highly valued by clients.

To summarise, adopting a client-led strategy can bring many benefits to your business but only if it’s implemented in a way which allows it to permeate through your organisation, with the values that are at its core running through all client and employee touchpoints.

As always, please do get in touch if you’d like to find out more about how I can help you with client listening and how it can contribute to embedding a client-led business strategy.

One more thing from me this month. I recently hosted a webinar with fellow client listener, Claire Rason of Client Talk. Most of the audience were from professional services firms but the points discussed were sector agnostic. If you’d like to watch the recording, you can find it here.

To sign up for my Happy Client Newsletter, complete the form below.