Sheena Lowey gives some timely advice to professional practices on holding onto clients in an increasingly challenging environment.

Top lawyers and accountants are winning more and more international business every year. The Irish branches of both professions have gained due international recognition for their expertise and outstanding professionalism. Indeed, they are seen as key elements of Ireland’s package of attractions to inward investors.

Competitive Landscape

It is certainly no reason to rest on our laurels. In fact, the two professions have become more competitive than ever before. No firm or small group of firms has any segment of the market cornered, and any that think they do are quickly reminded of the competitive realities, which exist today.

Expertise, professionalism, experience, excellence, even brilliance are no longer enough to deliver a competitive edge. They are simply taken as givens by top clients. These clients increasingly take for granted the professional expertise of their legal and other advisers and look for other reasons to continue retaining them.

This is not merely some hunch on my part. This is based on the solid data and evidence collected from a series of client surveys carried out over the past two years on behalf of a number of leading professional practices.

These surveys also uncovered some interesting perspectives on the part of clients. Many of the corporate clients are subsidiaries of major global corporations and operate in the context of shifting loyalties and relationships at boardroom level. In fact, many of the top global corporations now have a policy of putting professional advisory service and auditing contracts out to tender every few years.  For the Irish subsidiaries any change at the top can affect local relationships. But this is not always the case. The Irish firm can enjoy a high degree of autonomy in these matters and may be able to stay with their current advisers. But they have to have to be sufficiently motivated by a high quality relationship with the adviser if they are to do so.

For this reason many Irish professional practices are becoming affiliated to international networks both to give them a more complete offering as well as to directly assist in winning new business.

Adding Value

Sometimes clients don’t think of professional advisers as genuinely providing added value. This may be grossly unfair to the professional firms involved. They are probably adding a great deal of value to their clients’ business affairs on a daily basis; the problem is that the clients either don’t know about it or don’t fully appreciate it, or most probably both.

The fact is that clients actually need to be reminded of the value being added by their professional advisers. And the way to do this is through employing good customer or client relationship management practice.

Client Engagement

Too often clients only hear from professional advisers when they have specifically requested service from them or when they receive the bill for those services. Client engagement has to be ongoing both during and between individual assignments.

Business winners and partners in professional practices need to take time to get out and visit their clients and talk to them about their business generally as any professional adviser might do. They have to forget their focus on chargeable hours and look upon these visits as investments in client retention.

They should view their relationship from that of supplier-customer to that of trusted partner. Clients should feel comfortable about picking up the telephone and talking through issues without worrying about a huge bill at the end of the call.

All research and statistics show that it costs five times as much to win a new customer as it does to retain an existing one. The economics are compelling in this regard. The real winners in the new competitive environment will be those that prove best at holding what they have while preparing for the next wave of opportunity.

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