Mastering client centricity

Note: An extended version of this article was first published on Praxity’s Hub Light

Putting customers first is not an ideology. Nor is client centricity a soulless corporate mission statement. It demands new ways of thinking. New approaches to challenges. And most importantly delivering a service that is so distinctive that people just cannot help but talk about it with their peers and colleagues.

Client service underpins the value of most global organisations. Some leaders, past and present, have made it their life’s mission to make client centricity their company’s hallmark. However, research by the CMO Council suggests that most organisations are yet to master it. Only 11 percent of marketers believe that their customers agree with their customer centricity characterisation. So what’s the answer?

For accountancy firms, it extends way beyond talking a good talk. The holy grail of customer-centric strategy is to anticipate what consumers need before they realise they need it. Delivering a consistent, authentic experience across each touchpoint. We’re talking relationship capital.

Going for greatness

In a world of abundant choice, settling for good, when great is out there, limits what could potentially be the real gamechanger.

Rather than bumping along the good path, William Buck and other Praxity member firms and people within them have steadfastly committed to client centricity. The switch to greatness didn’t happen at the flick of the button. There was no Eureka! moment. Many have steered away from ‘overhyped change programs’, opting instead for the quiet discipline to leap over the invisible client centricity hurdle.

The importance of real relationships

Lindsay Holloway, Managing Director of William Buck Australia (Victoria), believes that relationships are already superseding base compliance delivery and how clients perceive value. This shift away from compliance delivery can in part be attributed to digitalisation. Yet, clients still want to know you care and have their back, emphasises Lindsay.

Given that digital client portals are now standard practice and as costs go higher, the risk of value disconnect increases, William Buck’s approach is to address client complacency by actively delivering multiple services seamlessly. For private clients this involves integrating business advisory, fund management and wealth advisory services together. For business compliance, providing the full gambit of disciplines via the firm’s virtual CFO covers every facet of operational, tax and strategy management.

William Buck’s Managing Director (Vic) Lindsay Holloway summarises: “Clients want us to bring networks to the table. They want knowledge they can’t get from every other accountant. They want quick turnaround as they have less time to wait now. They want a Partner in Business.”

Perfecting in practice

Customer centricity is not about benchmarking, or measuring customer satisfaction. Instead, it’s about day-to-day behaviours and practices of staff and management and leveraging the experiences of others.

Occasionally, asking for assistance can sometimes be lost in a big world of fee-focused activities. Again, this is where Praxity member firms shine, engaging with global colleagues to share ideas, look beyond quick solutions and innovate.

“As the world becomes smaller and clients transact more regularly overseas, being able to reach out to trusted colleagues overseas is very valuable for our clients,” exclaims Lindsay. “Previously seen as the Big 4 domain, Praxity member firms can seamlessly provide services pretty well anywhere in the world now.”

Lindsay believes one of the largest barriers to client service success in the accountancy profession is not technical mistakes but failing to communicate value. It can lead to neutrality rather than outright dissatisfaction.

“Repeat compliance assignments can create a sense of ambivalence among accountants and an assumption that clients are satisfied and will return year-on-year,” warns Lindsay. “Surveys show a sense of unimportance as the most common reason clients are dissatisfied with their advisors.”

Building relationship capital

Being client focused and being client centric may sound like interchangeable definitions. However there are subtle differences. Centricity extends far beyond ‘being helpful’ to thinking like the customer and co-creating their future. In most instances, it’s not a quick win. Neither is it a single action that will catapult your firm to greatness.

A mission to move past mediocre

Businesses today are transforming, many on a global scale. As such, there will always be perceived fractures in client service.

Lindsay believes that true value is underpinned by real relationships.

“Engaging in knowing their true circumstances and the business is basic, but often lost with our quest to comply with laws. Clients look to us to shield them efficiently from the regulators. Yet they also want a partner in business that will help them grow and be successful.”

Climbing the relationship capital stairs requires commitment and rising above contractual transactions. The driver should not be to make money, but because it’s the right thing to do.

This depth of emotional commitment can never be achieved through brand advertising: it is the outcome of a deep commitment to delivering the best possible experience – doing what’s right for your customer, always. As each of the contributors to this article will testify, true client centricity is instinctive and authentic. The real value comes when you connect with customers and engender trust on a human level.

Mastering client centricity

Ian Lavis on behalf of Praxity