Allan Evans, our Global Head of Clients and Markets, recently spoke with Ian Cooper, author of the Financial Times guide to business development blog. With over 30 years’ experience in the profession, Allan spearheads our network-wide drive to deliver exceptional service to all of our clients. In the interview, Allan shares how other businesses too can focus on their service offering to drive new business development.
In a first for the guest posts on CEO Insights, am sharing the full article and Allan’s insights.
BDO differentiate with outstanding ‘service quality’.
For years now, I have been on a personal quest to find a professional services firm who genuinely puts ‘client’ and ‘outstanding service quality’ at the center of everything they do. I don’t just mean boast about it on a ‘high-tech’ website with meaningless clichés and marketing platitudes written by trendy copywriters! I am talking about trying to find an organization who have truly recognized that customer and client service is the single biggest competitive commercial differentiator and are prepared to gear their core thinking, strategy, planning and resources to delivering on these high ideals.
The good news however, is that my challenge may well be over, because last week I met and interviewed Allan Evans, Sales and Marketing Partner at BDO LLP in the UK and Global Head of Clients and Markets at BDO International, one of the world’s largest accountancy and business advisory firms. Allan has the daunting task of spearheading and developing the ‘exceptional client service’ ethos to BDO’s 55,000 people, 1,200 offices in 138 countries. However, after spending a couple of hours with Allan it wasn’t difficult to understand why BDO LLP out performed all major competitors for ‘client service’ in a recent 2012 Mid Market Monitor survey.
This keen Everton supporter, who rides motor-bikes ‘off road’ … to his doctor’s displeasure he claims … is not your average accountant. In fact he is not an accountant at all! Allan, a BDO UK equity partner is a consummate marketing professional with a wealth of experience in other financial and professional practice organizations. He is charismatic, articulate and above all hugely passionate about how his organization can use ‘client service’ as a way of differentiating BDO from its many high-powered global competitors. He was so inspirational, convincing and knowledgeable about the notions of customer and client service that I have been writing and speaking about for the last 30 years, that even I found myself desperately trying to find a reason to hire BDO myself!
So what exactly is the Allan Evans and BDO client service recipe that other businesses can learn from, in order to stimulate their own business development?
Here are a few of Allan’s thoughts:
Ian – What is your biggest personal challenge in getting the customer service message across?
Allan – “I have to think global, yet implement on a local level. The real challenge is spreading the message to 138 countries, where sometimes business cultures are different. What’s important about my role is getting across the basic principles of customer service but in a way that re-interprets them from an international perspective.
I believe it pays to be alert to cultural idiosyncrasies and differences. In India, close personal relationships are absolutely paramount to any successful relationship between client and adviser, customer and provider, and it’s common for meetings to be conducted in the home of the client. In Russia, meanwhile, exceptional service is linked to a perception of seniority, with clients demanding access to and advice from the most senior people only.
What all this means in practice is that businesses should not lay down too many strict rules. A uniform approach to meeting standards won’t suit every client, so local markets need to adapt to individual needs and get the service mix right if their customers are to stay with them for the long term”.
Ian – Why is customer service as a business development tool so important in this sector?
“Because technical excellence is a given in the top firms, so the only way to differentiate is through exceptional service and communications and to ensure that the client is superbly looked after”.
Our research showed that 40% of buyers in our market were dissatisfied with the overall service experience, whilst there was rarely any dissatisfaction with technical issues. Basically 40% didn’t enjoy the experience of dealing with their accountancy firms. In our research we heard examples of missed deadlines, broken promises, and too many surprises around price. Based on this feedback we established our exceptional client and customer service programme on a global level to set us apart from the rest.”
Ian – How do you make your customer service ethos work in practice so it is more than just good intentions?
Allan – “Our exceptional service programme has a whole range of different strategies which we undertake on a truly global level. We even brought people together from 138 different countries to discuss and debate key issues and to immerse themselves in our quest to be the leader in ‘exceptional client service’. Amongst other things we have a reward and recognition programme, where we have award events to celebrate great examples of customer service; a customer satisfaction programme; internal customer service tool kits; involvement of senior people making client visits and participation by support staff, so that everyone knows they have a role to play”.
Ian – What are the core BDO customer / client service messages?
Allan – “As regards the practical implementation, I don’t want to share all our secrets and thinking, but our customer service programme here in the UK revolves around 4 core elements: understanding the needs of clients; being proactive in terms of ‘thought leadership’; delivering what we promise; and providing value for money. These are the main attributes that enable us to use ‘service’ as a selling point.
Using the metaphor of American football, many of our big competitors have a ‘playbook’ when it comes to customer service, with 95% of the solutions and policies pre-planned. The problem with this, is that it leaves little room for flexibility and customer service instinct. We actively train and empower our people to make the right customer service decisions. In order to do this however, you need to be responsive and not have to check in with a global HQ when making certain decisions. You can only do that if the leaders trust their people to have the skills, experience and mindset to take responsibility.
Fostering such a sense of autonomy leads to a more responsive business that will be better equipped to respond to customers specific needs”.
Ian – If there was one tip that you could give to businesses generally about customer service and business development what would it be?
Allan – “I would tell them to concentrate on the basics. Customers the world over are fiercely focused on cost, on value, and above all, on service. When it comes to client service from global networks – and I speak from experience in the professional services arena – we can all look the same: but we’re not. What matters is the experience clients have. For those that put a premium on service, winning their trust isn’t about gimmicks or about re-inventing your profession or industry. It’s about consistently delivering the high-quality service that meets the needs of clients and customers, wherever they are in the world.
And that may mean tearing up the template.”