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Winter 2010

Distinctive Client Service: Five Practices You Can Implement Today

William Kingsley
Grant Thornton, LLP, Southfield, MI

Think back to a recent service experience. This service could have been provided by anyone from an accountant, to a lawyer, to a car mechanic. Ask yourself the following questions about that experience and consider:

Did the provider…

  • Listen carefully to your needs and try to understand what was unique about you?
  • Communicate in understandable language and explain in advance what they were going to do and why?
  • Keep you sufficiently informed on progress and make sure they were accessible when you needed them?
  • Deliver on time and keep their promises?
  • Offer help or proactive ideas beyond the specifics of the service provided?
  • Show an interest in you beyond the specific task at-hand and make you feel that you and your business are important to them?

If you answered ‘yes’ to most of these questions, chances are you were extremely satisfied with the service you experienced.

Grant Thornton LLP is the U.S. member firm of Grant Thornton International Ltd, one of the six global audit, tax and advisory organizations. At Grant Thornton we provide training to help individuals know that it takes providing personalized attention and the highest quality service to build lasting, loyal client relationships. Here are some of the basic components to client service.

Client Service Best Practice: Don’t Assume You Already Know the Client’s Expecations— They’re Always Changing

How does one personalize their service approach? It starts with understanding the client’s expectations. As a partner at Grant Thornton, I believe that our personalized service sets us apart because we embrace a common philosophy about what it means to provide exemplary service. Our philosophy is fundamentally client- centric, and our service methodology reflects this: the very first thing we do with each client, at least once a year, is sit down in person to listen and ascertain the client’s expectations, even with clients we serve repeatedly—because expectations are always changing. This conversation helps us hear what’s most important to each client—in their words. So we may tailor a service approach that fits—not just for the project at hand, but for the relationship overall.

Client Service Best Practice: Be A Student Of The Client’s Industry And Business

Having a deep knowledge of what makes each industry segment unique is critical to exceeding clients’ expectations. Doing the necessary research and homework up front to have a working knowledge of current trends, hot topics, and challenges not only shows credibility but a genuine interest in the issues important to the people you serve—but don’t stop there. Be sure to also speak directly with your clients and ask them how they would like you to learn more about them and their business. Then, take their advice. They will know better than anyone else and give you an efficient roadmap for making the most of your time and efforts.

Remember that clients appreciate it when their advisors can ‘talk shop’ with them, and when conversations aren’t laden with jargon they don’t understand. Using terms that are relatable and within the context of their everyday world is an important part of establishing effective, trusted communication—the backbone of every successful relationship.

Client Service Best Practice: DeliveringYour Service Is The Prime Time To Add Value, Demonstrate Expertise

Having served a broad range of clients over the course of 25 years, I know first-hand that there is no better time to shine than during the day-to-day management of a project or service, when client interactions are frequent: Service providers must demonstrate flexibility in the way they operate, in the ways they communicate, and in the kinds of solutions that they offer in order to provide a unique, personalized service experience. When you’re interacting with a client, you have many opportunities to identify ways they might improve or optimize their position. When you think about how you can provide value to a client, especially to a key influencer or decision-maker, it really is in the area of questions. Not just answering the questions they ask, but being able to surface ideas and advise what questions they should be asking—and then helping to answer those. When you can bring something extra to the conversation and help expand the client’s own thought process so they can look even farther ahead to choices that wouldn’t otherwise have been on their radar, you become a trusted advisor to that person and organization.

After years of serving a number and variety of clients, you have invaluable, first-hand perspective and knowledge to share that isn’t a commodity. When you proactively share insights from your past or current experiences, it is perceived as adding value and your service is seen as more comprehensive. This is why clients expect more than just technical expertise. They want a provider that focuses on the relationship and strives to help their overall organization improve.

Client Service Best Practice: Collaboration Is Key—Throw Away The Cookie-Cutter

It’s not often that service is delivered solely by one person. Usually, it takes a team to create a superior service experience. Teamwork means close coordination and collaboration by everyone, from the receptionist to the lead supervisor, to get the job done. Clients expect the left hand to know what the right hand is doing. If they perceive silos in how you operate their confidence declines and their risk of dissatisfaction increases.

Teams that collaborate don’t try to fit clients into an answer that they may have already given to somebody else. When teams and clients craft answers together, there is a united focus and commitment that ensures a successful outcome.

Client Service Best Practice: Feedback Is A Gift—Use It For Continuous Improvement

Every great service organization and professional needs candid feedback to improve and grow. Whether you choose to seek feedback formally through a survey or informally through a one-on-one client conversation, the only way to know how well you are performing is to ask.

Take what you learn—both what you do well and what you can do to improve—and take action. Follow up and thank clients for their feedback and communicate what you will do in the future to continuously improve their service experience. Don’t try to fix problems or complaints in the moment or become defensive. Just listen, take notes, and commit to following up. This gesture alone helps strengthen relationships and as you see trends start to emerge in your findings, your ability to hone in on the practices that mean the most important to your clients will serve your business well.

Demonstrating these practices repeatedly will not only enhance your clients’ experience but will establish your reputation as a trusted professional—and that is something only the most satisfied clients can do for you and your business.

William Kingsley is a tax partner with Grant Thornton, LLP 27777 Franklin Rd. Ste 800, Southfield, MI 48034-2366. He may be reached at