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6 ways in which what clients (really) want has changed

Many years ago, I gave a conference speech on client service. The audience was full of accountants and lawyers, and as part of my preparation, I had asked some of their clients how they would define great service.

The replies were not surprising:

  • being accessible and responsive
  • being proactive and taking the initiative
  • giving value for money
  • initiating timely conversations – particularly around fees
  • being personable and easy to understand
  • being technically excellent

I don’t think anything has changed there.  What has changed, however, is the way that clients expect these principles to be delivered.  Let me explain.

Six principles of great client service in the 21st Century


Being accessible used to mean your clients could get hold of you by phone, or face to face, without too much hassle.  Nowadays, it still means that, plus being available via email / Skype / and your client’s social media of choice.

This raises a dilemma.  Social media is a blend of professional and personal lives. How easily do you want your clients to be able to find you on Facebook? Particularly if you work in contentious services such as litigation, family law, or insolvency? The husband of one of my clients regularly has to take out injunctions against people who are hassling his family online. Getting the right balance between being accessible and having a private and secure family life is a modern problem.


With tablets and phones sitting beside us all the time, it is tempting to reply to work emails at all hours of the day and night.  This sets expectations in clients though, who might start to demand replies at weekends or at 3am.  This might work for you, but if it doesn’t, you need to manage expectations.

One of my clients does this by having different levels of service package.  Her premium clients pay more, but get a guaranteed fast turnaround for their end of year accounts.  Standard clients still get a good service, but know that they will have to wait a little longer.

Being proactive and taking the initiative

It’s very easy for clients to find out information themselves. Some of them may wonder why you haven’t been in touch with the latest tax information that they have just read on the web.    The challenge here is that being one step ahead of your clients needs a time investment, and that time isn’t usually included in billable hours.  Unless you are selling yourself as a budget service, you may have to think about raising prices to cover this degree of proactiveness.

Giving value for money

The internet makes it much easier for clients to compare prices and services, and they are much more willing to shift their business if they think someone else offers a better deal. That’s just how it is, and professional services need to work with it.  This means making it very clear how you are adding value to your clients’ businesses. You can’t just assume that you are appreciated!

No surprises around fees

Nothing has changed here!  Never spring fee increases at the last minute.  Flag them up as soon as you realise they are going to be inevitable.

Being personable

As already mentioned, today’s clients are very willing to move their business if they are not happy with a service.  Being easy to work with is no longer an optional extra, it’s essential.   Gone are the days when a lawyer or an accountant was an imposing outside figure – now you’re part of the client’s team. (If you need to win more clients, these free resources will help you.)

Being technically excellent

Alongside your clients’ better access to information comes more demand for you to be technically excellent.  Two thirds of clients want advisors who understand their world, and 40% say that an advisor who is an expert in their line of business is in their top 3 buying criteria. (2012 FT Effective Client Advisor Relationships Report).

Are you assuming you know what your clients want?

Are you sure that you are delivering great client service in the way that clients really want in the 21st Century? How do you know?  Do you, or your practice, regularly:

  • Ask for feedback from clients?
  • Find out how new clients like to communicate?
  • Ask new clients what they think is great service?
  • Share client preferences with all your team?

If you don’t, then you are assuming that you know best what your clients want.  And you might be very wrong!

Great client service is the bedrock of your practice

It is much easier to get new business from existing clients than new ones.  A reputation for treating clients really well will spread far and bring in many new referrals.  How many times have you justified a slightly more expensive service just because the provider makes everything hassle-free and pleasant? (If you need to win more clients, these free resources will help you.)

Great client service can really have a big impact, and it’s easy to sabotage client service if you are not careful!

How do you take care of your clients?

This article originally appeared in a different form on the How To Make Partner website

Heather Townsend helps professionals become the The Go-To Expert. She is the author of the  award winning and best-selling book on business networking, the ‘FT Guide To Business Networking’, Poised for partnership and the co-author of ‘How to make partner and still have a life’, and ‘The Go-To Expert’. Over the last decade she has worked with over 300 partners; coached, trained and mentored over 2000 professionals at every level of the UK’s most ambitious professional practices. 

Heather blogs regularly at How to make partner and still have a life and works with future and current Big 4 partners and professionals from mid-tier firms all over the world

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