I believe there are two keys to success, whether a sole practitioner or a regional firm. They are simple when you say them, but that simplicity can be deceiving. The two are providing quality service, and establishing a reputation for doing so and continuing to do so.

Providing quality service doesn’t vary with the amount of the fee, the nature of or the engagement, or the importance of the client. The professional is doing her or his best and, most important, is making the client aware of that fact, although often in a very subtle manner.

Establishing a reputation and maintaining a reputation, unlike providing quality service, which can occur with your first client, takes years to develop, but can disappear in an instant if a firm fails to provide quality service to a particular client. Andersen and Enron come to mind.

Failure to provide quality services is seldom if ever attributable to a conscious decision that you are no longer going to provide quality services to a client. But I believe that quite often a conscious decision, seemingly unrelated to customer service, is made that unbeknownst to the person or entity making that decision results in a decline in customer service, and quite possibly a substantial, and difficult to undo, impairment of a firm’s reputation.

The decisions by a firm may be not to spend money on technical training of staff, a reduction in quality control, or heavy cross-selling of services to clients without first establishing or determining a client’s need.

I believe it can also occur in an even more subtle way. And that, for instance, can be with the introduction and use of a sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) system. Firms can end up being hurt if safeguards aren’t put in place without an understanding of exactly how it should be used.

It might sound silly, but I think a solution begins with the abbreviation “CRM.” Better terminology is “CRSM,” or “customer relationship service management.” By adding the concept of service, the focus always remains where it should be: on the keys to success for firms of all size.  

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