Pathways to Growth: Client experience done right

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In a change in leadership five years ago, Nashville-based Top 100 Firm LBMC undertook a rebranding effort that launched longtime director of marketing Leisa Gill into a new position as director of client experience. Leisa shared her successful CE journey with me in a recent conversation.

At the request of the firm’s managing partner, Leisa’s first task was to confirm that LBMC’s vision of client experience aligned with the wants and needs of clients. One concern was retention; if a client left the firm, the reasons were often unknown. To gather data and insight, Leisa embarked on a client listening tour. (This was music to my ears, as I am constantly stressing the importance of looking at your firm from the outside in!)

Though well-known in business, client experience was a relatively new concept in accounting. At the time LBMC got involved, few firms had used it as a value-based differentiator and even fewer had seen success. Leisa quickly learned that better CE was not about spending more time with clients; LBMC did plenty of that. It was about building a purposeful structure around those encounters that would institutionalize client experience, rather than leave it to individual partners with diverse skills and levels of interest.

She’s the one!

Armed with input, Leisa set out to create a consistent approach using a touch-point road map tracked in Introhive, the firm’s CRM platform. Her most powerful tool was a cadence of regular, curated client calls and a disciplined client feedback model.

While typical client touch points were regularly made between firm members and CFOs, Leisa knew that elevating contact with the CEO or president was crucial to a comprehensive client relationship. This was essential, she reasoned, if LBMC was to establish itself as a trusted business advisor, not just a trusted financial advisor. Connecting at the top meant that recommendations could be rooted in a high-level understanding of the client’s business, amplifying LBMC’s visibility and potential influence.

Another plus was that, if a CFO disappeared, the relationship with the boss was in place.

This approach was easier said than done. Selecting Leisa as firm ambassador meant she had to establish with the partners that her role was not to undermine their work, but to undergird it. It was critical to earn their trust in the role, as someone who would not insensitively expose them if their client relationship performance was found lacking. Leisa’s long tenure with the firm and accumulated trust made her a natural.

Vigilance required

Leisa kept her antenna up for opportunities to prove the role could work. She tells the story of running into the CEO of a client at a networking event. She introduced herself and asked to set up an interview with the CEO, making sure to collaborate with the LBMC team and discuss this with the CFO, with whom she had a close tie. She proceeded with the CEO interview, typed up the notes, including some significant revelations, and distributed them to the partners on the account.

Getting this information into their hands, rather than risk it being shared with a potential competitor, was key. Leisa used the takeaways from the interview to recommend new offerings to the account team. The CE push contributed to a tripling of the client’s business in the ensuing years.

The mechanics of these encounters was not left to chance. Leisa used techniques like scripting and careful interview preparation. With approval from the interviewee, she arranged for LBMC partners to sit in on some interviews in order to learn more about the process.

In addition to the calls, Leisa launched a program of client surveys. She personally reviews every response and conducts extensive follow-up. For example, when she receives survey responses like, “We’d like to see you more often,” or “Please let us know when there’s a new manager on our account” she shares the information with her learning and development team, so that they can weave CE enhancements into the firm’s leadership training program.

The firm’s CRM system supports the CE initiative. Prior to every client call or meeting, partners are served up the latest CRM-generated data — appointments, calendar notes and other touch points to give them the most complete and up-to-date picture of what’s going on with the client.

LBMC's offices in Brentwood, Tenn., near Nashville

It just makes sense

The results of the program speak for themselves. While a good Net Promoter Score for most firms is 70-75 percent, LBMC’s has seen a growth from 84 percent to just over 90 percent. This translates to higher client retention and revenue growth. It also confirms the firm’s goal of helping clients solve problems and enhance opportunities.

Whether it’s adopting new technology, moving into a more consultative role, or pandemic-related pivoting, partners have a great deal on their plates these days. At LBMC, knowing that a highly qualified director of client experience has their back delivers partners confidence and peace of mind.

If offering a consistently higher level of client experience is a priority in 2021, start by discussing what and why a program can reap rewards for the firm. And, most essential, choose the right person for the job. For LBMC and other forward-looking firms, a focus on client experience is proving to be a hill worth climbing.

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Client strategies Client retention Client relations LBMC Gale Crosley