Technically proficient relationship builders

Today’s successful professional services business needs team members that are both technically proficient and skilled at relationship building – for developing new business and providing quality client service. So why is this becoming more important and how do you manage this relationship-driven competency dynamic?

The work is more complex, but clients want it simplified

Gone are the days when you, the professional, advised your clients of the best option and they just accepted your professional opinion. While you may have some trusted relationships that work like this, more than likely you now have new clients and new generations of existing clients that aren’t as trusting. In the Information Age, clients have access to vast amounts of information regarding their situation. Most want to understand what you are doing and what options are available to them. Employees with superior communications skills will be able to skilfully convey the benefits of particular solutions.

It also takes skill to set expectations up-front, identifying how much the client wants to be involved, understanding how much information they want to have along the way, and then communicate effectively throughout.

From “4 Steps to Follow for Successful Client Management”:

“Properly setting expectations is all about having strong communication and trust between you and your client…Ask them how they prefer to keep in touch, be it email or phone calls or even a mobile app. This line of communication will be vital to checking in with your client and helping them through any challenges.”

Technology makes it easier to work with clients remotely, but clients still want close partner relationships

Remote working and cloud computing mean that clients can more easily share documents with your firm and don’t need to meet with you face-to-face. Your team members just get on and start working on the next piece of work. You might not meet with clients as often or you might meet with them via video. It will be interesting to see how much this will change in the current environment.

The problem is that most clients actually need to have regular contact with you to build and maintain trust. If you or your team are not asking broader questions about the client’s business or personal circumstances, you might miss vital information or opportunities to do more work. You also won’t become a trusted adviser. The client of the future wants to collaborate to solve problems.

From “The Future of the Professional Services Industry”:

“The value of relationships will become more important and there will be more physical collaboration between clients and firms when possible but on the other hand it will also be common practice that clients and advisors are located on different continents.”

Artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation are expanding to manage more of the day-to-day tasks. This means that those employees with high levels of relationship building skills and emotional intelligence will be more successful at providing quality advisory and consulting services. They will be better at critical analysis and communicating solutions to clients.

From “How are Customer Expectations Driving Digital Transformation Across Professional Services?”:

“Clients’ digital expectations which are shaped by their day-to-day experiences across social and consumer-level experiences online are driving the need for digital transformation.”

Technology can also be used to solve these new client expectations. Rather than concentrating on technology use internally, for system improvement and efficiency, firms should be looking to new technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning to transform how they communicate with clients. Technology can enable you to provide clients with more tailored and valuable information. Mapping your client’s buying journey and CX (client experience) will allow you to further tailor your marketing efforts, client service and content strategy. There will always be a need for in-person communication, but technology can also assist in relationship building.

It’s difficult to measure your employee’s relationship building skills, but that’s exactly what you have to do

Traditionally, employees were measured and rewarded for technical competency, so highly competent technical people were the ones progressing to leadership in the organisation. They would have been employed for their technical abilities and their output measured by their precision. Professional services are highly technical and the people that choose these careers are usually quite analytical and detail-oriented, but not always. Even if they are the ‘typical’ technical type, this does not mean they do not have the skills to develop trusted relationships and build new business. If they are only rewarded for technical precision, efficiency and time billed to the technical aspects of the work, they won’t develop emotional intelligence, empathy, communication and problem-solving skills – all abilities they will need to be successful.

Firms need to be measuring and rewarding all core competencies, including the ones that lead to better communication, critical thinking and building trusted business relationships.

Finding and training all round stars

It starts with your recruitment and onboarding. Psychometric testing is still not widely used, but maybe it should be in professional services. If used correctly, it can give you a clear idea of a candidate’s potential aptitude for the skills and abilities we’re talking about. Deloitte is an example of a firm using psychometric testing and, as you can see from this page on the Graduates First website, their testing is extensive and tailored to their corporate culture.

Employees can definitely learn relationship building skills through high-quality and targeted training. Training employees in every competency area will be a distinct advantage as the world continues to rapidly change.

You need to be recruiting and training your people to be technically proficient and have a high level of emotional intelligence, in order to build an exceptional team with the necessary skills for business development and the highest quality client service.

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