When I’m the customer, I’m the king

Do you get the most from your professional advisers? Robert Craven tells us what he expects

My professional advisers – accountants, lawyers, architects, bankers, financial advisers – let opportunities and profits slip through their fingers because they are incapable of understanding the basics of courtesy and customer care. Most ‘run’ their own businesses; many actually own the business they run. But, for whatever reason, they seem unable to give their clients what their clients actually want. Is this you?

They see themselves as technicians and just don’t get the basics of running a business. (Of course it is not just the more traditional professions that this applies to, but all service firms.) People don’t buy from you for what you do but for what you do for them.

Understand me

So, what is it that advisers and service firms must be able to do? First and foremost, I want my adviser to understand me. I am not a number, I am not a series of digits; no, I am a person and I have very specific issues. Show an interest in me.

From where I stand, I am unique. No one else has the same specific problems that I have. No one else has the same worries and concerns – about business development, cashflow, and continually motivating my staff. When I am going to talk about money and my business I want the other person to have a real interest in me and my aspirations.

Understand business

Second, I want my adviser to understand the needs of, in my case, the MD of a growing privately-owned business. If I am going to share the intricacies of business and finance with a relative stranger, then I want them to really understand (or at least be able to empathise with) just how brilliantly skilful I must been to grow my business despite all the odds!

Business is not simply about money. Business is about people: employing and motivating people, getting people to buy from you and finding people to buy from. Business is about sales and marketing and about delivering your service or product.

And running your own business, in particular, is about passion and dreams, thrills and disappointments. It’s a way of life – you don’t work to live, you live to work. I don’t expect an adviser to understand everything about growing businesses, but a decent rudimentary understanding of how a business works – not in theory but in practice – is not unreasonable.

Understand my business

Third, I want my adviser to understand my business. My problems are specific to my industry, to my market and to the way that I run my business.

The adviser should know this and be able to assist with specific industry-related support. At a minimum, a knowledge of benchmark ratios would help – a bit of research would do no harm! But really I want them to add value – tell me what the situation means and what options I have. I want a partner in my business!

Fourth, I want swift action. The systems used by most competing advisers appear to be relatively similar, so I will accept whatever calculations or recommendations are made.

What I cannot accept is intolerable delays that sometimes seem to occur. I want swift actions or the answers to be there when promised. At a minimum, I want to be given the date by which the work will be completed.

Fifth, I want to know what I am paying for and I want to know how much I am going to pay, and when. Even better, let’s go for payment by results.

If an accountant or lawyer charges by the hour, then they are incentivised to work slowly. Other professional service firms (architects, dentists, doctors) work to a price, so what’s the problem? Surely fixed price agreements would incentivise them to work more efficiently!

All I want is an adviser that understands me, understands my business, gives me decisions when promised and explains how they charge. Not much to ask, surely?

Robert Craven is a keynote speaker and author of the best-selling business books Kick-Start Your Business and Customer Is King (with foreword by Sir Richard Branson). His latest book is Grow Your Service Firm – out soon.

As MD of The Directors’ Centre ( www.directorscentre.com ) the consultancy for growing businesses, he works with ambitious directors to break through constraints on business growth.

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