George Beaton Columnist

George is the founder and executive chairman of Beaton Research + Consulting, which provides advisory, performance improvement and trouble-shooting services to professional services firms. George's management experience includes executive director roles in advisory, consulting, communications and marketing research firms.

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Do serial winners of the BRW Client Choice Awards have a secret sauce?

Published 19 February 2014 20:26, Updated 20 February 2014 10:26

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Do serial winners of the BRW Client Choice Awards have a secret sauce?

After 10 years and hundreds of thousands of customer votes in his firm’s Client Choice Awards, George Beaton thinks he knows what sets habitual winners apart. Photo: Andrew Quilty

During the decade since the BRW Client Choice Awards began, some firms have had a knack of being winners in most years – and often winning multiple awards in a single year.

Every professional services firm can learn why the likes of Douglas Partners, Gilbert + Tobin, Golder Associates, PwC, and Herbert Smith Freehills consistently and repeatedly win Client Choice awards.

It’s not that these are the only firms winning multiple awards, but their names tend to appear more often than others.

Winning an award means being a nose or less ahead of your nearest rivals in the opinion of your clients.

It’s often so close you’d think the flip of a coin might determine the outcome. But in the sampling and statistical testing undertaken by Beaton Research + Consulting to identify the winners from among well over 100 firms that apply, there’s a clear pattern. The winners do seem to have a secret sauce.

It’s not the size, profession or ownership of these firms that points to their penchant for winning. For example: of those named, PwC is giant, global and diversified in contrast with Douglas Partners, a domestic firm specialising in a few lines of consulting engineering. And it’s not their client bases or other visible factors.

The secret lies in leadership

Perhaps the secret lies in their leadership and therefore the culture of these firms? While they are poles apart in most respects, they have one major trait in common. They are the best of the best in the ways they serve their clients. They are truly excellent. And that’s why over many years they have won so many BRW Client Choice Awards – this year being no exception.

Beaton’s research shows elite Client Choice award winners do three things extraordinarily well. First, all their people know that clients come first. They understand the primary reason for the firm’s existence is to meet clients’ needs effectively and efficiently.

The legendary Jan Carlzon, in his book Moments of Truth, recalls telling colleagues at Scandinavian Airlines System that you either serve clients or serve someone in the company who is directly serving clients. Carlzon famously said, “if you can’t work out where and how you fit in this chain of service, then you don’t belong in the company”.

Second, winning firms regard their people as being as important as their clients. They know that the way people, including partners, feel about their treatment by the firm is how they in turn treat their clients. This is a variation on the well-known service profit chain where a happy staff means happy clients and in turn happy owners. That is, the firm makes good profits.

And third – above all else –these firms are consistent. Beaton’s analysis shows consistency is the key to being truly excellent in how the client service experience is managed. In the same way a few fielding lapses can lose a cricket match, a few minor slip-ups can drag down a firm’s performance.

There’s a saying in my former profession of medicine that “there’s no such thing as a minor operation”. It’s true in the business professions too. Clients have very high expectations, so the slightest of errors, delays or brusqueness are noted and are damaging. Every touch point, by every person in the firm, every day with every client adds up.

Serial winners of the Client Choice Awards do have a secret sauce: it’s the calibre and consistency of their leadership which actively and distinctively manages their cultures to make excellence their mission. It shows in their passion for their people and in the satisfaction of their clients.

George Beaton is a director of Beaton Capital and Beaton Research + Consulting, firms dedicated to professional services.

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