As our world fast becomes digitised, professional services industry faces the danger of losing touch with the most important aspect of its very existence – its customers.  There are significant economic opportunities around adoption of technology and implementation of digital solutions, however, at the core of every firm’s success are the customers who pay the bills.  While technology helps close the gap between ambition, innovation and execution, the most successful firms in the near future are tipped to compete on the basis of customer- centricity which depends on building sustainable ‘trust’. Customers’ trust in a firm leads to loyalty and word of mouth recommendations.  Therefore, no matter how automated a firm’s systems are, trust will always remain the most volatile and critical metric of a firm’s performance and hence needs to be handled with creativity and care, the human way.

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When innovation leads to trust:

Of course, building trust is not as simple as human versus technological device or manual versus automated.  Technology can prove to be a valuable asset in a firm’s ability to influence customers’ perceptions. In fact it is technology that has given rise to a very informed consumer and, therefore, in order to successfully compete in today’s digitized world, companies need to be agile, innovative and consumer focused.  Recent studies by Boston Consulting Group have shown that the most innovative companies globally rank innovation as their number one priority in order to meet the ever changing needs of their customers and remain competitive. The leading companies on the Global Innovation Survey, mainly automotive and technology companies, are striving to find ways to meet the customer expectations, because meeting expectations builds trust.  Some of these companies have made a strong come back after experiencing pitfalls and setbacks only because they recalibrated their strategies to be in line with their customers’ needs.

However, simply automating systems, implementing technological solutions and delivering extensive reports to consumers takes away the human face of a business and sends the customers packing.  I have never heard one positive comment about automated phone systems where customers have to press several ‘options’ on their keypads before being thrown in the queue to speak with a human voice; a voice that then verbally asks them to repeat all the information they have already punched into the phone keypad…sound familiar? The bottom line is that customer trust builds customer loyalty which is like a trampoline propelling a company to success even when macroeconomic climate is unforgiving.  Sometimes innovation can be about going back to basics and showing the customers that a firm is run by real people, just like them.

Four ways firms can leverage technology to build trust:

For professional services firms there are lessons to be learnt from the BCG studies.

1.     Listening to the customers and choosing the right technological solutions helps firms meet customer expectations: asking customers regularly about their expectations not only provides valuable insights into their expectations, but also provides firms with the ability to interact with them and maintain human contact.  Technology that makes customer engagement easier and helps deliver value added services can give a firm unparalleled competitive advantage.

2.     Technological solutions can help firms stay one step ahead of the customers: Consumerisation of IT means that customers are well informed and in some cases, more informed about their choices and the competitors than the practitioners themselves.  In a world where firms are moving into specialisation, it is critical to understand the capabilities of the technological solutions available and leverage those capabilities to gain insights into competitors, differentiate services and establish a solid reputation that builds customer trust and loyalty.

3.     Technology helps firms speak the customers’ language: Every industry has its own jargon and its own code. Practitioners are experts in their field with a strong understanding of their processes.  However, practitioners need to be mindful that customers don’t always understand their language. In order to build trust, practitioners can use technology to help them present their advice in a simple and easy to understand format.

4.     Delivering transparency through technology:  Customers never like to pay more than they are quoted.  This is one of the biggest trust killers and deal breakers for customers.  Technology that helps practitioners standardise their work and more accurately evaluate their time and outcomes will allow them to provide more accurate quotes to customers and not only build strong trusting relationships, but also enjoy the benefits free ‘word of mouth’ advertising.

While technology cannot replace the human element when it comes to building trusting customer relationships, it can definitely help firms build a strong competitive edge and a solid reputation.  Innovation may be the key to differentiation and keeping in line with changing customer expectations, but innovation is not just about implementation of new technological solutions.  For professional firms, innovation through technological solutions must deliver outcomes that result in mutual benefits for both the practitioners and the customers – win-win all round.

 

 

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