Client journeys changed overnight when the pandemic started.

For consumer businesses like Amazon that had been trading online for years up to that point, it just meant more of the same, a lot more. For professional services firms, however, the transition was much greater in a sector that typically thrived (and relied on) on face-to-face contact with clients up until that point, transitioning to ‘virtual’ working or communications was as much a mind shift for clients as it was for staff.

In the beginning…

In the days prior to lockdown there was scrambled chaos as firms tried to arrange the necessary hardware and establish secure remote infrastructures so their staff could work from home. Of course, in this chaos, the IT industry grew as the demand for equipment such as desktops and laptops soared because of the increase in home working. Microsoft certainly didn’t complain in the early days either as they grew their share of the PC operating system market to 87% and we reached 1 billion active Windows 10 devices. By May 2020, 4 trillion minutes was being spent on Windows 10 a month, which was a 75% increase year on year.

But for professional services firms, it was a real transition to shift systems, processes, and teams to work from home. Whilst firms were transitioning staff to this new way of working, there was likely a corresponding fall in demand from clients as they too spent time adjusting to a new way of living and working. And whilst everyone had to adapt to a new way of life, balancing work with caring for families and children at the same time, there was also an adjustment as firms began to learn to use new technologies, least of all video streaming tools like Zoom or Teams to communicate with clients.

As time progressed and life settled into some semblance of a routine, what previously may have been a reluctance to use technology to communicate, even those most against technology realised that they had to embrace it otherwise there was no way of interacting with the outside world or engaging with services that required more than just a phone call. And for firms that previously weren’t open to using video streaming tools such as Zoom or Teams, these tools became part of our normal ‘toolkit’ when engaging with clients and will likely continue to be used as an addition rather than a substitute.

What also started shifting was the way in which firms began to communicate with their clients. Where previously firms sent infrequent emails to clients, suddenly we started receiving daily emails from service providers with updates on how they were changing the way they were delivering their services. Everyone was in the same boat and it seemed the more information we had at our fingertips the more in control we felt (even though it was very overwhelming). Many firms also found themselves having to communicate new ways of working with their clients. And whilst firms were emailing clients with updates, operations teams were focusing their time and energy into ensuring more technologically sound, streamlined, and robust processes were in place to continue delivering to clients. As time progressed, clients also began to demand different ways of doing things when usual simple tasks started to become more complicated due to lockdown. One example of this that took a little longer to implement, but yet would’ve been unheard of 2 years prior, was the remote signing of Wills that came into effect in September 2020.

As the pandemic progressed, COVID-19 caused extended lockdowns and increasing uncertainty, but it also shone a spotlight on health and mental health. According to Mckinsey, these factors began to reshape clients (and our own) behaviours. Whilst the wave of the pandemic was quite a rollercoaster for so many people and firms, what emerged was a real empathy and concern for one another, and a genuine need for firms to ensure that their staff and their wellbeing were taken care of. Whilst there was a massive focus on keeping safe, there was an equally important focus on maintaining good mental health for staff, and how by doing so, they could offer a new awareness and level of empathy and understanding towards clients and their cases.

What is important now that we are starting to see the back of the pandemic, are the trends, patterns, expectations, and behaviours that are likely to continue over the long term. Here are the key factors Mckinsey considers to be important for businesses to embrace to ensure sustained levels of client engagement and to continue improving the client experience.

Digital

Digital engagement has accelerated tremendously, and many firms have innovated to replace or complement traditional, in-person experiences. Whether out of necessity or convenience, firms have been able to offer clients new ways of doing things and the hope is that firms continue to embrace technology and that they continue to provide better and more efficient services using technology where they can – whilst still maintaining that personal touch.

Safety

Firms need to build safety into the client experience, for now and for the long term. Rethinking the way we do things or the way we onboard clients is critical to put clients at ease and increase their satisfaction (and confidence in us). This also extends to the way we recruit staff. Firms need to consider what parts of the onboarding process can be done with clients, and staff, remotely, but at the same time they need to ensure constant engagement with clients to find out what can be done to improve the client (or staff) experience.

Data and analytics

As we enter this new phase, firms need to be more proactive and receptive and to anticipate clients’ expectations and needs far quicker than they have done in the past. Firms need to continue to invest in the data, technology, and systems that are required to deliver exceptional and more memorable client experiences.

What’s next?

A critical part of the client experience is to map the client journey from ways clients perceive or see your brand before they have a need, to the information and the touchpoints they engage with they are considering using you or a competitor. What do those touchpoints look like? Is your ‘brand experience’ consistent in all the places your firms exist?

If you need help mapping our client experience or you simply need to chat about how to improve your client’s journey through your firm, then get in contact with Lara or book a discovery call with her.

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