Service Quality and Reputation Management Strategy
Published in Business Continuity Planning and Management for Law Firms
AS BENJAMIN Franklin so wisely said: It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it. His words should be a wake-up call for managing partners that have placed their trust in the fingers-crossed method of reputation management, rather than adopting a more thoughtful and measured approach.
In the world of professional services there are a relatively small number of universal truisms. In considering the link between business success and reputation, three are immediately apparent. First, high levels of trust between the professional and their client are paramount. Second, minimising perceived risk is key to corporate purchasers of professional services. Third, the credibility and reputation of the firm are key factors in driving the above, and have a crucial role in acquiring, developing, and securing relationships.
Given this, it is clearly important that firms invest in strategic reputation management; not the day-to-day communications and PR activity on which most firms are fixated, but the longer-term strategy to build compelling reputation in key areas, and the ability to respond to the crisis situation in a way that limits damage as a minimum and, ideally, enhances perception of the business.
Develop a better understanding of where service quality is failing
While reputation management should impact on the firms overall strategic thinking, the principles also apply to every client relationship. It should be clear to law firm leaders that reputation is built from the bottom-up with the effective management of individual client relationships leading to high levels of satisfaction and loyalty. This in turn drives reputation and strengthens a firms brand.
It is therefore vital to build a clear understanding of where service failures may occur. There are numerous interactions between the firm and its clients, as well as within the firm itself. Failure at any one can lead to the desired service levels not being achieved and the firm more broadly being unable to operate in a consistent way.
In order to illustrate these interactions and potential sources of service quality failure, Diagram 1 sets out a model developed from Servqual theories by Hedley Consulting to reflect the law firm context. This model highlights the gaps which can exist in terms of how a service meets clients needs or expectations, together with how well these gaps are understood and communicated within the firm.
Taking each of these gaps in turn it is possible to dissect, analyse, design, and better manage a firms service quality processes.
Understand touch points to manage perception and reputation
For clients and prospects, perceptions and reputation are created and built (or destroyed) at their touch-points with the business.
These touch-points are varied and far-ranging, encompassing highly-managed interactions through to the day-to-day experiences of contact with the firm. At one extreme they are tightly controlled (for example, corporate literature, seminars/ hospitality, newsletters, and bulletins), while at the other they are concerned with the day-to-day experiences gained in the working environment.
This will range from the mundane, such as telephone responsiveness and manner, to the insightful symbols like the commerciality of the firms approach, the clarity of its business communications and the way in which projects are delivered to time and budget (or not as the case may be).
Creating a touch-point map, and considering each interaction, can provide great insights for the management team seeking areas where reputation may be damaged and brand promises go unfulfilled.
Be responsive and responsible
In dealing with service failure and the reputational impact which can ensue, it is important to be both responsive in creating, then communicating, a plan for rectifying problems and, most crucially, be seen to implement this action plan efficiently and effectively.
Research is compelling in demonstrating that it is not the making of the mistake that necessarily defines the outcome, but rather the firms response to it. Indeed, there is evidence that, for example, service failures can actually enhance client loyalty.
Analysis shows that when a firm recognises an issue, shows concern and responds to it (by putting in place immediate and effective remedial action), the result will often be a client who is more satisfied than before the banana skin appeared. Of course, looking at the psychology of the interaction it is clear the firm that responds in this way demonstrates commitment, concern, and responsiveness. All of these are drivers of client loyalty and satisfaction.
In reality, however, many firms initial response is denial, subsequent defensiveness, enduring lack of communication, and ultimate aggression. Can we be surprised that such behaviour kills relationships and creates brand assassins in the market, eager to tell all and sundry about the conduct of their oncetrusted advisor?
The message is clear service failure situations need to be managed positively if reputational damage is to be avoided or, at worst, minimised. Adopting ostrichlike tactics will only encourage clients to disengage, and in the longer-term cause substantial, if not irreparable, damage to your most important asset your reputation.
Diagram 1: Possible law firm service quality gaps
This article was published in November 2012 by the Managing Partner magazine. To read the original article click here.
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