In an old Seinfeld episode (popular US 80’s sitcom) Jerry Seinfeld made a startling observation about the baseball team he followed.
The conversation went something like this:
“Team loyalty is a kinda hard thing to justify in the end. You know, I love the Giants, but when you think about it, who are the Giants in the end? You know what I mean? It’s different guys. Every year it’s different guys. Teams will move from city to city. You’re rooting for clothes when you get right down to it. It’s the same outfits, I’m rooting for an outfit, that’s what it comes down to. I want my team’s clothes to beat the clothes from the team from Maple City. That’s not so bad either, we’re rooting for laundry, we’re screaming about laundry here.”
What’s fascinating about this is how right he is! Even though players come and go, you keep barracking for the same team colours and their clothes no matter what changes happen in the player line up. This type of loyalty is so powerful it’s shared generation to generation. You cheer for the same team your father did and his father before.
This type of loyalty isn’t reserved for all brands though. Take cereal for example. When your favourite cereal isn’t available, chances are you’ll choose another one. The decision is pretty low involvement and low risk. But what about when the decision is high involvement and high risk as in the case of a professional services firm?
1. Make the firm brand stronger than the individual’s brand
In the same way fans don’t change teams when players move, professional service firms need to look at how to create a unique firm experience to minimise client movement when key partners leave. Firms need their firm brand to be more compelling than the personal brand of any individual within it. Clearly the ability to do this isn’t easy otherwise firms wouldn’t bother promoting their new hires in an attempt to woo the new hire’s clients too.
The allegiance we have to our sports teams is quite unlike any other product or service. When our favourite team loses we still follow them. It’s truly a ‘through thick or thin’ relationship that’s rarely experienced with other products or services. In the professional service context, if our B2B firm fails us, do we stay or do we change? We change, unless we’re contractually tied. This is the same for most services we use. We don’t continue to use them if they don’t deliver on their promise or they repeatedly underwhelm us.
2. Deliver service consistency
Regardless of industry, clients expect consistency in service delivery across the entire firm. Clients expect to have easy access to their lawyer, accountant, financial planner or, whomever they use. They expect timely sharing of new developments and they expect their professional service firm will anticipate what’s ahead for them before they see it coming. How does a firm do this successfully? The key is to look at the way the best sports teams perform; they work as a team, not as a group of individuals. Germany’s performance in the 2014 World Cup illustrates how teamwork can achieve a fantastic result. Germany didn’t rely on any standout players to carry the effort.
3. Promote the firm-wide experiences you provide
All professional service firms need to continually demonstrate the client-firm relationship and all its benefits. Firms need to be on the lookout for tightly held individual client-partner relationships that are kept restricted and not shared. Clients of these partners are your firm’s most vulnerable assets and the most likely to walk when that key partner moves. To overcome this you need to ensure your clients are well networked with many partners and associates in your firm. Stronger client relationships are possible when these relationships are shared and nurtured by many within the firm. Doing this delivers not only benefit to the firm but a wider business perspective to the client and their interests.
Note though, the firm’s aim isn’t to make switching hard. It’s to provide a compelling client experience that’s more valuable than any individual to individual relationship. If you make switching hard and you don’t consistently deliver, you’ll only hurt your brand’s reputation. Any benefit is only short lived and not conducive to building enduring client relationships.
4. Don’t take your clients for granted
Remember, just like any decent sports team knows, don’t take your supporters for granted! Make your clients part of your conversation, importantly part of the firm wide conversation with many of your people. Give them a say, reward their loyalty and they’ll be more invested in the outcome and your firm.