Since the inauguration of the Client Choice Awards in 2005 some firms have shown a knack for being serial winners – and even winning multiple awards in a single year.
Every professional services firm can learn why firms like Douglas Partners, Gilbert + Tobin, Golder, PwC, Tonkin + Taylor, HLB Mann Judd and King & Wood Mallesons have repeatedly won Client Choice Awards. These are not the only firms that have won multiple Awards, but their names are amongst those that tend to appear more often.
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 to identify the finalists and winners from amongst the circa 100 firms that apply each year there’s a clear pattern. The serial 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 Tonkin + Taylor, a New Zealand firm specialising in a few lines of consulting engineering. And it’s not their client bases or other visible factors.
What’s the secret sauce?
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 Client Choice Awards; 2014  and 2019 were no exceptions.
beaton’s research shows elite Client Choice Awards winners do three things extraordinarily well. First, all their people believe 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 stressed at Scandinavian Airline Systems 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 how people, including owners, 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, i.e. the firm makes good profits.
And third–above all else–these firms are consistent. Again, 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, so a few ‘minor’ slip-ups 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.
The Client Choice Awards do have a secret sauce
The secret sauce of serial winners is the calibre and consistency of their leaders who actively and distinctively manage their cultures to make client experience – CX – excellence their mission. And it shows in the passion of their people. And in the satisfaction of their clients.
 This post first appeared in the BRW magazine on 14 February 2014. The language has been updated, but the insights remain constant.