Using Digital Technology To Tackle The Challenges Facing Professional Services Firms
Firms that fall under the ‘professional services’ umbrella are often grouped together for ease, but in reality they face greatly different challenges on a day-to-day basis. One of the things that unites these firms however, is a need to understand the impact of their digital technology on their growth and business ambitions; how it can help them stay ahead, engage with existing audiences, and attract new ones.
When it comes to digital technology, professional services firms’ have a number of goals for any digital experience: to optimse the generation of new business; to help deliver a better quality of service to their clients and customers; to attract, retain and develop the best talent; and to gain the benefits of time and cost efficiencies offered by advanced digital solutions. But to deliver an enhanced digital experience for professional services firms, the first step is to understand the challenges, opportunities and threats facing the sector.
CONSUMER TRENDS INFLUENCING B2B EXPECTATIONS
The Government’s UK Financial Centres of Excellence report (2016) cites the professional services sector as a major contributor to growth and employment, with over 2m people working within professional services in the UK; that amounts to an impressive 7% of the country’s working population. And the sector is growing, but sustaining that growth is a challenge.
When it comes to creating exposure and generating conversations with the right people, there is an increased awareness that the traditional methods of engaging with clients and employees are no longer the only ones. Typically, the industry has focused on personal client relationships, with selling models firmly planted in the offline world. Recently however, organisations have had to adapt to the changing digital landscape.
In the MCA’s Annual Industry Report, PwC partner Louise Fletcher noted that the needs of clients are changing: “What they buy is becoming more and more selective and sophisticated. It is important we understand and respond with relevant services.” It’s our view that digital technology will enable professional services firms to better service their clients; delivering more value, new systems and integrations, as well as better clarity of brand and offer.
Users’ digital expectations are shaped by their day-to-day experiences across social and consumer-level experiences online and feel frustrated when firms don’t offer the same level of sophistication. They want to be able to find answers online to questions about the breadth and depth of the service available, without emailing or picking up the phone and exposing themselves as ‘prospects’ in the traditional way.
Much like other industries and sectors, ‘disruption’ is the buzzword of the day, but the disruptors don’t have all of the answers. There’s still great opportunity for traditional brands to grow; they have heritage and a wealth of experience to draw from; they just need to transform their digital capabilities.
A DIGITAL SPRINGBOARD
Professional services firms have tended to focus on internal cost and process efficiencies; back-office workflows, resource planning, modernising of existing IT architectures; instead of sales and the customer experience - areas in which there are opportunities for real growth. Some firms are reluctant to set out their stall digitally, maintaining that the best way to demonstrate value is through a face-to-face or telephone conversation, but that conversation is moving online and if the digital dialogue isn’t compelling or reflective of the firm’s values and approach, it may never lead to an engagement.
But digital transformation is a journey, and we’ve found that professional services firms are increasingly showing an interest in the next steps; in a recent industry report by Raconteur, ‘improving the use of technology’ ranked number one for 94% of law firms surveyed.
Firms need digital partners who are up to speed, not just on what’s possible now, but what will be possible in the coming years. And to stay ahead, firms need to understand the opportunities and challenges these new advancements will bring. Automation will create more agile business processes; artificial intelligence will cut down on human interaction, increasing efficiency and accuracy; augmented reality will bridge the gap between online and offline; and improved digital tech will transform internal engagement for organisations working across multiple global offices.
With a growing understanding of digital’s ability to build awareness, drive business development and growth, many now realise that the company website can be so much more than a digital brochure.
Websites are a manifestation of a company’s brand and as such, they offer a significant touchpoint for both new and existing audiences to engage in a meaningful and compelling way. For professional services firms, the main requirements of any digital experience are as follows:
● Articulate the breadth of their offering so visitors can qualify whether the firm can help them with their next initiative
● Offer a scalable consumer-like experience online that’s consistent with the brand’s offline experience
● Adopt a digital tone of voice, which is professional and in line with the personal tone of voice, and use language that is external-facing (rather than internal) but still reflective of the deep expertise
● Present technically complex information, often multilingual, in an easy-to-use, accessible and intuitive way
● Be responsive and hassle free across platforms and devices
● Offer personalised content, with an end-to-end experience where digital conversations can be stitched to the offline
To meet these requirements it’s important that firms understand the benefits of, and engage in, robust user experience studies, but there is still some resistance to this. In fact, many professional services firms are still inclined to see ‘asking the target audience for direction’ as a sign of weakness, rather than a sign of commitment to delivering the best experience for their clients.
DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION IN ACTION
As mentioned earlier, by far one of the most important factors for a professional service firm’s website is for it to function as a tool for sales and lead generation, offering customers an easy, streamlined way to research and enquire. IT consultancy Sungard AS recognised the opportunity to greatly enhance their lead generation capability through a refresh of their digital technology and approached Netcel to help with the transformation. By restructuring information architecture at a global level, optimising page layouts, and improving the ability to test, personalise and update content, Sungard AS were able to improve conversion rates and content downloads, achieving a staggering 60% uplift in qualified sales leads in the space of just four months.
BDP, an international practice of architects, engineers and designers, were another organisation that saw the potential of an enhanced digital experience. BDP wanted an online experience that could improve visibility and interest, while reflecting the firm’s culture and services; visually stunning, technically sophisticated with the ability to demonstrate the value BDP brings to their clients. Netcel worked with BDP to deliver a multilingual website and future-proof technology solution that would be accessible across all devices. Together Netcel and BDP created a browseable experience that ensures website visitors are taken on extended journeys across a wider selection of content, never reaching a ‘dead end’ and always experiencing something new with each visit. Within weeks of the new website going live, BDP saw a 10% increase in engagement, and the fully responsive nature of the website has seen mobile visits increase by over 50% year-on-year.
NO TIME TO STAND STILL
Regardless of the size or sub sector, professional services firms who strive to get ahead - and to stay ahead - of new challengers and disruptors in the sector need to be committed to digital transformation to help them fulfil their business ambitions. But like any transformational process in business, digital transformation is a journey and doesn’t happen overnight. Firms need to invest in the future of their digital experiences to reap the benefits further down the line.
There’s usually some degree of trepidation for traditional professional services firms when it comes to embracing digital, but the sector risks falling behind consumer expectations. In order to validate the business case for change, firms need to develop a vision for digital success before committing to significant technological investment - something a digital consultancy can undoubtedly help with. One thing’s for sure, it’s riskier for firms to stand still and do nothing.