As one of the co-founders of Stout, John Ross has seen the evolution of the firm from the beginning. Since day one, a key element to the firm’s growth has been premium client service, which permeates throughout Stout’s core values of Positive & Team-Oriented, Accountable, Committed, Entrepreneurial, Relationship-Focused, and Super-Responsive & Great Communicators (PACERS). As evidence of the firm’s commitment to delivering outstanding service, Stout’s net promoter score is +90, indicating clients’ trust and commitment. We recently spoke with John to get his thoughts on how client service is essential to Stout and any firm’s business strategy.
Premium client service is part of Stout’s ethos. As a co-founder of Stout, you’ve seen the firm expand for nearly three decades. How has a commitment to premium client service contributed to Stout’s growth over the years?
When the firm originally started, our firm’s name and brand were just being established. It was a challenge to convince clients why they should consider us as opposed to larger, more recognized firms. What separated us from our competition was our promise to do great work, communicate throughout the process, and deliver a well-supported product on time and within budget. We had no room for error; we had to impress the client in every way. Since the beginning and through today, we have never forgotten the importance and commitment to our clients. Premium client service is in our DNA.
How do you incorporate the elements of Stout’s PACERS strategy into your overall approach to business development?
There are great firms and technicians in the market. Unfortunately, it’s the basics that many organizations seem to forget: Do what you said you would do, for the price you said you would do it for, and within the timeframe you promised. Client satisfaction is linked to simple things like promptly returning calls, being on time, and being responsive in all instances. It’s not just this opportunity for which you hope to get engaged; it’s the long-term relationship you want to establish.
How do you keep relationships warm?
Relationships go both ways. We strive to continually be a resource for our clients. I always say, “You don’t always have to pay us to talk to us.” If we can be a resource to a client at any given moment, we encourage our clients to feel free to reach out to us.
How can professionals know when their company has met their clients’ goals and exceeded expectations? What are some ways they can get feedback?
Clients expect good work. They especially like to work with people they respect professionally, as well as trust. It is especially gratifying when we maintain that long-term relationship. Knowing that we have built that trust and credibility is a successful relationship. On the more tangible side of things, we send out a monthly survey to our clients, asking them to provide feedback on the service we’ve delivered. We’re very proud of our net promoter score!
What aspects of client service do you feel are most important for an organization that provides service? What should they always aim to get right?
Clients are always number one. Make their lives easier and strive to make them look good. Fully understand the clients’ specific needs and requirements. You don’t learn anything if you are doing all the talking. Ask questions and communicate throughout the process, and immediately make clients aware of any issues or concerns. Also, provide them technical resources and keep them up to date with current information that may be useful and pertinent to them, including current regulatory changes or market trends. In the eyes of the client, having the expertise in their specific industry is one of the most important issues for any successful engagement.
How might you adjust your strategy depending on the type of client, the client’s industry, or size of company?
Every client engagement is different. That’s what makes our business interesting and challenging. However, the fundamentals are consistent. If we take our specialized expertise, coupled with the knowledge of the clients, together we can work to provide the most meaningful engagement.
What elements of client service are always the same no matter who the client is?
Realizing that clients know their own organization or business better than anyone. We must utilize this valuable resource.
How can companies ensure that all professionals in their organization deliver quality service and treat each client as their best client?
I believe this gets done within the core of the organization. This ideology must be driven throughout the organization – top to bottom. I think that this is one of our firm’s greatest advantages.
What advice do you have for young professionals who are beginning to have frequent and direct contact with clients?
By nature, we all seem to avoid what we need to do the most. If you are ever concerned or nervous about a particular issue, that is the very issue you must address immediately.