What ‘professional service’ means

What do architects, auditors and lawyers have in common? No, this is not the opening line to an overdone and unamusing joke along the lines of the sort of attempt at humour often heard at a conference.

Rather, this is a straightforward question to which the somewhat disappointing answer is that they all occupy a space in the professional service sector and are characterised by a high knowledge intensity and a professional workforce. But what does that actually mean to a client?

The words ‘professional’ and ‘service’ are what it’s all about. How many times do we hear the phrase: ‘technical excellence is taken for granted – it’s all about the relationship, the service, the added value’. We trust particular brands because we know that the quality will be there, and we will pay for it, but we feel let down if the level of professionalism and service doesn’t match. It is, quite simply, the going above and beyond.

There are numerous excellent articles on the topic to which I will add three simple things to remember when delivering a professional service.

Put your client first

Every now and then an opportunity will arise in which you can do something for a client that will cost nothing and yet mean everything. Don’t always be thinking about your business relationships through the lens of billable hours – there is a very basic human trait here: it doesn’t matter who you are, we all love free stuff (aka ‘added value’). If a client needs a quick bit of advice do you have to charge them? If you go overtime by a little does that have to be passed on to the client? Is there something you can do for your client to thank them for their continued business?

Nothing new here, but all very easily forgotten in the endless toil spent on matters; but start taking your client for granted at your peril. It’s like any relationship; if you stop doing the little things, competitors begin to look more attractive.

Be positive and personable

We all want to work with people we like. We also want to work with people who understand us and who demonstrate that they are interested in us and pleased to be in our presence. There are plenty of professional service firms but there is only one of you; that might sound like the sort of glib quote that goes around social media on a regular basis but it’s true. People will remember how you make them feel and if that is a positive feeling they will not only come back to you but will also recommend you to others.

Own your mistakes

To err is human. It happens. When it does, own it. Take responsibility and make it right. Of course, it is better not to make the same mistake twice and it does depend on the actual mistake itself as to what sort of reception you will get when taking ownership of it, but generally the well-known examples of people taking responsibility and making good rather than continually denying what is blindingly obvious to the rest of us are those which end up positively.

In the words of Maya Angelou, ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

Luan de Burgh of the de Burgh Group is a professional public speaker and presentation coach. More of his articles can be read here