We all know that one of the principle reasons that McDonald’s is so successful is that they taste the same wherever you go around the world – customers know what they can expect from the golden arches.
People want dependability in their lives, especially when it comes to their financial services. Once they’ve partnered with you, your clients want to know that they’re going to receive the same service and commitment from your firm with every transaction – nobody signs on with an accounting firm to look for adventure.
In order to help your firm maintain its consistency you should think about setting down its principles in writing. These principles fall into two main categories: 1) who you are, and 2) what you do.
You’ll hear these two categories called by different names – core values, culture components, service standards, mission statements, etc. Whatever the moniker, boiled down they are blueprints to how you and your employees work to make things better for your clients.
Who you are
The first of these value systems defines to your team how they relate to each other and to their clients. These are more guiding principles than practical steps to be taken. Here are some examples:
Twitter: To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.
L.L.Bean: Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit, treat your customers like human beings, and they will always come back for more.
Zappos.com (online shoe and clothing retailers):
- Deliver WOW Through Service
- Embrace and Drive Change
- Create Fun and a Little Weirdness
- Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
- Pursue Growth and Learning
- Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication
- Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
- Do More with Less
- Be Passionate and Determined
- Be Humble
What you do
On the other hand the second list is more concerned with defining in more practical terms how you go about your business on a daily basis.
You might have more than one of these lists. For example, you might have a list of items concerning how work gets done within the office, and another defining how you get work done for clients.
Here are some sample ideas:
- We’ll return phone calls and emails within 24 hours
- We’ll turn off cell phones during meetings
- We’ll review a client’s file in advance of their meeting
- We’ll make sure the client fully understands the service(s) they’re paying for
And so on. Depending on how detailed you want to get you may have several lists that, for example, define phone interactions, meetings, financial data collection, etc. The Four Seasons hotels even have a service standard for how they want their doors to close.
Where you find who you are and what you should do
So how do you go about finding these values and standards? How do you know which ones are the best for you, your firm, and your clients?
You can start with yourself. If you left an established firm to start one of your own, what led you to make the decision to jump ship? Perhaps you made the change because you thought there were certain areas where you could do a better job than your old firm on behalf of the clients. These differences of opinion on client relations can serve as your starting point.
Luckily, there’s no rule that says that you must come up with the lists on your own. In fact, it’s healthy to bring in your team because they’re likely the ones in the trenches, learning what your clients want from your firm on a daily basis.
Step 1: Set up a day where you get all of your team together for a brainstorming session. Provide flipcharts (and lunch!).
Step 2: Explain the two lists that you’re looking to create:
Our values – who we are and what we believe in.
Our standards – our blueprints, born from our values, which tell us how we should work with our clients.
Step 3: Share the examples given above (or others that you find) while highlighting that they are only examples and that you’re not looking to outright copy them. It’s important to have your team come up with their own because they’ll be more invested in them rather than just having second-hand values and standards pressed upon them.
Step 4: Get to work brainstorming your values. (If you have a larger team – say 10 or more people – you might want to split them into two groups.) There’s no set way that your particular firm’s values should end up looking, but generally you want to keep each statement short and easy to understand. Set a time limit.
Step 5: Refine your values. Once you have a bunch of ideas set down, have your team go through them one by one. Some will be awesome, some will be redundant, some just might not work at all. You probably don’t want to have any more than ten at the most, and five or six is probably better.
Step 6: Now that you have your values (who you are and what you believe) down in black and white you can get to work on your standards (what you do). The amount you have is going to be somewhat particular to your firm and the services it offers, but you want to keep them manageable. “Manageable” means that the standards are few enough that they can become muscle memory instead of your team having to look them up in manuals.
Step 7: Refine your standards with your team, just like you did with your values.
Step 8: Step 8 comes after the brainstorming meeting. You’ll shoot the polished values and standards to your teammates via email, and display them with posters or pages in highly visible areas.
Step 9: Share your values and standards with your clients. Publish them on your website. Send them out in your next email newsletter. Display them on posters visible to people visiting your office.
Added bonus – making these values and standards visible helps future hires see what kind of firm they’ll be applying to when they’re on the hunt for a job.
By defining who you are and what you do you’re accomplishing two big things:
- You’re giving your employees a template to follow when dealing with clients and their colleagues.
- You’re ensuring that your clients receive the consistency and reliability that they desire from a financial institution.