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Using Digital Technology to Tackle the Challenges Facing Professional Services Firms

—29 November 2017
—Dan Geoffrey, Account Director at Netcel, on how professional services firms are using advanced digital technology

By Dan Geoffrey, Account Director at Netcel

Firms that fall under the ‘professional services’ umbrella are often grouped together for ease, but in reality they face greatly different challenges. No matter what their business, all firms need to understand the impact of digital technology on their growth and ambitions; how it can help engage with existing audiences, and attract new ones.

Professional services firms’ have a number of goals for any digital experience: optimse the generation of new business; help deliver a better quality of service to their clients and customers; attract, retain and develop the best talent; and gain the benefits of time and cost efficiencies. But to deliver an enhanced digital experience for the sector, the first step is to understand the challenges, opportunities and threats facing professional services firms. 

CONSUMER TRENDS INFLUENCING B2B EXPECTATIONS

User expectations are shaped by their day-to-day experiences across social and consumer-level experiences online; they feel frustrated when firms don’t offer the same level of sophistication. They want to be able to find answers to questions about the breadth and depth of the service available, without emailing or picking up the phone and exposing themselves as ‘prospects’.

When it comes to creating exposure and generating conversations, there’s 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.

The needs of clients are changing and what they’re buying is becoming more selective and sophisticated. 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.

A DIGITAL SPRINGBOARD

Digital transformation is a journey, and we’ve found that professional services firms are increasingly showing an interest in the next steps; a recent industry report by Raconteur ranked ‘improving the use of technology’ number one for 94% of law firms surveyed.

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 a firm’s values, it may never lead to an engagement.

Firms need digital partners who are up to speed on what’s possible in the future, not just right now. Firms need to understand the opportunities and challenges 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 stimulate growth, many now realise that a website can be much more than a digital brochure. Websites are a manifestation of a company’s brand, offering a touchpoint for new and existing audiences to engage in a meaningful way.

For professional services firms, the main requirements of any digital experience are as follows: 

●       Articulate the breadth of their offering

●       Offer a scalable consumer-like experience that’s consistent with the offline experience

●       Adopt a digital tone of voice, professional external-facing, but reflective of deep expertise

●       Present technically complex information, often multilingual, in an easy-to-use, accessible and intuitive way

●       Be responsive and hassle-free across devices

●       Offer personalised content, with an end-to-end experience where digital conversations can be stitched to offline

To meet these requirements it’s important that firms understand and engage in robust user experience studies. But there’s still some resistance to this; in fact, many professional services firms are still inclined to see ‘asking the audience for direction’ as a sign of weakness, rather than a commitment to delivering the best experience.

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION IN ACTION

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. 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 experiencing something new with each visit. Within weeks of going live, BDP saw a 10% increase in engagement, and the fully responsive website has seen mobile visits increase by over 50% year-on-year.

NO TIME TO STAND STILL

Regardless of size or sub-sector, professional services firms need to be committed to digital transformation to 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 later on.

There’s usually some degree of trepidation for traditional professional services firms embracing digital, but the sector risks falling behind consumer expectations. In order to validate the case for change, firms need to develop a vision for digital success before committing to significant 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.

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