How to add value

In the first of a three-part special, we ask ‘what is value?’

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With the rapid decline in the perceived value of compliance work, and the increase in automation of this core service, it’s more important than ever to provide added value.

But how do you do that? And how do you do it without adding to your workload or increasing the cost of providing your services?

I’ll be looking at this in the next three articles but, first, here’s a question – what is value?

The simple answer, of course, is that it’s subjective. What’s precious and valuable to one person could be meaningless to another. In business, if an item’s perceived value outweighs its asking price in the eyes of a potential buyer, then you have a sale.

So, adding value means raising a client’s perception of the value of an item or a service, ideally with minimal effort and cost. To give just one example of the many ways you can do this, let’s take a look at car valeters. These are now so popular that you often have to queue, especially if someone also wants the interior of their car cleaned. This takes time and you usually need to sit outside. In fact, I’ve often used this service myself and on a sunny day have gone for a walk or sat somewhere nearby to read.

Recently, however, I’ve started to use a valeting company that’s a little further away and a little more expensive. Why? Because they’ve kitted out the attached building that would once have housed a small convenience shop and sales counter (like many other such companies, they’ve moved into a former filling station). All they’ve done is add a couple of vending machines – one for drinks and the other for snacks – a few tables, some comfortable chairs, and installed WiFi. But guess what? They now get far more business.

True, they may have had to make a small initial outlay, but the vending machines probably add to their profits and the cost of WiFi and heating will be minimal. And, as a result, they can charge considerably more for their services and there’s always a queue – which demonstrates that people value what they’ve added.

Little things really can add to the value experience.

Where to start with adding value – value mapping

Value mapping means looking into every client interaction, enhancing their experience and adding additional interactions to increase your perceived value in the eyes of your clients.

For example, what do you think this scenario would do to your value perception?

It’s a rainy day and a prospect is booked in for a meeting at your office. She arrives early but the car park is already full. She resigns herself to having to park round the corner and make a run for it. Then she notices that the space by the front door is empty and what’s more, it has a reserved sign with her name on it. Grateful, she parks her car and enters the building. Your receptionist smiles, greets her by name, takes her to the meeting room and offers her a drinks menu with a wide range of options. Her favourite herbal tea is on the menu so she asks for that. While she’s waiting, she flicks through the folder of client case studies and testimonials that’s on the table – all of them singing your praises and sharing the ways you’ve helped their businesses.

What kind of impression will that make? How positive do you think the prospect will be feeling before the meeting even starts?

That’s not even the starting point of her interactions with you. Before she gets to this point she will likely have done an online search, looked over your website, perhaps read a few reviews. To make the appointment with you she may have spoken to one of your team or used an automated booking system.

Every single one of those points has an impact on her perception of your firm. And if any one of them looks poor or is difficult to use, your value goes down.

So your first step in value mapping is to identify all the stages of your customer’s journey.

Mapping the customer journey

To get started, grab a pack of Post-it notes and write one for each stage you can think of for the customer journey at your practice. Start from the point where a prospective client has never heard of you and use a separate sheet for each of the current ways they might find you – whether that’s searching for your website on Google, looking you up on LinkedIn or checking out your profile on Facebook.

In fact, this can be a great team exercise, so get some of your team involved and come up with a list of every possible interaction. Once you think you’ve covered all of them, collect the Post-it notes and stick them on the wall, shifting them around (this is why Post-it notes are so useful!) until they form a logical flow diagram.

Next, grab a differently coloured set of Post-it notes and get creative. How could you enhance the customer experience (and therefore their perception of value) at each stage? Write down as many suggestions as you can come up with for each one. And remember, it doesn’t matter how nice your reception is if the doorbell doesn’t work. Or how great a meeting you have with a prospect, if they then visit the toilet and it’s not as clean as it should be.

It's not just about the way things look, though of course that’s important. All five senses come into it. What about the way your meeting room smells, for example? Is there a damp patch giving off a musty odour? What do your prospects hear when they walk into your reception? I’ve found a lot of accountants play the news channel in reception areas, but do you really want prospects being demoralised by bad news just before their meeting? Wouldn’t videos of client case studies, or uplifting music, be better?

For the online stages of the customer journey, ease of use is critical. If your prospect can’t find what they want on your website – your phone number, for example – they won’t bother searching for it, they’ll just go elsewhere.

Next, move on to the meeting itself (that’s probably what they’ve come for, after all). What happens before and after? Do you send out a draft agenda before meetings and ask if there are any points that clients would like to add to ensure you both get what you need from it? Similarly, do you send out actions and notes afterwards?

All of these points will enhance your value perception if they’re done well – and detract from it if they’re not.

In my next article, I’ll look at how you can add value to your core services.

Download your free copy of my bestselling book for accountants, Putting Excellence Into Practice.

Shane Lukas – AVN Inspiring Accountants