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How can traditional services industries develop digital-first business strategies?

According to a PWC report in September 2020, “The digital transformation we had planned for the next 10 years will be executed in the next 10 months”. Post-COVID-19, it is essential for Australian traditional service industries to develop digital-first business strategies or risk falling behind. Digital necessity is not just about being operational during a lockdown, it’s about meeting client expectations that have been changed forever, and competing in an increasingly digital-first landscape. In fact, the demand for this kind of innovation has never been greater. This post will explore how you can leverage innovative and creative ways to drive your company forward through a digital first strategy that includes productised services for streamlined sales, creating better client experiences, and taking advantage of automation in your tech systems.

But my industry is too traditional for digital-first

A lot of the professional service firms I talk to complain that their industry is so traditional, that they can’t make the digital shift. However, the numbers tell a different story. A 2015 McKinsey Report — that’s already 6 years ago! — indicates that “The top industries for digital-first business strategies are services (95%), financial services (93%) and healthcare (92%).” From my experience helping small professional services firms build an online presence, I can see how it makes perfect sense for service-based professional industries to be at the top of the ladder (second only to technology firms); these businesses can easily leverage technology for operational efficiency, and all of them have services that can be sold online.

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What should a digital-first business strategy look like?

When big firms talk about digital first strategies, they talk about every aspect of digital change incorporating company culture and innovation; diversity, leadership and employee empowerment; boosting productivity and using cutting edge technology to deliver on these aims. These are all important factors, but most of them are lofty ideals for small firms focussing on the right here, right now. For small professional businesses, be it a boutique law firm, a growing financial services team, or a psychology practice, digital-first can be built using your website as your digital front door. Your website should be the building block on which your digital business is based. It is, after all, where your clients first discover you (whether that’s via a Google search or from a word-of-mouth referral), and continues to be the hub through which your clients connect with you throughout their customer journey. When we build clever websites for our clients here at Studio Clvr, we focus on these key areas: creating better client experiences, leveraging tech and automation, and productising services. These key areas consistently contribute to return on investment, enhanced client experiences, an easier business to run — all of which consolidate into increased business value over time.

Productising services

It’s a common misnomer that you need a widget or a product to be able to make sales online. But what if you were to turn your traditional time-for-money service into a product? A productised service is just that. It’s transforming time-for-money to money-for-service (never fear, this can include a time-based scope to avoid scope creep — but more on that another time). Turning on productised servcies doesn’t mean you need to turn off your traditional offering. Far from it. Your digital offerings can be used as an introduction to your other services, and serve as an accessible starting point for clients who otherwise may not have ever found you. Most businesses start with a single productised offering, and some go the whole gamut and completely scrap hourly (or the law firm fave of 6-minute billing) in favour of a fee-for-service model. There are many ways to go about this, and different options will suit different businesses — the key is to start with one ‘product’ and see where it takes you. With one productised service you can effectively test the waters, open your business up to a new client base, and experiment to find your digital sweet spot.

Create better client experiences

“Digitalisation is about meeting clients’ needs in better, faster and cheaper ways” (Australian Financial Review; paywall). By digitising the experience of your customers — through automated bookings, customer empowered rescheduling, email sequences to support your clients at each stage of their journey with you — you are streamlining the way your clients interact with you. This makes your communication predictable and reliable, and helps to ensure that your client feels well looked after. This isn’t just good for them, it’s good for you too! The more your clients find the experience of working with you an easy one, the more you can charge for your services. A 2019 Global Consumer Insights Survey from PWC found that “better customer experience allows firms to charge a 16% premium on traditional services”. Furthermore, clients who have a good experience are more likely to recommend your business and to remain loyal and continue to use your services over time. This increases your customer lifetime value (an important business metric), as well as your referral rate for new clients.

Leverage technology and automation for operational efficiency

I see a lot of small businesses weighed down by the avalanche of admin that service-based work creates: scheduling and rescheduling meetings, sending emails out to clients, chasing invoices. All of this gets in the way of what they’re really there to do — help clients. Your business systems are so much more than your word processing software. One of the key benefits of technology for small businesses is automation. You can automate just about anything these days, are there are some really easy (and affordable) go-tos that will save your business a ton of time:

  • Automated emails can save you hours and ensure faster interaction with past, current and future clients specific to their needs and where they’re at in their relationship with your business. You can send welcome emails to new clients, and ‘what to expect’ messages outlining how you can work together.
  • Appointment scheduling systems mean no more need for an assistant (or more often you at the end of a long day) organising client meetings and rescheduling appointments. It can all be automated: initial booking, reminders, rescheduling, follow up emails.
  • Take payments online: you can automatically take payments for productised servcies online to eliminate the need to send out and chase invoices for all of your productised offerings.

Once you’ve hooked these systems up individually, you can link them up to build connected automated sequences that incorporate scheduling, reminders, email follow-up, service booking, payment with connection to your accounting software for easy reconciliation, receipt automatically sent to the client, welcome email, check-in, review request, referral request. You can set up multiple automated sequences for your business for different client journeys and product pathways. These can then be as automatic or as manual as you like depending on the level of personal-touch required for your business. The key point here is not just in the automation, it’s in the systems that can be leveraged up or down to make it easier to run your business, keep clients happy and reduce admin.

The benefits of going digital — a recap

Productising (even one of) your services opens your business up to new clients, creates price certainty to make it easier for clients to buy, and has the potential for recurring revenue. Improving the experience of your customers increases revenue by making them want to stay and refer your incredible services. Making the most of integrated technologies and automated systems to reduce the administrative burden saves you time and money. A digital-first business strategy isn’t just about what your clients expect in a post-COVID world. Digital-first is good for your bottom line.

Hey, I’m Nic

I’m a digital design strategist on a mission to transform websites from ‘whatever’ to clever. I build websites that work harder for your business, make running a business easier, and give you more time to help your clients.

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