The digital world that we’re now firmly a part of has certainly made our lives better in a wide range of different ways. It’s far easier to communicate and collaborate with one another in both our personal and professional lives today than it was even a decade ago, for example.
Of course, this tech-based revolution has also brought its fair share of challenges along with it — as any professional services company can attest to.
During a period where people can figure out the answers to most questions using little more than a search engine, the need for people with specialized knowledge is sadly on the decline.
This means that those professional services businesses who have been able to ride out this storm have done so by emphasizing the most important factor of all: customer loyalty. Customer loyalty isn’t just what separates your firm from a competitors in someone’s mind.
It’s what separates you from your free, efficient digital counterpart named “Google,” too. But maintaining loyalty is all about creating exceptional customer experiences and in the last five years in particular, customer expectations have changed dramatically.
So Changes The Customer, So Changes The Business
Modern professional services customers now demand fixed fees and transparent pricing. They want services that are faster, simpler, more convenient, and more affordable than ever before.
Thanks to the Internet, it’s also much easier to shop around before committing to one firm. So suddenly you don’t just have all the other firms in your area to worry about. A firm halfway around the country (or the world) might be someone’s potential second choice.
Your business just became a global one whether you like it or not and you must do anything you can to respond in kind. To remain as competitive as possible, professional services firms must place the customer at the centre of what they’re offering. You need to be creating new products and services, yes — but they need to be designed to generate as much raw value into these people’s lives as you can. You can’t just satisfy their expectations. You need to blow them out of the water, and you need to do so every time you have the opportunity.
It’s equally important to understand that the way customers view your business has fundamentally changed, too. The days when a customer pays and months later a consultant returns with a deliverable and an invoice are gone and make no mistake — they’re never coming back.
These days, even your average customer wants a genuinely collaborative experience — one in which they are constantly given information about what is happening with their account. But they’re no longer satisfied with you simply picking up the phone and giving them a status call every once in a while. If they have a question at 3:00am, they want to be able to log into a client portal and get the answer. If they want to check the status of their account, they want to do so using their mobile phone.
Customers want quicker and more personalized experiences that are available to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. They don’t care if you’re a small or even mid-sized firm. They want what they want, and they need you to give it to them.
All of this is to say that a number of huge problems have been created over the duration of this evolution that most professional services firms are dealing with. But thankfully, they all have relatively straightforward answers. All you need to do is keep a few key things in mind along the way.
The Need For More Efficient Collaboration Is Growing By The Day
Regardless of the type of business you’re running, it’s clear that we need to do as much as possible to improve and empower collaboration across the board. At any given moment, you have multiple contributors who need to be able to offer their insight into the important work being done on various documents for clients. This can involve both people inside your organization and out. It also potentially includes people who are spread out all over the world, some of whom will never even meet “face to face” in real life.
All of this was important leading up to this moment, but it’s become especially critical in an era when more people are working remotely than ever. The uncertainty of a global pandemic led people to telecommute in greater numbers than ever before. Professional services businesses were shut down and even when things return to “normal,” we won’t yet know what this “new status quo” will look like. The only thing we know for sure is that remote work is likely here to stay so not only do you need a way to improve collaboration under normal conditions, but you also need to do so in a way that enables remote communication at the same time.
Thankfully, an information management platform like M-Files gives all collaborators the ability to work together on one single version of a document, regardless of their current status or situation. M-Files in particular includes innovative features like annotations and co-authoring so not only is it easy to contribute to a document, it’s even easier to see who is making what changes and why these modifications are happening in real-time.
Not only that, but the right information management platform like M-Files is a great way to share information efficiently and securely — both in terms of your internal employees and any of the external collaborators you might be working with.
Information Needs To Be Found
Another huge problem that those in the professional services industry face on a daily basis ultimately comes down to a need to save information in a way that makes it easy to find by others.
Keep in mind that while the data your business is creating on a daily basis is critical, you’re really just talking about a lot of 1s and 0s sitting on a hard drive somewhere. Without a way to share that information across your enterprise, it essentially becomes trapped in “silos” where you can only tap into a fraction of its full potential. If one department can’t see what the other is doing, it’s impossible for them to collaborate to make forward progress on important tasks. It’s even more difficult to use the insight contained inside that information to advance your relationships with your own clients.
Likewise, consider the need for employees in different locations and countries, many of whom may not speak a single language, to save information so that it can be found easily. Where, exactly, should they be saving it? How do you even know what it should be named so that it can be easily found? How do you break down these silos once and for all so that all insight and information can be effortlessly shared across your business? If you get this one part of the equation wrong, everything can fall apart rather quickly — which is why it’s absolutely something organizations should be paying far more attention to than they are.
Thankfully, this is another area where an information management platform like M-Files excels. With M-Files, it doesn’t matter where the user is. How they save a document is irrelevant. It doesn’t even make a difference into which repository the information was saved.
By design, M-Files uses a metadata driven architecture to guarantee that all information is categorized properly at the time of creation. Not only is it possible to do this manually, but AI-driven automation can make sure it happens automatically as well.
From that perspective, what a document is named matters less than what is IN the document itself. So long as you know WHAT you’re looking for, you’re able to find it in a matter of seconds.
This is the type of advantage that only an intelligent information management platform like M-Files brings to the situation.
The Need For Speed
One of the core components of an efficient workforce doesn’t necessarily refer to your ability to successfully complete a task. You need to complete that task as quickly as possible so that you can move onto other matters that will drive your business forward. This is why another one of the biggest problems professional services organizations have is closely related to the point above: you don’t just need to find critical information, you need to do so as fast as you possibly can.
But again, for many businesses this is a lot easier said than done. Documents, files, and other bits of information are often very hard to find. This makes work terribly inefficient and unproductive at times. People are spending so much time looking for the document that they must delay the job they needed that document for in the first place.
If finding essential information often feels like you’re trying to find a needle in a haystack, that’s because it is. But this is incredibly common, especially in bigger professional services companies where documents are scattered in multiple repositories across the globe.
You’re dealing with not only desktop and laptop computers but sources like network folders, customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, SharePoint — you name it. Additionally, you’re probably working in a more traditional folder structure with very precise naming conventions for files. If you don’t know where the folder or subfolder is, or if you have absolutely no idea what the document, you’re looking for is named, it won’t just be difficult to find.
At that point, it’ll essentially be impossible.
The good news is that this is yet another area where a solution like M-Files will prove invaluable. M-Files was built in part to bridge all of your disconnected information repositories together, making true federated search as easy as possible.
Think of M-Files as your “one-stop-shop” for all your information — that single source that all information flows into and out of at any given moment.
M-Files knows which files are in SharePoint versus which are on network drives versus which are on an employee’s computer, so that you don’t have to. The metadata card for the file you’re looking for makes the content itself easy to find. All you need to know is what you’re looking for in a general sense — meaning what is in the file you’re on the hunt for. At that point, you can let M-Files take care of the rest, instantly delivering the information you need when you need it the most.
Maybe the biggest benefit of this is that it frees up as much of your valuable time as possible so that you can focus on those tasks that truly need you.
The Era Of The Flexible, Remote Workplace
As stated above, the need to enable a flexible, remote workplace has never been more urgent than it is right now. Expanding enterprises were already dealing with a situation where a lot of their users were scattered across the globe. But if you thought that keeping track of information when everyone was working out of different offices was a challenge, just wait until you see how this situation worsens once everyone is working from their homes indefinitely.
The biggest challenge with a fully (or at least primarily) home-based workforce is that a lot of those data storage conventions that we’re talking about quickly fall by the wayside. The line between someone’s personal and professional digital life becomes blurred, so a lot of the best practices they’re supposed to be following suddenly seem like less of a priority. That’s not to say that they’re not working hard or being as productive as they can be. It’s just that things are a little “looser” than they would be if someone were in the office, which can take what is essentially a small problem and make it even worse before you know it.
Above all else, we need to work hard to ensure business continuity, productivity and efficiency, no matter what. Not only does this again help people find the information they need as soon as possible after they realize they need it, but it also makes sure that everyone has the same basic working experience no matter where in this world they happen to be at the time.
Luckily, your information management platform is here to help. With a tool like M-Files, it literally doesn’t matter where on Earth a staffer is. They can work with information in the exact same way they would in the office thanks to the way that all the various repositories have been connected, finally working in tandem.
Of course, this creates several different benefits beyond immediately serving your short-term need. Yes, it’s true that a lot of your workforce were probably working from home during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. But that isn’t always going to be the case. With the foundation of M-Files already laid, you’re prepared for any circumstance forcing full or partial remote work. Certain employees can continue working remotely if they need to and they can do so with more efficiency than ever before. Regardless of how your business looks, your people will have access to the tools they need to maximize productivity from literally anywhere. They can get just as much done in their home or halfway around the world on vacation as they could in the comfort of their own office.
Make no mistake, that is a very exciting position for any professional services industry business to be in.
The Art Of Winning & Retaining Business
If you had to make a list of some of the over-arching goals that are a top priority for any professional services business, winning and retaining new customers would undoubtedly be right at the top.
This was always true, but it becomes especially important after several months of economic uncertainty.
Professional services have always been a cutthroat market with many, many players in accounting, consulting, legal services and more. Now, you’re also suddenly dealing with rapidly changing consumer behaviours. Is your audience going to be there? Will there be even more competition than you already had? These are questions that nobody really has the answers to yet, but one thing is for certain: You need to prepare for all possibilities, and you need to do so now.
Overall, professional services businesses need to figure out how to make their services as competitive as possible, with key value differentiators that can be communicated loudly and constantly to as many people as possible. But more than that, your business needs to be in a position to generate cold, hard results on behalf of these people in order to not just attract the attention of as many of them as possible, but to retain their business moving forward.
Thankfully, M-Files is useful once again in that it helps firms improve the customer experience in a variety of different ways. By providing quick access to information related to an engagement, for example, everyone in your business suddenly has access to every relevant piece of data about a customer.
If a customer calls in with a concern, they don’t have to worry about getting bounced around from person to person until they find someone who can help them because everyone has the tools they need to further that relationship.
Likewise, by using M-Files to eliminate as many manual tasks as possible with workflows, your actual human employees are free to focus more of their time and attention on building and maintaining these relationships with customers.
There are more hours in a day to focus on the jobs that matter the most in terms of driving your business forward, which is exactly how it should be.
From that point of view, what you’re talking about is ultimately about more than just increasing productivity. A superior customer experience — one that your own competition simply cannot match — becomes a genuine competitive advantage in your marketplace. Plus, offering exceptional experiences isn’t just a great way to increase sales. It also instils an incredible amount of loyalty in your audience, which is how you turn a satisfied customer into a repeat, long-term customer as soon as you can.
Driving Efficiency To Maximize Revenue: The Battle For The Back Office
For far too long, the back office at professional service firms has been seen as a cost centre because that’s essentially what it was. Having administrators mail items, make photocopies and more all take an incredible amount of time and money and many businesses have started charging fixed fees for this work as a result.
But the truth is, absolutely none of this must be seen as a “necessary evil” or a “cost of doing business” the way a lot of people view it. Your back office can and should not be a cost centre, but a revenue generating engine under the right conditions.
But how do you maximize that revenue? How can your firm streamline back office operations like human resources, finance, business administration and more, all in a way that drives efficiency and creates as much revenue as possible?
With the right information management platform like M-Files.
M-Files in particular helps enormously to that end because it’s a tool designed to turn back-office functions into the well-oiled machine that you need them to be. This is true not only in terms of human resources processes but also accounts payable and receivable, along with other important (but mundane) administrative tasks.
By leveraging the full power of automation to their advantage, employees can do their jobs with an unprecedented level of speed and efficiency. Historically under-automated processes like invoice processing, new hire onboarding, asset tracking and even employee training can be automated as much as possible, freeing up time during a period when every second counts.
Remember that if your typical office worker spends about two hours per day searching for things like paper documents, that is two hours a day that they’re not focusing on driving revenue for your business. Not only that, but those are also two hours where you’re exposed to error-prone practices and other obstacles. Those two hours a day turn into ten hours a week, or 40 hours a month.
Would you like to avoid losing an entire work weeks’ worth of productivity to these types of problems? Of course, you would — and M-Files is how you do it.
In terms of contract management, for example, you can maximize visibility and control by way of intelligent notifications, assignments, audit histories and version control capabilities. It’s a great way to reduce inefficiencies and costs at the exact same time.
For asset management, you’re suddenly in a better position than ever to keep up with everything you own, no matter what. Not only do you know who an asset is currently assigned to, but you also know where it’s living and any other insight you need to run your business as efficiently as you can.
Even human resources can benefit enormously from this approach.
Finally, you have a single solution that you can use to manage employee files (like resumes, certifications, and employee contracts) AND data (like contact information and performance related documents), all with built-in security for employee confidential data.
Creating this type of system on your own would be an enormous undertaking, and it would still be filled with the types of manuals, error-prone and time-consuming processes you’re trying to avoid. But now, thanks to M-Files, this is yet another thing you don’t have to worry about — and yet another huge problem with an easy solution hiding in plain sight.
Paper-Based Processes Are Dead
It’s Time to Bury Them Finally, we arrive at the topic of paper-based processes — a pain point that most business leaders have historically dealt with, regardless of industry.
The thing about paper-based processes is that they were never, ever efficient. It’s just that there was no viable alternative to the filing cabinets and manila folders that took up way too much space and gave an untidy, antiquated impression to most professional services offices.
But even beyond the aesthetic issues, these paper-based processes create an enormous challenge for the people who are working beneath you. If some critical piece of information exists only in a paper file, the value of a piece of paper suddenly goes through the roof. If anything should happen to it or if it should be lost or stolen, the information contained on it is lost forever.
Apart from that, paper is easy to misplace and if you’ve been a little lax on your organizational priorities over the last six months, it’s easy to see a situation where someone spends a huge chunk of their day trying to find a single important file among the rows and rows of filing cabinets that you’re dealing with.
Computers and digital technology were supposed to relieve a lot of the stress to that end, but again — with so many different repositories at play, without some type of underlying structure to it all they only end up making things worse.
Thankfully, M-Files is that structure and it won’t just reduce your dependency on things like paper filing — it can outright eliminate it altogether.
With capture, for example, users can digitize important documents in a matter of seconds. Then, they can have a sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithm scan those documents for important data to put on the metadata card.
At that point, you can be done with the paper document itself because everything contained on it that you need has been stored for all-time in an advanced system built with your business in mind. You can get rid of the paper documents themselves (after following proper protocols for your industry, of course), which means you can get rid of the filing cabinets AND the paper cluttering up the office.
Not only does this make your office a more productive space by default, but it also creates the most important benefit of all: more space for fee-earners across the board.
In The End
In an effort to be as successful as possible, modern professional services firms must re-examine their operations with an eye towards not the present, but the future. They need to identify and remove any obstacles that prevent workers from serving the customer best, and they need to reduce operational costs and eliminate waste wherever possible.
In other words, to best serve the customer, professional services firms need to guarantee that customer information and documents are easily accessible and secured. They need to have a system in place that allows them to digitally manage data collected through all the various touch points, while simultaneously getting rid of the silos that are built around certain processes and departments.
They need to identify and remove documentation bottlenecks and mismanaged information because these aren’t just incredibly frustrating, but they’re incredibly costly as well.
But in a larger sense, they need to get rid of absolutely any distraction that gets in the way of an employee and the core tasks he or she needs to perform. A failure to do so not only affects revenue, but it increases risk as well.
Thankfully, there is a way to accomplish all of these goals in one fell swoop. There’s a single solution that both acknowledges the seven huge problems in the professional services industry and acts a viable solution to every single one.
With the right information management system like M-Files by your side, you’re not just addressing your needs as a business today. You’re laying the groundwork to support and empower the business you’re going to evolve into in five years, which is really the biggest advantage of all.