One of the cultural norms that encouraged me to leave the accounting profession still seems prevalent in professional firms, but any industry sector can gain significant competitive advantage by becoming more customer-centric.
The problem, in my opinion, starts and finishes in the design of the key performance measures. Accounting firms tend to use firm-centric measures and profit per partner in particular. What you measure, you get. So a firm with such KPI’s will inevitably focus on itself. The motives then become all about “how can we extract as much value from our clients as possible”.
When I left to become a consultant 12 years ago, it was so refreshing to change the focus of all KPI’s to giving client value. The irony is that most firms would make more money (if indeed that really matters) if they chose to become more client centric in their focus, because the clients can tell the difference in how the conversations play out.
We all know how self-centric the culture of the banks has become – taking every opportunity to ram new products downs our throats. By contrast, Zappos showed how to build a business worth £1.6b in just 9 years by making customer service an absolute measure, above all else, in the already overcrowded shoe retail market.
Here’s the CEO Tony Hsieh explaining the model: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5J00XEGqJI