The Front Line

02/01/2012 11.05 EDT

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I’ve spent my entire career in professional services, starting as a mental health professional followed by various stints in different parts of human resources services – employee assistance programs, outplacement and career management – and for the past 15 years, retained executive search.   I always have felt that the professional services sector is a particularly challenging one.  Our stock in trade is knowledge, gained through both education and experience.  But knowledge and experience in no way guarantee success in professional services.  One must also master the “services” side of the equation.  Specifically, how does one deliver that knowledge through services that are efficient and appeal to the consumers of those services?  Clients, patients, investors, customers at a spa – all are looking for highly specialized knowledge and assistance, but if it is delivered poorly, they will certainly devalue it and go elsewhere in the future.   I am particularly interested in how the “front line” delivers professional services.  In an organization, employees on the front line have the most customer contact, thus affecting the organization’s reputation most significantly.  Also, because those on the front line often make up a large portion of the organization, they are the most challenging group in which to build a consistent, positive service orientation.  I always look for excuses to talk to the front line whenever possible.   I recently spent an unexpected few weeks as a guest in a large hospital, part of an integrated health system in a major...