Since earning the No. 58 spot in 2004, New York-based global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has rocketed to the highest echelons of Training’s Top 125 ranking, placing 13th on the list in 2005 and 2006, and 2nd in 2007. This year, PwC takes top honors.
It's an award befitting an organization that has received its fair share of accolades in recent years. It was named one of Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" for the last three years running. It was ranked the No. 1 "Ideal Employer" overall by all business students in Universum Communication's 2007 undergraduate survey. And it was named "One of the Top 100 Companies for Working Mothers" by Working Mother magazine in 2007—marking the firm's 13th consecutive year on the list, and the fourth time it ranked among the elite Top 10.
What's more, PwC is winning such laurels during a time in its industry that Tom Evans, the firm's chief learning officer, characterizes as "challenged."
"The economic outlook," he says, has "created some real challenges for all businesses—particularly for companies that are professional services based." While PwC and firms like it provide essential services mandated by law for all public companies, such as financial-statement auditing, says Evans, a large portion of PwC's revenue is driven by optional advisory services designed to support clients' expanding businesses. "Given economic conditions, business execs are more conservative these days about the advisory-based service decisions they make. That challenges us to ensure that we are seen by our clients as trusted advisors, and that clients have a level of comfort in knowing we will execute in ways that are efficient, economical, and effective."
In this competitive environment, differentiation is essential, says PwC Partner Steve Moore, the firm's national leader of sales. "Right now, we are one of four major accounting, tax, and advisory firms, and there are many other large and small firms that provide many of the services we provide, as well. While all of these firms are good, none has yet separated itself from the pack to become truly distinctive relative to the others."
PwC's mission is all about changing this equation, say Moore and Evans, by creating unique, consistent client experiences that distinguish the firm from competitors and drive customer loyalty and revenue growth.
PwC's learning and education division is playing a starring role in achieving this goal. The push began in earnest last year, when the firm transformed its approach to measuring client satisfaction by replacing the internally focused survey it used in the past with a more holistic client feedback process that captures information about how clients view the service the firm provides. In conjunction with the new survey tool, relationship assessments conducted by senior relationship partners at PwC help to identify and capitalize on behaviors that build client loyalty. And trend analyses and diagnostics identify best practices and actions that enhance relationships. These findings, in turn, are incorporated into training programs designed to help workers develop the behaviors PwC clients say they value.
The result of this work was the launch of two new training programs in 2007. During the first, called "Effective Client Interactions," workers develop skills such as communicating value propositions, listening, handling objections, and codeveloping action plans. They also are introduced to a consistent framework for building effective client relationships. During the second program, called "Pursuit Management," workers learn a consistent process for qualifying, developing, and winning work by examining real-life client scenarios that demonstrate PwC's opportunity- development process and methodology.