7 Steps for Starting New Clients

Earlier this year, while attending a meeting in New York, I had the awesome opportunity to see the musical Hamilton. Wow! I’ve seen a number of Broadway productions over the years, but this one definitely deserves the honors it’s received. The show went off spectacularly and gave the audience a sparkling experience – the stage, lighting, costumes and cast were flawless.

That’s the “Front Stage of the House” – everything presented to the audience. Of course, it doesn’t just happen. There is an entire world hidden from the audience’s view, backstage. Everything that happens on the front stage – every line, every movement and every note – is planned down to the tiniest details, with unfailing intention and practice. Although I didn’t see it, the backstage was just as important as the front stage, with musicians, lighting technicians, costume designers, prop builders, stagehands … a whole other cast, hidden from the audience.

For the past several years, I’ve thought of my accounting firm much like a Broadway play, with a front stage and backstage. The backstage is everything that happens in our firm that the client doesn’t see. The front stage is what they experience firsthand. Once I started thinking about my firm from this perspective, it became clear to me that the majority of my career had been spent working backstage, on things such as the following:

  • Behind-the-scenes software that powers practice management, tax, document management, depreciation and other aspects of our operations.
  • Tech hardware: servers, desktop computers, monitors, scanners, printers and more.

You know what I mean – all the stuff accounting firms have been stressing about for as long as I can remember. Don’t misunderstand me, this is all important stuff. We can’t ignore the backstage work, but in today’s business environment, the backstage is now a given, and an expectation. The consumer says it’s all about the front stage; that is, the customer experience.

According to a recent study by Gartner, 89 percent of companies now expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, versus 36 percent only four years ago. Salesforce.com says, “Customer experience is becoming the single most important differentiator of successful businesses – both large and small.” Gartner also says that 80 percent of companies believe they offer superior customer service, but only eight percent of the customers from these same companies believe they’re receiving superior customer service.

Based on this powerful evidence that the customer is shifting and that customer experience is driving buying decisions, how do we begin to focus on our front stage with intention? First, I think we have to ask ourselves, “What is our front stage?”

Think of your front stage as the way you engage with customers and the cumulative effect of every interaction they have with your company. Consider how clients and prospects perceive you:

  • Brand and Visual Identity
  • Website Platform
  • Digital Document Exchange
  • Notifications
  • Appointment Setting
  • Video Conference Meetings
  • Emails and Chats
  • Office Space
  • Payment Options

Our front stage, or client experience, if you will, definitely requires all of the functional technologies I mentioned above. However, technology, alone, does not create a great client experience; it’s the processes that you design around these technologies that makes the difference.

So, what does good client experience design look like? Let’s look at 7Steps for Starting New Clients and Setting Them Up for Success in this new world of client experience:

  1. Initial Contact and Prospect Vetting: Make getting in touch with your firm easy. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. Consider the various ways people may want to connect with you, such as by phone, email, and appointment request or live chat from your website.As for prospect vetting, know who your ideal client is. Your new client onboarding process should be designed to onboard the right client. If the prospect isn’t a good fit, you should politely and resolutely nip it in the bud.
  1. Initial Meeting, Info Gathering and Meeting Notes: What options do you have for your initial meeting? Do you require your prospect to make a time-consuming drive to your office? Consider integrating a video conferencing solution inside your client experience platform (i.e. your website). Make it easy for prospects to take the next step with your firm by digitally filling out their initial information. You should also be able to save notes of your meeting to the cloud for other staff to view and access.
  1. Information Request, Data Backup and Software Analysis: You’re now ready to get to the proposal stage. You want to be able to digitally collect more detailed information via your platform, such as Federal ID, entity type and year end. How about creating a spot for the QuickBooks backup file?Now, it’s time to analyze the client and recommend the software solutions that power your business model. If the prospect isn’t a good fit for your solutions, they’re not a good fit for your firm.
  1. Fee Calculation and Engagement Letter: Because my firm has defined a simple, three-tiered system of service offerings, we use a standard fee calculator to determine our proposed fee. This calculator takes into consideration the technology costs of the products we use.The engagement letter should be a simple click of the button. You know, like when you accept the license agreement to update your iTunes software – I Accept!
  1. Internal Setup: This is all the backstage stuff – practice management, tax software, document management and more. You should have one person responsible for handling this, using a standardized way of setting up every new client.
  1. Client Training: It’s the most overlooked and, yet, most valuable step in the process. Firms historically focusing on their backstage have neglected getting the right clients and training them to work in the firm’s business model. Here are some things to consider:If this client is a new accounting client, you should invest up to four hours, providing training at no additional cost to the client – it will return a far greater dividend in time savings later.Look at it another way: If this new client is going to pay you $1,000 per month for client accounting services and you keep this client for 20 years, what’s the lifetime revenue value? That’s right … $240,000! Do you think you should invest four hours of training to get them using your system the right way, in order to save you invaluable time in the future? Absolutely!Consider also how this time spent with your new client is your moment to shine and demonstrate just how valuable they are to you and your firm by devoting personalized client care to get them started on a long and mutually fulfilling relationship. It’s time well spent.
  1. Execution: Your website should become your client experience platform. This is where your business model comes together from the client’s perspective – the front stage. Make it the centralized place to login for accounting, video conferencing, live chat, document sharing, announcements and more – the nerve center for client service and a superior experience.There you have it, Seven Steps for Starting New Clients and Setting Them Up for Success in this new world, where client experience is everything.

You can take it the extra mile, too. In our firm, for example, we developed a client experience team and a new client onboarding person. If you want to create a great experience, you need a champion or two. So, don’t hesitate to give ownership of your client experience design to your most capable people.