Improve Service For Your Accounting & Bookkeeping Clients
In my special role as a conduit between accountants and their corporate clients, I often see these two groups at odds with each other. The accountant mistakenly assumes the client knows what is required for year-end and taxes, while the client thinks the accountant should be more on top of things and probably overcharges for an engagement.
The bottom line is a feeling of dissatisfaction on the part of the client who might decide that it’s time to shop for another accountant who gives better service and “gets them.” This is unfortunate, because oftentimes this dissatisfaction and ship-jumping is totally avoidable.
What follows are six methods I’ve seen successful accountants employ to improve their services to their corporate clients, and by extension, improve client satisfaction and loyalty:
#1: Be a team player
Provide clients with a network or team of trusted professionals for ancillary or related services. Chances are that your clients require the services of other financial or business professionals, in addition to you, such as the following:
- Hardware/Software/IT consultant
- Investment advisor
- Financial planner
- Business valuator
Even if you and “the rest of the team” have separate businesses and work out of different offices, providing your clients with one-stop shopping, should they need it, means that they don’t have to go looking around for these service providers. Obviously, you don’t want to pass along contact information for professionals you barely know, because their performance, good or bad, reflects on you. So if you encounter good professionals whose services are complementary to yours, consider marketing yourselves as a team. This will lead to greater client satisfaction as well as new business for you in the form of referrals from the others on the team.
There’s another benefit to being part of a trusted team. Many accountants don’t have the time or inclination to become experts in software. However, clients often blur the line between accounting expertise and software acumen, and as a result, ask their accountants obscure questions about the software that require a “power user” level of expertise to answer. Having a trusted software expert handle these situations means that you know these client inquiries will be handled properly and you don’t have to spin your wheels on inquiries that aren’t in your area of strength.
Step #2: Broadcast
Create a regular email newsletter and send it out using email marketing services such as Constant Contact or MailChimp allow recipients to opt in or out. These regular newsletters keep you and your business front and center on your clients’ radar. Because you’re continuously in front of them, they’ll know you’re on top of tax filing deadlines, legislation changes and the like, and that you want your valued clients to be on top of the same activities, too. Keep archives of your newsletters on your website so you can refer clients to them in a matter of seconds should the need arise.
Step #3: Socialize wisely
Because there are only 24 hours in a day and you need time to sleep and do actual billable work, you can’t be everywhere on the Internet, so choose your social media outlets carefully. For example, if you haven’t already, you will probably want to connect with other professionals on LinkedIn. Join whatever LinkedIn groups you want, but creating your own LinkedIn group and inviting contacts to join it allows you to make announcements that they and others will see – and it won’t be viewed as spam. In addition, extend the reach of those regular newsletters I mentioned previously by putting them up on LinkedIn as well.
Step #4: Be more
As accounting professionals, you can’t inform clients where they stand financially only once a year, because that’s not often enough. If your client is in trouble, waiting until the year-end is completed is too late. Hopefully, in past meetings, you discussed business plans and budgets, and where they want to be in one year, five years or 10 years. When the actuals start rolling in (and you should be getting these actuals at several points during the year), this is a perfect opportunity to compare the actuals to the budgets or prior periods, see where the clients stand in relation to their business plans, and possibly tweak their plans and their business models should circumstances change. Talk about succession and tax planning. Be a true business advisor or just call your clients during your slow periods to make sure that everything is OK. At the very least, regular contact will engender goodwill.
Step #5: Narrowcast
You know when all the general filing deadlines are and details about each of your clients, such as which ones are using payroll and when each clients’ year end. Make use of this client-specific information and create scheduled messages to each client (either automatically or manually, by email, or by phone) to make sure that they are on top of the deadlines that are specific to them.
Step #6: Make it easy on your clients
Provide your clients with lists of information you’ll need and by what date to provide it to you. Send regular messages reminding them of the approaching “best by” date and give them easy alternatives for providing you with this information. Use client sign-in portals on your website so that they can FTP the information to you, but do it in a way that is user-friendly for them. Those who aren’t comfortable with something so “high tech” will want to use other available delivery options, so offer several options based on your client demographics.
Even five years ago, these methods would have been very expensive and time-consuming for you to put into action. That is no longer the case! Any accounting firm, from the largest down to the sole practitioner, can easily put these methods to work without breaking the bank. As a result, you’ll have more client retention, satisfaction, referrals and revenue.
Your competitors are doing this already, so get going!