Measure, Capture & Capitalize on Accounting Customer Satisfaction

While customer satisfaction is an important metric for any industry, it’s especially important for an industry as referral-based as accounting. But discerning how satisfied your customers are—and determining what to do with that information once you have it—may not be as obvious as we would like.

Customer satisfaction is crucial to the growth of your practice. A 2010 Harvard Business Review study found that 48% of customers who had negative experiences with a company told ten or more people. That’s nearly 50% of unhappy customers actively hurting the growth of your practice. On the other hand, our own research shows that those who had a great customer experience are likely to refer only three or more people. So if you're on the bad side of customer satisfaction, it can really hurt you. 

Before you can do anything about your customers’ satisfaction, you first need to ascertain exactly what comprises customer satisfaction. You can start by asking customers a few questions:

  • “How satisfied were you with your most recent experience?”
    This is a question aimed at finding out how the customer is feeling about the experience they had.
  • “How likely would you be to recommend our company to a friend or colleague?”
    This goes beyond the customer’s satisfaction and seeks to find out what action they would take based on their experience with you.
  • “How much effort did you need to put into having your request handled?”
    This is a question relating to both customer service and experience. It measures the customer’s perceived effort put into the interaction in order to achieve their desired outcome.

Each of these questions measures a different attribute of the customer experience. The first measures Customer Satisfaction (CSAT). The second, the Net Promoter Score (NPS). And the third measures the Customer Effort Score (CES).

While there is no one best metric that will solve all of your customer service issues or tell you everything you need to know, the Net Promoter Score is the best place to start. Large companies like Intuit and GE use this metric to improve their profitability. Understanding your NPS will help you correct for bad customer experiences and uncover what is going well for good ones. With that in mind, we will be focusing on the NPS.

Step 1: Measuring

Start by asking this question: “How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?”

This question is evaluated on an eleven point scale, from zero to ten. For these purposes, those who rate you 0–6 are considered Detractors; 7–8 are Passives; and 9–10 are Promoters. Here’s how to calculate your NPS score:

  • Net Promoter Score = % promoters − % detractors

You’ll notice the scale is skewed more towards the Detractors. This is so you can discover who was really wowed by your service, who was dissatisfied and who was fell in the middle.

You will end up with a score somewhere between 100 and −100. The best in class are often in the 50s and 60s, while those in the 20s, 30s and 40s are doing well but could probably be doing a little better.

An important question to ask about your NPS is why? You want to know what drove your client to give you that score. This will help you pinpoint what is and isn’t working for the client—an important starting point that will guide future improvements to your business or firm.

 Step 2: Capturing

How:

Surveys are the easiest way to capture a NPS. There are a number of tools online to help create surveys, including SurveyMonkey and Typeform. Customers can easily complete your surveys in follow-up emails.

 When:

Once you know what to ask, the question becomes when to ask.

  • End of a project or deliverable
    The most logical place to start is after clients have had the chance to see your work from start to finish. Clients view receiving a deliverable an appropriate time to provide feedback.
  • End of a client call, resolution or office visit
    After any interaction with the client where a problem was solved, ask if they wouldn’t mind filling out a short one- or two-question survey. This capitalizes on their current good feelings.
  • Beginning of a formal client relationship
    This can help measure how things have changed over time. It can also help you gauge how you are doing at any point in your prospecting, sales or onboarding phases.
  • End of a client relationship
    In the unfortunate event of a client relationship ending, it’s doubly important to ask why?—so you can fix what went wrong for future customers.
  • … After tax season
    The end of tax season is an excellent time to send out a survey to your clients to get a feel for how well you’ve performed.

All of these occasions represent excellent opportunities to get more data points and determine the most accurate NPS possible. The more information you have on what’s working and what’s not across your different processes, the more comprehensive your findings.

Step 3: Capitalizing

So you have an NPS and some feedback on your performance. Now what? Capitalize on the information at hand to improve your practice—and possibly grow it—through the following steps: 

  • Sort
    Hopefully you have data—in a spreadsheet or other document—from SurveyMonkey or Typeform with every score customers have given you, along with their comments. Sort these scores from zero to ten and separate them into Detractors, Passives and Promoters.
  • Synthesize
    For each group, read the commentary. What were the common themes? What were the words they used and the subject matter they brought up? Determine the root causes for why people feel the way they do. Remember that each group is important—even the Passives. The Passives were almost Promoters; what little more needs to be done to push them solidly into the Promoter camp? Come up with hypotheses to apply to each of the three groups.
  • Validate
    Contact 20 members of each group for 15- to 30-minute discussions on the score they gave and the reasons they gave it. By the sixth person, you should be able to pinpoint exactly what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. The next seven to twelve people will give you slight variations on what you have already heard. And the last few will validate what you already know. If you are short on time, contact at least six people from each group.
  • Correct
    Review your current processes. Compare theoretical outcomes to actual outcomes and see what needs to be adjusted or augmented to achieve desired outcomes. If you haven’t already documented your processes, now is a great time to do so.
  • Track
    Record the assumptions, hypotheses and changes that you made into an updatable document. You will be returning to this document the next time you go through this process.
  • Connect
    Remember that every time you connect with your customers during this time, you should be trying to build meaningful relationships. That applies to members of all three groups. If, for example, you are talking with a Promoter and you ask them why they said such great things about you, you want to follow up and send them a thank-you letter, reminding them that you appreciate them as a customer and keeping that relationship strong. If, by contrast, you are talking to a Detractor who is unhappy with your services, see if you can fix what went wrong. If nothing can be done, you should at least be able to fix your processes so that the same thing doesn’t happen again.
  • Monitor
    We never measure our Net Promoter Score just once. We measure it again and again over time. In doing so, be cognizant of the changes you made and see how they affect your score. Double down on changes that have made a positive impact by placing more focus on them. For less successful changes, review your documentation and improve upon them.
  • Iterate
    Finally, and most importantly, this process is one you should come back to at least every six months, if not quarterly. The idea is to constantly improve through gaining a better understanding of the end-to-end experience you deliver to clients.

Dos and Don'ts

Dos:

  • Understand the root causes
    Without understanding the underlying reasons why your clients feel the way they do, your Net Promoter Score is merely a number—and you aren’t able to capitalize that alone.
  • Build relationships with customers
    This is a great time to build relationships and improve your position as a trusted advisor.
  • Respond quickly
    This applies in general. Whether things are going well or poorly, you want to act quickly so that your customers feel like they’re well taken care of.
  • Build the brand
    Often your name is the brand and that seeps into your referral network, helping you gain new clients. Make sure your brand is one with a solid reputation, delivering the best customer service possible.

Don'ts:

  • Try to please everybody
    You won’t be able to turn every Detractor into a Promoter. But try to figure out if you are a good fit for that type of client. Work on identifying compatible clients so that you can assess whether you are able to support them or develop a different process that fits their needs.
  • Expect too much too soon
    This is a slow, iterative process. It will take months before you start to see the fruits of your labor. Don't expect an overnight success but rather a slow and steady increase over time.
  • Treat the process as a one-off
    The NPS is a constant measurement that only really proves its value with each iteration.
  • Just give it to the intern
    You want the whole process to be top down with buy-in throughout your organization. This is something you need to do with someone who fully understands the business in order to deliver the best outcome.
  • Only focus on the Promoters
    Promoters, Detractors and Passives each give you different insights into your business, and in turn require novel responses. To only focus on one group is a missed opportunity to improve your interactions with clients.

So What Should You Focus on?

If your NPS is in the negatives, you definitely want to focus on the Detractors, pinpointing the breakdowns in your processes. Take heart: having Detractors means gaining valuable knowledge. After all, as Bill Gates said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” If, on the other hand, your NPS score is positive, congratulations!  Now it’s time to focus first on the Promoters, then Detractors and finally Passives.