How Not to Get Fired from the Clients You Just Won
What are three cornerstones of customer service?
If you said communication, responsiveness and cost, then you get a gold star.
Let’s put these to the test:
Let’s imagine this weekend, you’re heading to your favorite home goods store, looking for that thingamabob to repair your kitchen sink. (The official term, of course.) The sales associates are busy talking to each other, looking at their phones and not paying any attention to you at all. You spend 35 minutes wandering up and down the aisles, and you find what you think will work … but it costs more than you expected. (Not to mention the other five things you didn’t know you needed but now have in your cart … ) But you still aren’t sure you can fix the problem that brought you there.
Now, let’s compare that field trip to this one:
The weekend later, the problem is still not fixed, and you go to Store B. Someone greets you at the door with a warm smile and asks how they can help. You express your frustration so far, and they know immediately what “thingamabob” means and which one is best for you. In minutes, they’ve put their recommended product in your hand. Along the way, they ask questions to understand the true problem and offer alternative fixes and recommendations to prevent future sink problems. You take the part to the cashier with confidence that you’re about to be the hero at home and have finally solved your problem – not to mention, wow, these folks are nice, they get you and they know their stuff.
Which store do you think you’ll return to?
These examples illustrate the service cornerstones at their best and their worst. When done well like store B, they impress. When executed poorly like store A, they leave an impression, but it’s not one that earns repeat business.
But while we often think of service in relation to purchased goods, we sometimes forget how customer service relates to services. These cornerstones also represent the main reasons why businesses leave their accounting firms, according to the small business clients who revealed their thoughts in our 2018 Client Accounting Services Survey. If you’ve been following our series, then you’ve already got the five services your clients need and how to sell them on them, but the next step is making sure you don’t lose them once you’ve got them.
Three Ways to Lose a Client
Seventeen hundred SMB professionals who work with accountants shared with us the benefits, the frustrations, the reasons they refer, and how important technology is to their success – and we asked if they’ve ever fired a firm.
The answer? Yes, accounting firms get fired.
Why? Three reasons rose to the top. (And you’re surprised, I’m sure, that they coincide quite well with Store B’s stellar service skills.)
Reason #1: Poor communications
Ask three people to describe unsatisfactory communication, and you’ll get three different responses. It’s subjective. You need a good communications plan for your firm, but you also must evolve it to match a client’s preferences. Most businesses won’t be satisfied with an occasional update or an accountant that’s silent for six months. Leaders – especially Gen X and millennial leaders – are looking for collaboration, advice and transparency.
Poor communication reflects on your firm. Clients could interpret that as disorganization or disinterest. Worst of all, it leads clients to devalue your services. You could be doing an incredible job for your client, but the client won’t know if you don’t tell them.
To ensure consistent, relevant and respectful communications, set standards. Outline the cadence and substance of common communications. Make sure clients know who they can reach out to with questions. Get to know the mode and frequency of communications your clients prefer from day one.
Technology can help. Consider a customer relationship management (CRM) solution to organize and track all client information and activities. Likewise, automation of AP and AR can take manual communications off your plate to improve efficiency. For example, a system can send an automatic reminder to those involved in the review of a bill. The client gets the information and transparency they need, and the firm doesn’t have to spend time sending an email with that information and following up.
Reason #2: Slow responsiveness
When you’re slow to respond to client needs or requests, red flags pop up to your clients about your firm. Often when a client can’t pinpoint the problem, they’ll make assumptions about your ability to meet their needs – and they won’t always tell you what they’re assuming. Whatever the cause of a slow response, it contributes to the devaluation of your firm’s services.
To combat slow responsiveness, start with an evaluation. We all know responses to clients take longer during the height of tax season. Do you have enough staff members and resources? Does the firm have a well-communicated policy about acceptable response times? Have you set SLAs (service level agreements) with your clients?
Consider adding self-service capabilities as well. Many client requests are for documents, quick questions or project statuses. It’s easier for them to access solutions that help rather than wait for a return email. For example, chatbots can provide answers to basic questions. Solutions that offer shared data repositories are also immensely helpful. Clients can quickly log in to a system, check payment history or grab a document, and continue from there.
Reason #3: Cost
Complaints about cost usually mean the client doesn’t see the value for what they are paying. This happens when they perceive the relationship is purely transactional. For example, your firm does taxes for a client every year. They send you the documents. You file the taxes. They don’t necessarily understand the expertise and skill involved in providing this service unless you’re consulting with the client throughout the year to address tax strategies and changes.
Client accounting services, also referred to as business process outsourcing or client advisory services, offer a path to distinguish your firm’s role as a partner. By taking over all accounting, your firm has the data it needs to help companies make decisions, plan, compete and grow. You can advise on technology and processes, improving both. With an experience like this, businesses will more clearly understand the scope of expertise your firm provides.
In the end, the most significant client retention mistake you can make is being a poor or slow communicator. Check on the quality of services and communications provided to clients on a regular basis by asking your team and your clients. Hopefully, these activities will highlight any potential service problem areas and correct them before businesses cut the cord.
Service lapses can happen to any firm, but when those lapses become the norm or a recurring interaction with your clients, you risk getting fired.
Grab all the insights from our survey right here.