Below you’ll find information provided as a follow up to the Client Advisory Board chat session held February 1st. For more information on conducting CABs with your clients, please call Results Accountants’ Systems at 1-800-800-5601 or visit our website at www.ras-net.com.
Client Advisory Boards
Imagine one of your clients sitting down at a luncheon with several other business owners. The subject of accounting services comes up. What will your client say about you and your firm?
Will it be positive? Will it be negative? Or worse yet, will it be nothing at all? Will your client, instead, be silent, listening carefully to what’s being said by others while internally running down a list of comparisons of your firm vs. the other firms being discussed?
It’s a given that clients are thinking about you and the service your firm provides. Even if they aren’t talking about you to other business owners, they’re evaluating your firm every time you provide a financial statement, tax return, or other service. They’re also evaluating your firm every time you answer the phone, return a call, or send out an invoice or other correspondence.
Ironically, it’s often the nontechnical aspects of what you do that are noticed most by clients. We know that clients often leave a firm not because the firm was technically incompetent, but because of the way they were treated.
It comes down to the issue of perceived indifference. You know, the little things that communicate to the client that they aren’t as important to the firm as they think they should be. What are your firm’s areas of perceived indifference? Your phone procedures? Your billing procedures? The way you deliver a financial statement? The amount of contact with your clients? The attitude of a team member? Accessibility? Timeliness?
Whatever your issues of perceived indifference, you owe it to yourself to find out what they are and fix them—now! Every day you wait, you risk losing a client who feels unheard or uncared for.
So, how do you determine your issues? We’ve found the best way to reveal what those issues are is to ask. Here’s the really important part: you must really listen to your clients. They already have the answers and are more than willing to share them.
You need to hold a Client Advisory Board—ASAP!
When you think about it, wouldn’t it be better to get your clients talking to you directly about their concerns, frustrations, and desires rather than telling someone else? Of course it is, but the benefits don’t just stop there.
Here’s the interesting part.
You and your Team probably already know much of what your clients’ concerns are. It may be that the greatest benefit from the feedback you get at the Client Advisory Board (CAB) will help you set your reengineering priorities.
Based on the intensity level of your client feedback, you’ll know which issues need to be addressed and in what order.
Beyond that, your Team will be motivated more than ever before by the feedback. You see, for the first time, you and your Team will be held accountable to a whole new level of client expectation.
This is a day like no other in your practice. For many firms it’s truly a turning point and the beginning of great things. It’s a giant step on a path towards extraordinary service.
Enjoy the experience,
The Team at Results Accountants’ Systems
Advice RAS Gives Clients Regarding CAB Frequently Asked Questions
When should you host your firm’s first Client Advisory Board?
As soon as possible after Boot Camp. If you haven’t done so already, you’ll want to organize your CAB immediately. By obtaining your clients’ feedback before you implement a lot of changes, you’ll look like a hero by specifically addressing their needs.
Your clients’ feedback will also help you to better prioritize your reengineering action steps. Also, it’ll help motivate the Team to change if they hear the message from both you and your clients.
You’ll want to repeat the process again with your clients after you implement the changes so that you can get their reaction to those changes. Another ideal time is immediately following your clients’ participation in a Results Accountants’ Systems (RAS) seminar. Having attended the seminar, your clients’ mindset will be considerably expanded and they’ll be your best source for innovation. They’ll also be much more honest about the negatives because they’ll have a greater understanding of the importance of their feedback to your growth.
Additionally, clients who attend a RAS seminar are much more likely to convert to business development work that you suggest, including facilitating a CAB. If they’ve participated in the process, they’ll be much more receptive when you recommend one to them.
How many clients should be there?
The number of clients that attend these meetings should fall between 6 and 10 people. It’s critically important that you keep the numbers small enough to ensure that the group is manageable. It’s also important that each person has the chance to participate.
For group dynamics, the best number has been around 8 people.
If more than 10 people respond to your invitation, it’s worthwhile splitting the group into 2 smaller groups so that you get the most from your clients’ feedback.
How long should it run?
It really depends on the overall objective. Your meeting could run for around 2.5–3 hours. The length really depends on how much feedback you need and the group dynamics.
How much time should you and your partners allocate for the actual meeting?
The amount of time you need to allocate for the meeting is quite straightforward. You need to be there to introduce your facilitator. Then you can leave.
When the meeting is over, you need to come back in the room (your facilitator will normally give you a time and/or locate you at this time) and thank your clients with a quick “thank you” speech.
At this point, your clients typically want some refreshments and then they leave.
After your clients leave, it’s important to have all the partners of your firm allocate time with your facilitator to discuss what your clients have said and what you need to do about it. This follow-up session invariably takes 1 hour of your (and your partners’) time.
Please note: We have found that providing you with a complete recording of the meeting and the follow-up session with the partners is the most effective way to convey the content of the CAB.
What kind of venue do you need?
The room setup has to be open and one where people can communicate easily. A boardroom style works best because everyone is facing each other.
Place jugs of iced water, glasses, and bowls of mints (or something fun) on the table. Remember, it’s a nurturing exercise. Your clients should also be issued name badges or place cards printed in a large font so that everyone can see the names clearly.
Once you’ve thanked your clients for dedicating their time and you’ve introduced your facilitator, the best thing you can do is leave! Now that will be very hard. But if you want the best results, it’s important that your clients see your facilitator as a neutral party. Without you in the room, you’ll find your clients will be much more open and more prepared to offer their opinion without feeling intimidated.
By removing yourself from the meeting you’ll also save yourself the trauma of taking simple comments on your business as personal attacks, which they never really are anyway.
And, of course, remember that the entire meeting is being audiotaped, so you won’t miss out on anything.
Recording your CAB
Obviously taping your Client Advisory Board is extremely important because the information that comes out of the meeting will be truly valuable.
If you speak with the hotel (or local audiovisual company), you’ll be able to organize and locate suitable recording equipment for the event. Just let them know how many people will be attending and how you want the room set up (boardroom style), and they’ll be able to supply microphones and suitable recording equipment. You may need more than one recording unit.
Make sure the audiovisual company supplies sufficient tapes for 4.5 hours and that the equipment is set up and tested before the meeting starts.
In addition to recording the event, your facilitator will be making good, clear notes during the meeting so that the consultation with you afterwards is more meaningful.
What time of day should it be held?
The time of day is not as important as matching it to the scheduling needs of your clients. Some firms have found a breakfast meeting easiest. Others have found that an extended lunch or late afternoon works best. There are no hard-and-fast rules.
You need to be sensitive to commute issues and the geographic location of the participants involved.
If you have an extended agenda, or if it is appropriate for the profile of the clients or customers involved, you may want to consider a weekend option. You could even offer to take your clients away for the weekend. (This is obviously more complicated and expensive and part of a more involved strategy.)
However, depending on the impact your clients’ ideas and thoughts may have on the well-being of your business, this could be a very valuable exercise.
Who should you invite?
For your first CAB, it’s not a good idea to invite unhappy clients. Their negativity can often affect the group very quickly. In this situation, you’ll often find yourself in one of 2 scenarios: negativity spreads across the group, or the rest of the group runs defense for you and the meeting turns into a free-for-all.
To avoid either situation, the solution is to invite a cross-section of clients who are relatively happy. Some may have been clients for years, some may be new clients, some may be large clients, others smaller, etc. Make sure that you try to cover your major target groups.
For example, if you want feedback from a certain segment of your clients, then address them specifically.
This relates to the “ABCD” client selection criteria we talk about at Boot Camp. You must ask yourself the following question: “If you’re going to allocate resources towards reengineering your business to serve your clients, which clients should you be working to please the most?”
The answer, of course, is your A clients. Specifically, those clients who will appreciate and value your reengineering changes the most. Also, because the level of rapport is so high with those clients, they’re truly interested in helping you succeed. Therefore, their feedback will be more honest, and they’re much more likely to help you come up with innovative ways to conduct your business.