The 2019 AICPA Engage conference covered a number of topics important to today's accounting profession, ranging from updates on complex tax rules to digital transformation. In addition to giving platforms to thought leaders who are spearheading changes, it also covered some basics, including how to make sure your clients don't fire you.
Did you know cost actually isn't the top reason clients decide to look for a new accountant? According to a recent study by Bill.com and covered at a moderated panel by the company's Marketing VP Jane Willis, it is third. Poor communication ranked as the number one reason, followed by service quality issues like slow responsiveness.
But before you can figure out how to solve these issues, it's crucial to look at them in more detail. Below are some of the specific issues clients had in each category, followed by a few ways you can make sure you avoid them and maintain high client satisfaction.
In this category, issues that specifically upset clients enough to look for a new accounting professional included not following up when the CPA or bookkeeper said they would, having to ask the same question more than once, and talking to a different person every time they reached out. Even if these problems didn't inspire the client to fire their accounting professional, it's important not to forget they may also stop referring you, which can also harm your business.
What are some solutions? The panel members all offered the same ones: First, set up an email account all the team members who work with a particular client have access to. That way, the messages aren't just going to one person's inbox. Next, make sure you tell the client which individual will be able to answer certain types of questions, and give them some time to get acclimated. Also, be sure to set up weekly calls with the customer. That way, you're regularly staying in touch with them and are aware of any issues they might have. Finally, the panel recommended building response times into price tiers. Clients who are paying more might be guaranteed an answer to a question within 6 hours, while those on a lower tier might be given a call back within 24.
The problems clients encountered here might surprise you. According to Bill.com, customers took issue with a firm if it was unable to work with real-time data, if it didn't support digital business payments for AP and AR and if the team members didn't offer any strategic advice. The panel members noted that customers might fire an accounting professional for these reasons even if they weren't personally unhappy with the person they were working with.
So, what to do? First, it's important to ensure you have the right team members in place to create a consultative practice. Furthermore, panel members recommended being proactive about your clients' finances, rather than reactive. To this end, they suggest doing a thorough assessment each time you take on someone new. That way, you can clean up any old issues in their history and see where there might be problems in their future before they happen. Finally, they encourage all accounting professionals to stick to specific software programs for certain functions and to insist clients use the same platforms so everything is in one place.
Even though it wasn't one of the top three reasons clients fire accountants, consistently making mistakes, missing deadlines and having lax security were very strong factors in a customer's decision-making process if they did occur. Quality remains a crucial part of keeping a good reputation with your clients.
The panel recommended a few solutions while also acknowledging mistakes are simply a part of being human. They suggested slowing down rather than speeding through all the paperwork. If you have to stop taking clients because you're too overloaded to accomplish this, do so.
Your older employees might be crucial in achieving this: Remember, they learned how to do everything by hand before the age of technology, so they're more likely to be more thorough than younger staff members and will be instrumental in training. Additionally, it's important to have a senior partner or manager review each file before it's sent to the customer. Team members should sit down with them while this happens so they can learn where they made mistakes and avoid doing so next time.
The panel members also were sure to touch on a few ways to assess the level of client happiness at your firm. They all suggested actively asking customers for feedback and keeping that channel of communication open. They also suggested keeping an eye on clients who are suddenly no longer in touch with you. They may be looking for someone else. Finally, they recommended monitoring employee levels of happiness: If a team member is complaining about a customer, chances are, the relationship between them is getting sour.
By continuously looking to improve your practice, you'll increase the rate of client satisfaction and ensure not only that they stay, but that they also spread the word of your skills to family and friends.