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4 Strategic Priorities for Firms to Ensure Client Satisfaction

Oct 24th 2016
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At any point in time, one-third of a firm’s clients consider walking out the door because they are not happy with the service they receive, according to a new survey and white paper released on Oct. 24 by Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting.

So, what do these firms have to do to ensure their clients do not switch to a competitor? According to Game Plan for the Future: Are You and Your Clients in Sync? successful firms “aren’t settling for the flat growth that comes from serving the same number of clients year after year. Rather, they are investing and planning for future growth, as well as setting themselves up with a competitive edge to expand their business by taking on new clients who are looking for more from their accounting firm.”

At the heart of the white paper, which was released during the CCH Connections User Conference 2016 in Washington, DC, on Monday morning, are the results of an online survey of 331 tax and accounting firms and 358 clients of firms conducted for Wolters Kluwer by Aberdeen Group. The survey found that firms with satisfied clients expect an average of 7 percent improvement in revenue over the next year, while firms with dissatisfied clients predict an 11 percent drop in revenue over that time frame.

On the road to client satisfaction, firms that recognize technology as a way to grow their business and have invested in an integrated end-to-end solution have seen greater results, with higher satisfaction ratings from clients (81 percent) versus clients of firms that do not use an integrated end-to-end solution (66 percent).

“I’ve looked at technology as an enabler of change,” Jason Marx, CEO of Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting North America, said during the morning keynote address at the conference. “Technology we thought was on the distant horizon is now in the tax and accounting space.”

So, what should firms do to ensure client satisfaction and potentially reduce the risk of client turnover? Based on the survey findings, the white paper reveals four strategic priorities favored by successful firms.

1. Remember your roots: execute the basics well. “Clients will always need accounting firms: for expertise, accuracy, and compliance,” Marx said.

According to the survey, the No. 1 criteria clients cite for choosing a firm is technical expertise, or an in-depth knowledge of tax law and accounting regulations. In fact, 44 percent of clients say that staying current on the ever-changing regulatory landscape is one of the top factors that will most impact their relationship with their accounting firms, while only 22 percent of accounting firms say the same.

“Successful firms today use technology solutions to stay abreast of tax law changes, filing deadlines, evolving requirements, etc., so dealing with increased regulatory complexity is firmly in the wheelhouse of what those firms do day in and day out,” the white paper states. “Accordingly, firms likely don’t see regulatory changes through the same scary lens their clients are using. Perhaps many firms have just assumed this is ‘table stakes’ for what their firm offers.”

2. Use technology to support client service. Timeliness and quality of services top the list of significant factors for selecting a firm (37 percent); however, fewer than half (47 percent) of the firms surveyed said they currently have enough staff to meet client needs. This reality indicates a significant challenge for firms when it comes to meeting the expectations of clients.

The survey found that successful firms with very satisfied clients use technology to streamline and automate workflows throughout the firm. Top technologies cited by firms to assist in client/firm relationships include:

  • Cloud-based software that allows for remote work on laptops or desktop computers (cited by both firms and clients as the No. 1 answer).
  • Software architecture that allows the integration of various firm functions.
  • Time-saving solutions that increase firm efficiency.
  • Mobile technology, such as tablets and smartphones.

“Firms with integrated solutions are significantly more likely to have tools that automate execution of tax returns, tax research, compliance, workflow, and project management tasks,” the white paper states. “These solutions also give firms the capabilities to better manage the information they have through document management and reporting solutions. In addition, an integrated solution supports client communication through capabilities like client portals. These solutions are a one-stop-shop that address a modern firm’s challenges while providing a way to improve customer satisfaction.”

3. Improve communication and meet with clients more frequently. When asked about factors driving them to seek another accounting firm, 35 percent of clients cite poor communications as a key factor. The survey shows that when clients find it difficult to get answers from their firms, they may leave and find their answers elsewhere. Notably, 75 percent of satisfied clients expect their firm to respond within 24 hours, and 62 percent of dissatisfied clients expect a response in the same time frame.

“When it comes to relationships, clients want to work with people they trust. When employees leave a firm, the firm’s clients can become flight risks as well. This challenges tax and accounting firms that may be experiencing frequent turnover due to a very competitive market for resources due to an aging workforce,” the white paper states. “To combat this challenge, firms must build their client relationships beyond one single point of contact, becoming more proactive in their communication with clients to ensure they know that the relationship is truly valued.”

4. Offer higher-value services. Clients who use a wider variety of services from their tax and accounting firms are more likely to report themselves as satisfied. Seventy-six percent of those clients using four or more services reported being satisfied, in comparison to only 50 percent for those using fewer than four services. At the same time, clients who use four or more services are twice as likely to believe that a tax and accounting firm can provide significant impact to the overall success of a business.

“Clients who feel they are receiving special services from their firm are far more likely to stick with that firm,” the white paper states. “In the survey, not one respondent that rated the uniqueness of the services they received from their tax and accounting firm at 4 or 5 (on a scale of 1 to 5) plans to leave its tax and accounting firm.”

The white paper also says that mobile technology can significantly impact the relationship between firms and their clients.

“In fact, firms that are able to take advantage of mobile technology average less than a month from client engagement through invoicing in comparison to more than a month for those that aren’t able to take advantage of this technology,” the white paper states. “Other firms are putting significant effort into expanding their mobile capabilities, so if your firm does not, it will be left behind.”

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