As firm owners, we often believe that when clients are paying our bills, it must mean they are happy with our services. But there are better ways to get a sense of client satisfaction than reviewing our accounts receivable aging.
What if we could eavesdrop on a conversation our client was having about us with another business owner? Are they recommending us? Maybe they’re actually complaining about us. While it’s never comfortable imagining what conversations are being said about us, pretending like those conversations are not happening is not a good option.
So, here are seven ways to know what our clients really think about us:
1. Survey Them
Many of us can say that we ask our clients how happy they are with us because we probably have at one time or another. But surveying clients is entirely different from occasionally chatting with one. Surveying implies asking a direct set of questions using a consistent methodology that can be reliably measured. Net Promotor Score (NPS) has become the dominant surveying system for most businesses because it’s consistent, measurable and simple. There are tons of free, low-cost tools like Google Forms or Survey Monkey, so there’s really no excuse not to be gathering customer feedback. Just remember that typically, there is only a 10 to 15 percent response rate to customer surveys, so you’re only getting a general sense of how your client base feels about you.
2. Ask Your Staff
Make sure you speak to your employees. They are the team members who are in regular contact with clients, so they’ll be the in the best position to give an assessment. As the firm leader, the most important thing you can do when gathering client feedback from your staff is to create an environment that welcomes honest dialogue and does not push criticism. Staff will only speak freely when they have trust in the firm’s leadership.
3. Don't Make Assumptions
We all have at least one quiet client who never complains and always pays their bills. However, this might mean they simply don't communicate at all. A study by Lee Resources showed that only one in 26 angry clients actually complains. One way to avoid falling into this trap is to seek out ways to measure interaction. Can you measure the number of days since the last client conversation? It may not be easy, but there are more and more ways to do this in various email systems, within Slack or in CRM solutions. Maybe start by checking how frequently clients log into Xero or QBO, as both accounting systems have audit logs. If your client hasn’t logged into the accounting system in months and looked at the financial reports you gave them, there’s probably an issue brewing.
4. Demo Things
As firms, we’re constantly barraged with new accounting apps that promise to make our clients’ lives easier. Why not demo some of them? By trying these apps out with clients, your firm is getting a chance to assess the software. Additionally, your client sees you proactively assisting them, and you start a very specific conversation with them. Demoing software with a client creates a feedback loop that fosters communication. Just by creating a simple dialogue, you’re opening up a much bigger window for conversation. If there are underlying engagement issues or opportunities for more work, those will come to light much more readily.
5. Talk to Peers
I speak to other firm owners within the accounting community every day. While we cover a wide range of topics, understanding our clients is easily one the top things we discuss. New techniques for doing client outreach, better ways to increase communication and mistakes to avoid when dealing with feedback are all areas where I have learned a great deal from my accounting peers. In fact, I don’t think our clients realize how much many of us speak to one another. I’ve been able to learn about clients who weren’t fully satisfied because they reached out to other firms and those professionals let me know. This is the most collaborative industry I’ve worked in, and Acuity wouldn’t be where it is today without all of the help I’ve received from others.
6. Ask for Testimonials, Reviews and Referrals
Almost all buying decisions these days are based on reviews. You’re not purchasing that product on Amazon that has 1 ½ stars or staying in an AirBnb that has poor reviews, so why should it be any different with accounting services? You probably have a bunch of customers who are very happy with your firm, but they haven’t written a testimonial or given a referral because they’re distracted and busy, just like the rest of us. You have to ask them to do this, and in most cases, they will be happy to help. Use third-party review sites, like G2 Crowd or Google My Business, which always add to your credibility and build better search results for your website.
7. Start from the Top
Clients are more likely to respond to feedback requests and be more candid when that request comes from the firm owner or leadership. I never have a conversation with a client without telling them, “It would be a huge favor to me, as the firm owner, if you could tell me where we could be serving you better.” The insight you gain from that conversation is invaluable, and your client will appreciate that you, as the leader, took the time to reach out and ask that question. As your client base grows, this may become more difficult to do with every person, so consider other ways gain feedback. One way we do it at Acuity is by providing every client with free CFO Office Hours. We always ask where we can make improvements in their engagement.
For better results, proactively communicate with your clients. They don’t always have the time and desire to tell you how they feel about you. In most cases, it’s not that they don’t want to tell you, it's that they’re just too busy. But if you don’t force yourself to get that client to speak up and do it candidly, you’ll never know if they’re about to leave you for another firm or if they have some great referrals they’d be happy to introduce you to.
The bottom line? Don’t assume you know what clients are thinking. Make sure you ask and find out.
Kenji is the Founder and CEO of Acuity which builds and maintains financial functions for entrepreneurs and startups. Through Acuity, he’s provided over 1,000 companies with a full range of financial solutions from high-level strategic financial counsel through its fractional CFO practice all the way to virtualized bookkeeping solutions for early stage startups.