By Michael Alter
Knowing just how satisfied clients are with your services might be difficult if not impossible to gauge on a daily basis. For accountants, recognizing whether clients are considering shifting to another service provider is not always blatantly obvious.
Poor communication and customer service are two common reasons why clients leave one accountant or payroll service professional for another. Unless measures are taken to ensure lines of communication remain open and customer service is better than average, there will be an added risk of clients leaving.
All is not lost, and taking steps to insulate your firm from clients leaving for these reasons is straightforward and requires very little added effort. Accountants can take steps to ensure frequent and informative communication with all clients and adopt a best-practices policy within the firm to ensure customer service needs are being met.
Beyond handling their clients' accounting and payroll services, part of an accountant's job is to provide peace of mind as a trusted advisor to reassure clients their needs will be met, issues will be resolved with professional efficiency, and tax filings will be handled appropriately and in accordance with state and federal laws. When all of this occurs without incident, clients are able to run their lives or business without giving these items much thought. However, when everything runs smoothly, the accountants working behind the scenes may be taken for granted.
Frequent and informative communication can occur with quarterly newsletters or using mailings or e-mail messages. This communication should be designed to remind clients of quarterly filings, impending tax deadlines, or to offer helpful tax or payroll advice. Quarterly newsletters are one way to provide a nonintrusive means of communicating important information, which will keep accountants front and center with clients and help to fulfill the role of being their trusted advisor.
If your firm does not currently have a quarterly newsletter in place, consider starting one and distributing it online or by e-mail to do it efficiently and to keep costs down. There are plenty of online e-newsletter services available for a minimal fee; however, there are also free e-mail newsletter services, such as MailChimp. MailChimp contains prebuilt newsletter templates and an intuitively designed clicking sequence to guide new users through the process of creating a visually appealing electronic newsletter.
Being accessible to clients is important, and most clients have portable devices – iPhones or Androids – that allow for instant access to e-mail. Clients equate good customer service with service providers who are immediately responsive when questions or issues arise. Meeting those expectations can be an unrealistic goal. However, communicating your response time line to clients can help alleviate unnecessary stress they may feel, which is caused by them not knowing if their call for help will be answered.
There are several ways to comfort clients without requiring return phone calls 24/7. Consider these options:
- Set up an auto-response e-mail message noting business hours and an "in case of an emergency" phone number; include "self-help" hyperlinks if appropriate.
- Include your regular business hours on the message callers hear after regular business hours, also including "in case of emergency" contact information, and direct callers to the website if help is available online.
- Form an arrangement with a trusted business professional who keeps different business hours than you. Agree to share each other's business number in the event you cannot be reached.
It is becoming more common for accountants to branch out and add more services for clients, some become resellers of online payroll services while others add financial services to their business mix. While adding more services helps to ensure clients' needs are met and that they remain more loyal to the firm, expanding too fast or beyond the firm's core competencies can negatively impact customer service. When expanding into additional service offerings, evaluate how much time will be needed to serve clients who subscribe to the added service and consider rolling out the new service slowly. This will allow staff to adjust and be professionally responsive to what could be an increased volume of client customer service needs.
Read more articles by Michael Alter.
About the author:
Michael Alter, payroll expert with an MBA from Harvard Business School, is a nationally recognized spokesperson providing thought leadership and sensible advice to help accounting and payroll professionals build deeper more profitable relationships with clients. Alter, president of SurePayroll, writes the Trade Secrets column on INC.com and is frequently published in Bloomberg TV, Wall Street Journal, and Entrepreneur Magazine.