Improving Client Experience With a New Frameworkby
Today, most firms are aware of the importance of client experience, realizing that it is one way to gain a competitive advantage. More importantly, they need understand how to get it right.
While many accounting firms are talking about client experience, very few have any idea how to approach improving it. As a result, they tend to take a “whack a mole” approach: taking client surveys, sending gift baskets and other activities that don’t really move the needle.
What firms need is a framework for improving the client experience strategically. Here’s that framework:
To define the project, you need to be clear on the client you want to create an experience for. Don’t try to improve the experience for every client — define your ideal clients. This is likely a type of client or niche that you already have but want more of.
For many firms, that’s advisory and consulting clients who also take advantage of bundled audit or tax services. Identify your target and create an experience around that.
The next step is to assemble a cross-functional project team with the following roles and responsibilities.
- Champion. This may be a partner or your firm’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). Your champion needs to be a team builder, have access to necessary resources and have enough influence to get buy-in for change.
- Team Lead. This may be the CMO or a manager from the service line. The Team Lead drives execution of the project by ensuring things get done. They need project management skills and a high level of accountability and responsibility.
- Facilitator. It may be possible for your firm to internally handle a client experience project, but bringing in an outside facilitator with industry experience will significantly shorten the project timeline and lead to higher quality results. When people who are entrenched in the process try to facilitate a client experience project, it’s difficult for them to be objective and pull enough focus from their day-to-day responsibilities. Also, there are plenty of client experience consultants out there, but few have a deep understanding of the inner workings of an accounting firm or know where the profession is going accounting profession. They may facilitate a project that meets the needs of clients today, but our profession is changing rapidly. Your project needs to meet the needs of clients today and in the future.
- Cross-functional Team Members. The makeup of your team is influenced by your ideal target client. If your ideal client engages the firm for tax, audit and advisory services, you need people representing each of those services. In a small firm, a client experience project might be a firm-wide project. In a large firm, your project may focus only on certain departments.
In any process improvement project, we work with the project team to follow the DMAIC model:
D – Define
Create the vision, define your objectives and identify the scope. What you working to achieve? What are the anticipated benefits to the firm and to the client? How will success be measured?
M – Measure
Measurement is the phase where the current Client Journey Map is created. This step is critical for thoroughly understanding the current state of client experience. Not what “should be” happening, but what is actually happening.
Hubspot, for example, defines a client journey map as “a visual representation of the process a client or prospect goes through to achieve a goal with your company. With the help of a client journey map, you can get a sense of your clients’ motivations – their needs and pain points.”
There is no standard way to map the client journey. The actual map will be influenced by your firm and how you define the project. Consider where the client journey begins and ends. Every time a client comes in contact with your firm — visiting your website or office, receiving a phone call, email or letter and receiving the final deliverable — is an opportunity to create a positive or negative experience.
A – Analyze
Once you know what is actually happening in your client journey, you can look for opportunities to improve the client experience. What obstacles appear in the client journey? Where is the friction? What changes can you make to the existing process to improve it?
This phase of the project includes:
- Vetting potential improvement ideas
- Soliciting internal and external feedback
- Revising or creating new existing tools and resources
- Evaluating potential technology solutions
Typically, when a firm wants to improve the client experience, they start with a client survey. However, we recommend waiting until you reach the analyze phase to send a client survey. This ensures you ask the right clients the right questions.
By saving your client survey for this point in the project, you can ask clients three or four questions directly related to the opportunities you’ve identified and know how you’ll use the feedback before you get it. Surveys become way more valuable when they’re plugged into the right step in the process.
I - Improve
The improve phase is when the proposed improvement ideas are finalized. Feedback and conclusions from the analyze phase are used to create and document the improved client experience. The team discusses the changes and confirms alignment with the objectives and vision. In addition an updated Client Journey Map is created to provide a visual representation of the new roadmap.
C – Control
Next, it’s time to share it with the firm. Create a detailed rollout strategy that addresses:
- Getting buy-in from all team members who will be impacted by the change
- Educating your team on why the change is needed, why the new process will be better than what you had before and what’s in it for them
- Train people on the new process and any necessary technologies
- Implementation of the new process and technology
If you’re working with an outside facilitator, they can help introduce the process, answer questions and achieve buy-in from your team.
You also need a plan for ensuring the decisions you’re rolling out as a part of this client experience project stay true to the plan and improve every year. Appoint a client experience team and have them meet regularly to check in on the process and look for tweaks to make it better.
In the firms we’ve worked with, we’ve found two formal meetings per year work best — one just after the busy season to talk about what went right and what needs improvement, and another six months later to prepare for the upcoming busy season.
When you follow this framework, you won’t waste time and money on client surveys and other client experience initiatives that don’t lead to lasting change. Instead, you’ll deliver a great client experience that meets their needs and delivers a higher level of value.
Arianna Campbell, Shareholder and Consultant for Boomer Consulting, Inc., co-authored this article. The original article appeared on the Boomer Consulting website.
Jon Hubbard, Shareholder and Consultant at Boomer Consulting helps accounting firm leaders find success in the areas of leadership, talent and growth. Jon is a facilitator for the Boomer P3 Leadership Academy, Boomer Talent Circle, Boomer Marketing & BD Circle, and the Boomer Operations Circle. He also guides firms to grow and be more...