It’s no secret that clients often make purchase decisions based on rates, and CPAs and accountants have a lot of competition. One way to increase the value you bring to clients, and the associated revenue you bring in, is by providing higher-level services and investing in deeper relationships.
We are also faced with larger or more nimble firms that can do the same amount of work in less time and at lower rates. In the end, being able to compete comes down to one core factor: the client relationship.
Now, we know all client relationships are not created equal. Below are three distinct types. Which one sounds like the kind you have with your clients?
1. Service provider. I meet the requirements of an engagement, whether it’s bookkeeping, compliance, or tax prep. I fall within the scope, and I deliver the end product (usually on time, sometimes over budget). I discount my rates to compete with others that do the same work.
2. Problem solver. I typically stay within the scope of an engagement, but if the client has any problems within my field, I can dig into it and help them resolve it. I demand a bit more money for my work compared to a compliance-focused service provider. However, I am busy with my workload and don’t often make the time to have in-depth conversations with clients beyond my core skill set.
3. Trusted advisor. The client comes to me first when they have any issues or concerns relating to their business. Even with topics out of my expertise, I am available to them and they trust that I can help find a solution. I’ve built a relationship of trust and loyalty, and the client has no problem taking advantage of all the services I provide and can connect them to.
Your role with any client includes both providing a service and maintaining a relationship. The more you focus on the relationship piece, the more your knowledge and understanding of the client and their needs increases.
You should be able to shift from compliance person to business expert and advisor. This leads to loyal client benefits like lower-price sensitivity, higher share-of-wallet (additional services purchased), and referrals.
The clients you interact with want to be seen, to be heard, and to have their needs addressed. A business may need an audit, but a person wants to be comforted that they are in good hands.
Moving From Service Provider to Trusted Advisor
The difference between giving a client an overwhelming questionnaire versus having a conversation with them is the difference between a service provider and a trusted advisor. Your initial contact with a client is likely to be as a service provider, until you start bringing in the trusted advisor referrals.
Once you’re in the door, however, you have endless opportunities to turn the engagement into an ongoing, fruitful relationship where both you and the client can prosper. Here are a few key ways to nurture a relationship beyond your services:
Listen: Knowing your client and their needs will put you light years ahead of any competition. Listening to their concerns will let you place emphasis on those areas during your engagement. This way you can provide insight into their business and let them know your expertise extends beyond the current engagement’s scope.
Ask the right questions: Listening is one side of the story, but clients will conveniently leave a lot of information out. Being able to open up the dialogue and ask the right questions will help move you toward being their trusted advisor.
Be responsive and helpful: If the client knows that they can come to you for help, they will come to you for help! It’s that simple. If you don’t respond to their requests or provide feedback that sounds like a canned response, they will go elsewhere.
Provide an outstanding client experience: All the above is moot if your client’s overall experience with your practice is unpleasant. Even if you are the greatest accountant to grace this planet, it’s the full set of interactions that drives client retention and loyalty.
These deceptively simple concepts are key to building a successful relationship with a client. It will transform the way you’ll be perceived by the market, moving you from service provider to a trusted advisor. It will also turn your customers into loyal clients who will spread the word and build your reputation as a highly-valued accounting professional.