2016 Review and why client communication
is so important

As 2016 draws to a close and we are focusing on deadlines, it’s time to remember why client communication is increasingly important. For many businesses uncertainty still reigns post Brexit and the US Elections as well as the recent Autumn Statement. More so than ever before Clients are looking to their advisors for advice and re-assurance in terms of business and financial planning. See this as an opportunity to generate additional fees and client retention rates.

Many accountants report on being overloaded with compliance work deadlines in December and January with resources focused on production with little time for practice management and client contact. The practitioner who doesn’t communicate with their clients at this time of year is following a risky path. When clients receive tax returns and unexpected tax liabilities to pay in January they are ‘ripe’ to look to blame the accountant and seek advice elsewhere. No client will ever blame themselves for getting information to you late but will be quick to say you are not providing a very good service!

The priority is for you to communicate as far in advance as possible what a client’s upcoming tax liabilities will be. That’s client service at a minimal level. Where a client is late in getting information to you then ensure you have written/e-mailed to explain why you can’t advise them of their tax liabilities yet and help them manage their own cash flow and financial planning. See this as an opportunity to change how you service such clients next year. Offer a different level of service to help them get the information together sooner with your help and perhaps book meetings for the year ahead in advance. Many clients are happy to pay more for this increased service level; especially when you make the value obvious and how it will help them achieve their goals. This is likely to apply to you A and B grade clients in particular. The C and D grade clients often don’t warrant this level of contact but you still need to communicate with them proactively.

A and B clients should have contact with you every month as a minimum. You need to have a system in place to log when you called and what the follow up action is. Successful practices use this system as a means of generating additional fees and referrals. Clients like being contacted just ‘to see how they are doing’. It makes them feel cared for and gives you the opportunity to find out what they may need your help with. Some firms make regular ‘client service’ phone calls to clients and log results whilst asking ‘on a scale of 1 to 10 how do you rate us?’ together with ‘What do we need to do to increase the score you gave us?’ Powerful questions which can help improve a client relationship as well as deal with any complaints and prevent a client from leaving.

Is your ‘menu of services’ up to date? When was the last time you reviewed your ‘windows of opportunity’ control sheet to confirm every client knows what you can do and if they are using you for all their business compliance and advisory needs? They are very powerful systems which improve client service as well as grow your fee base. They are also inexpensive to use and don’t take significant amounts of your time.

Know your clients and ask how they prefer to hear from you. Some will prefer a certain time of day as well as a preferred method- call, e-mail or text. Ask a client when is a good time to talk and book that call in your diary. This shows you understand how they work and what their daily business involves.

Make sure your fixed fee agreements are up to date and you have communicated with clients what the fee and service offering is going to be for the year ahead. Don’t carry work in progress hat you know in reality is never going to be billed or paid. Be realistic and look to review each client for the year ahead as if it were a new client.

Remember to periodically and systematically ask for referrals from clients. If they are delighted with your service then ask who else they may know for you to help. Similarly, put clients in touch with each other where they may be able to do business together.

Finally, remember people like to talk about themselves! Invite clients to a ‘free’ meeting (no more than an hour) to discuss their business and personal goals. This is a firm base from which you will be able to generate additional fees and where the client feels really cared for and supported. Ask about what their exit strategy is, when it is planned and what income they aspire to on retirement. Then you have the beginnings of a discussion to look at how they are going to achieve that and what the business needs to do in order for that goal to be achieved. It also provides a platform for future annual review meetings and for you to build this into your service offering.

December 2016 Copyright - Finola McManus, Practice Perfect

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