Holiday reading-What client service really means- a year in the life cycle of a client.

The summer break is nearly upon us and many practitioners use this as an opportunity to reflect on what they need to change – especially in terms of keeping clients happy.

Happy clients’ means they will stay with you and not be tempted to leave for your competitors. A retained client is far more valuable to your business in terms on ongoing income streams than having to replace them with new client fee income.

Happy clients also tend to pay bills on time and recommend to you to others. Similarly, they are far more likely to ask you for other advice and services which makes working life more interesting and again increases fees.

Every practitioner believes they offer fantastic client service but when asked what this really means on a day to day basis they often get stuck after replying ‘meeting deadlines.’ Meeting compliance deadlines is a given for any accountant- it is simply a fundamental part of the job.

Below is a list of what the more successful and proactive firms now offer clients as standard best practice. Use this as a checklist to mark yourself on what you deliver and what you need to action;

  • Know who your Grade A, B, C clients are and ensure your team does too. You’re A and B clients are the ones you want to nurture and look after above all others.
  • Contact and meet with clients 3 months pre year end. Discuss tax planning- projected tax liabilities based on estimated results and reflect on whether they achieved their goals and what were the challenges faced. This is your opportunity to agree support and fees for the year ahead and set new targets with them.
  • 3 months pre year end is also the time to book a date on the work planner for the job to be done, agree fees and budgets and offer to review records etc. This makes the client feel in control and you can ensure they are given final results and tax liabilities as soon as possible. Your team can also plan the job and this will produce a better gross margin of fees as a result.
  • Clients hate being told at the last minute what personal and business tax liabilities are. It destroys cash flow. The pre year end meeting manages these expectations and also improves your own cash flow where you get clients on standing order/fixed fees which will run from this point until the job is completed. No more work in progress or aged debtors.
  • Plan to complete the year end job as soon as possible post year end. Book the final meeting when the job starts ad you know you have all the information you need. This will be easy as you will have gone through this at the pre year end planning meeting.
  • Prepare an agenda for every client meeting and send it to them in advance inviting them to add items they want to discuss. This simple tool makes the client see how valuable and important every meeting with you is. It will be more productive and run to time.
  • The final accounts meeting should take up only a small part of the total meeting time. Remember you have projected the results and tax pre year end so will only have to discuss variances at this stage. As a result you are left with more time to discuss future goals and what the client needs to do with your help. It is this last element that the client really values and is an opportunity to agree extra services and fees.
  • Book a date for an interim business meeting with the client. This will be 3 months after the final year end meeting and should coincide with the mid way point in their trading year. Set an agenda and review what has been achieved and what needs to be done going forward.
  • You will now see that there has been 3 point of contact with the client in a basic business compliance cycle.
  • The more successful firms also book in a personal wealth review meeting with business owners- usually timed so the client is consistently having formal contact with you every 3 months. This meeting will look at their personal goals and what the business needs to achieve for them in order to achieve these targets. People are interested in working out how much they are worth and it is another opportunity for you to see how you can help them ongoing.
  • Responding to telephone calls and e-mails within an hour (even if it is a holding call or e-mail to say when you will contact them) are now a given for the best practices.
  • Reception areas with refreshments menus, I pads/tablets, testimonial booklets etc. are no longer seen as ‘WOW’ factors but basic things that the better firms have in place as standard. Small gestures really do make a difference in how a client perceives you and your firm.
  • E-mail shots and hard copy literature (budget booklets, newsletters etc.) really do need to be personalised to make an impact. Handwritten post-it notes saying ‘look at this…’ and a follow up call will make the client feel you really are thinking of them and what they need.
  • Client Care calls and periodic surveys are also important to find out what the client really think. Even negative feedback is invaluable as it gives you the opportunity to address issues before a client decides to leave. These surveys do have to be done in a certain way to obtain the best results and ensure the client feels they are personalised and not a generic call centre approach!
  • Keep you team involved and share this with them- after all, they are likely to have more regular client contact than you do.

The above is a mere overview and will be enough to implement manage without taking too much partner time. Practitioners tell me these things are the key underlying success drivers of their practices and ones which they measure continually.

All of these steps are guaranteed to under pin client loyalty and your service offering as well as create additional work and fees for your business.

July 2015 Copyright - Finola McManus Practice Perfect

Helping accountancy firms to become more successful


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