Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 55 seconds

You walk into a store A, looking for something to repair your kitchen sink. The sales associates are busy talking to each other, and you can’t get their attention. You spend 35 minutes exploring aisles. When you finally find it, you’re not sure it’s what you need and it costs more than you expected. But it will have to do.

Compare that scenario to this one.

You walk into store B. Someone greets you at the door and guides you to the product you need. Along the way, this person offers alternative fixes and recommendations to prevent future sink problems. You take the part to the cashier, pleased with both the service and the price. 

In both scenarios, you walk away from the store with the item you were looking for. But which store would earn your loyalty? 

These examples illustrate important cornerstones of service: communications, responsiveness and costs. When done well like store B, they impress. When executed poorly like store A, they don’t.

They also represent the main reasons why businesses leave accounting firms, according to the 2018 Client Accounting Services Survey from Bill.com. The survey, supported by CPA.com, asked 1,700 SMB professionals who work with accountants about their experiences with client accounting services including benefits, willingness to refer, and use of technology. The survey also asked SMBs if they’ve ever fired a firm and why, and their answers are gathered exclusively in this article.

Respondents gave these top-three reasons for firing their firms:                                                               1. Poor communications                                                                                                                       2. Slow responsiveness                                                                                                                        3. Cost 

While any firm can have service lapses, recurring instances or culturally ingrained tolerance for them can shrink your client roster. By breaking down what contributes to an overall poor client experience, we can pinpoint what needs to change.

Reason #1: Poor communications                                                                                                   Ask three people what they think unsatisfactory communications are and you’ll get three different responses. It’s subjective. You not only have to begin with a good communications plan, you must also evolve it to match a client’s preferences. Most businesses won’t be satisfied with an occasional update or an accountant who is silent for six months. Leaders—especially Gen X and millennial leaders—are looking for collaboration, advice and transparency.

Poor communication reflects on your firm. Clients can interpret it as disorganization or disinterest. Worst of all, it leads clients to devalue your services. You could be doing an incredible job for a client, but the client won’t know if you don’t share what is going on. 

To ensure consistent, relevant and respectful communications, set standards. Outline the cadence and substance of common communications. Make sure clients know which person to reach out to with questions. Get to know the mode and frequency of communications your clients prefer from day 1. 

Technology helps as well. Consider a customer relationship management (CRM) solutionto organize and trackall client information and activities. Likewise, automation of AP and AR can take manual communications off your plate to improve efficiency. For example, a system can send an automatic reminder to those involved in the review of a bill. The client gets information and transparency, and the firm doesn’t have to spend time sending an email with that information and following up.

Reason #2: Slow responsiveness                                                                                                       Your flight gets cancelled. When you call the airline, you get placed on infinite hold. Three hours later, you have made alternative arrangements. Then, you get a response from the airline. Not helpful.

Slow responsiveness signals to clients that your firm has deficiencies, such as disorganization or a lack of resources. We all know responses to clients take longer during the height of tax season. Whatever the cause of a slow response, it contributes to the devaluation of your firm’s services. 

To combat slow responsiveness, start with an evaluation. Do you have enough staff members and resources? Does the firm have a well-communicated policy about acceptable response times? 

Consider adding self-service capabilities as well. Many client requests are for documents, quick questions or projectstatus. It’s easier for them to access solutions that help them rather than wait for a return email. For example, chatbots can provide answers to basic questions. Solutions that offer shared data repositories are also immensely helpful. Clients can quickly log in to a system, check payment history or grab a document and then continue from there. 

Reason #3: Costs                                                                                                                       Complaints about costs usually mean that clients don’t see the value for their fees. This happens when they perceive the relationship is purely transactional. For example, your firm does taxes for a client every year. The client sends you the documents. You file the taxes. The client doesn’t necessarily understand the expertise and skill involved in providing this service unless you are collaborating throughout the year to address tax strategies and changes. 

Client accounting services, also referred to as business process outsourcing or client advisory services, offer a path to distinguish your firm’s role as a partner. By taking over all accounting, your firm has the data it needs to help companies make decisions, plan, compete and grow. You can advise on technology and processes, improving both. With an experience like this, businesses will more clearly understand the scope of expertise your firm provides.

Conclusion                                                                                                                                                In the end, the most significant client retention mistakes you can make is being a poor or slow communicator. Check on the quality of services and communications provided to clients on a regular basis by asking your team and your clients. Hopefully, these activities will highlight any potential service problem areas and correct them before businesses cut the cord. 

Mark Gervase
Mark Gervase, director of product marketing for Bill.com, works with accounting firms and bookkeepers to grow their businesses and achieve efficiencies through automation and cloud technologies. A former CPA, he has a background in financial technology, and holds an MBA and BA in from the University of California, Berkeley.
Last modified on Monday, 06 August 2018
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