What if we told you that the second most important criteria for choosing an accountant and the second most common criteria leading to client attrition had nothing to do with your accounting knowledge?
It’s true. According to the Sleeter Group, responsiveness is that criteria.
As simple as it sounds, and as rudimentary to a well-run business as it is, the numbers indicate that the accounting profession shares a common challenge in client communication and responsiveness. Sure, we all have times of day (or certainly times of year) when we’re swamped, and responding can easily slip through the cracks.
But issues that require an accountant’s guidance are typically of more consequence than, let’s say, questions about the delivery of your remote control BB-8 from Brookstone (depending on who you ask). It’s not to say that you need to resolve all issues by living an on-call life, but at the very least, an acknowledgement of your client’s concerns can go a long way when building trust. So what does it take to be a highly-responsive practice?
Here are some tips to stay responsive, covering a range of budgets, complexity and nature of client engagements. Some are also geared towards active responses (ways to facilitate real-time conversations) while others focus on passive responses (ways to facilitate client self-serve support).
For times when you are fairly certain that you’ll be inundated with work and client requests, it can help to repurpose your out-of-office email triggers to automate a specific message to your clients. Within that response, you can let them know that your email has been received, as well as providing an amount of time in which they can expect a response. Since you will still receive the client’s email, just make sure to flag it for follow-up and/or assign priority accordingly.
While it doesn’t necessarily address you client’s questions, at least they can be reassured that their email will be seen, and get some context into any delayed response.
It’s also a great idea to take this to the next level by including helpful links within the auto responder itself. For the annual tax season rush, including FAQs or links to common issues, tax checklists, etc., on your website can be a great way to provide information to your clients when immediate response isn’t possible.
If you’ve got staff, consider training and delegating common types of responses to others within your organization. For procedural information, or questions not requiring in-depth knowledge of a particular client engagement, it makes sense to off-load response duties to others during peak times of year. Maybe this is a tax prep process overview. Not only can this help to remove yourself as the bottleneck in the communication process, but it’s always a good idea to have cross-trained backup in your office, not to mention the many benefits of providing career development among your staff.
Get Tech Savvy
Not everyone likes to communicate the same way, so it’s a good idea to embrace technology as a customer support channel. Some people prefer to text. Some prefer a phone call. Some prefer email and some to communicate via web portals or live chat. With the benefits of the cloud and mobile devices, there’s really no reason why you can’t be available in some fashion to at least acknowledge inquiries or reach out in the case of emergencies. To take it even further, there are a host of robust practice management tools available to serve the specific needs of accountants.