What if I 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, covering a range of budgets, complexity and nature of client engagements. Some are also geared toward 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 followup 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 autoresponder 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 a 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 offload 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 to call. Some to 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.
Like we mentioned earlier, a great FAQ page or resource section of your website can bridge the gap between personal response and client frustration. You undoubtedly know the most frequent questions your firm receives, so it’s simply a matter of adding a corresponding section to your website. Video is also a great format for communicating otherwise complex concepts or ideas, so this is definitely worth looking into as well.
If the thought of filing your own video series seems daunting , there are tons of online resources available to get you started on a budget.
For highly-valuable clients or those who utilize a variety of your services, your response times can be included in your engagement letter. Taking this SLA (service level agreement) approach will provide expectations for both you and your client as it relates to acceptable response times per service type rendered. In the software world, it’s common for SLAs to include initial response times to inquiries, followed by timeline expectations for resolutions or deliverables. By formalizing the expectations, you provide accountability, checks and balances for both your firm and your clients.
These tips are more targeted toward reactive communications (e.g. client-initiated), but this is only part of the challenge of delivering value to your clients. To maintain existing clients, deepen the relationship, realize additional revenue, and increase the influx of referral business, you’ve got to be proactive. This demands attention paid to outreach, relevant touchpoints, and finding tactful ways to upsell your expertise.
Defining to responsiveness is just one piece of the puzzle that we explore more in-depth in our Value-Added Practice e-book. Submit your email below to read the complete ebook.