Losing a client is tough. You lie awake at night wondering what went wrong, overanalysing your behaviour, and thinking about how to bring them back. It’s not surprising: losing a single client can cost your firm nearly £500, and having been an accountant for 30 years, I can assure you that it never gets easier. You’ve got to spend more time networking, and generally working hard in the pursuit of new business: offering free services, precious time, and various promotional doodads.
It doesn’t have to be that complicated. Simply listening to your customers and understanding their expectations can significantly increase your overall retention rate.
Love is the answer
A client once rang our firm and said they were leaving because we ‘didn’t love them enough’. If that sounds a tad melodramatic, it’s more common than you might think: a survey from Bay Street Group revealed that, when asked, clients would be more likely to forgive higher costs, and missed deadlines – and less likely to forgive poor communication, and an absence of personal interest.
This represents a dramatic shift in customer psychology. Essentially: it’s Amazon’s world, and we’re all living in it. When people can easily order, track, and follow purchased goods online – with a representative accessible at a moment’s notice – they tend to expect more from all their suppliers.
In short: if you’re an accountant, you need to go above and beyond for your customers. We decided that we were never going to lose another client due to lack of love again – and you could do the same. Here’s how you can.
1. Avoid communication black holes
When running a busy firm, it’s easy for black holes of communication to form when there’s no progress to update your customers on. Regardless, it’s important to keep in touch as regularly as possible: 66% of clients expect a response to their calls or emails within 24 hours, and 40% expect a reply within an hour.
This can leave your clients feeling neglected – which can lead to them leaving for an accountant that will lavish them with care and attention.
The simple answer to this is to talk to your clients more. Supply regular updates via email, let them know every time you’ve done something for them, and if they’ve expedited the process– even by simply sending documents – thank them and tell them when they can expect a progress update.
Your relationship is a journey, and you can’t go on it without them. You need to be proactive, but you also need to do basic things like pick up their calls and respond to their emails.
2. Make it personal
Remember: your customers are, above all, people, and respond to being treated accordingly. Communication should create and cultivate a shared, and personal language: sending birthday cards, asking after their children all show that you’re interested in their life and adds value to your relationships.
It’s also helpful to keep a record of all ad-hoc requests. If you’re acting as a client’s rent reference, congratulate them when it’s all sorted. Going the extra mile often isn’t that difficult and your clients will like you for it.
3. Be proactive
Problems wait for no accountant: you can’t afford to simply react to problems as they occur.
Send deadline reminders well in advance. Arrange regular catch-ups every three months, even if things are going fine. If you’re presenting a VAT return, anticipate their questions and pull out figures that correspond to business activity.
By pre-empting issues like this, you can demonstrate that you’ve got the client’s best interests at heart.
4. Accept and learn from feedback
Constructive criticism can sting, but it’s always worth taking on board. The harder it is to hear, the more important it is that you act on it.
In fact, you should actively solicit difficult feedback – either through informal check-ins with clients or annual surveys. You never know what might be keeping your clients from committing to you in the long-term.
Go above and beyond your customer’s expectations. Ultimately, they’re on your side: they don’t want to spend precious time and resources searching for an accountant. They want to be delighted by you. Oblige them, and you’ll boost client retention now and in the future.
Susan Rahman is a chartered accountant and has been successfully running her own practice, KWSR & Co, for nearly 30 years. Susan founded Onkho, a practice management software, with the sole aim of helping accountants and bookkeepers to delight and retain their clients.
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